In any stick and ball sport you watch-baseball, football, basketball-the normal saying that gets used often is “Defense wins Championships.” While that may be true for those sports that only need one ball to compete (see what I did there), motorcycle racing is not won by being defensive. Motorcycle racers will use the terms conservative, cautious, or smart in order to win a championship. What this usually means is that although they may not go for the win every Saturday night, they won’t take a mediocre finish to protect their points lead. In some cases riding “defensive” loses a championship more than wins one. And even though a rider may have a comfortable points lead, he’ll still race as hard as he would as if he were coming from behind in points. If he throws his race away with a crash, you have to give him credit at least for not backing off. We can take a look at one example of this already in the first six rounds of the series, and compare it to one of the most notable examples in past years.
The 450 class points leader Davi Millsaps is not being defensive, he’s being aggressive just like the season opener at Anaheim. Although it is still early in the season, Millsaps is containing his points lead and even building on it by riding hard and being consistent. He’s been on the podium 5 out of 6 races this year and has two wins. One small slip up at A2 cost the Rockstar Suzuki rider from being a perfect 6 for 6, but a 4th being your worst finish isn’t so bad either. If you average out the top 5 points riders finishes through the first six rounds, Millsaps average is 2.17. The next rider in points is Dungey and his average finish 4. Canard is fourth in points, though his average finish is 4.7. Reed may sit 5th in points, but his average finish through six rounds is 5.5. And oddly enough Ryan Villopoto is third in points, but has the worst average finish of the top five guys with a 5.7 mainly due to his 16th at A1.
Let’s compare this to probably the most memorable case of riding defensive and it backfiring on them. The 1990 supercross season was a season full of parity as there were seven different winners on the year. The season was talked about mostly as a war between three groups of riders-the rookies led by Damon Bradshaw, Larry Ward and Jeff Matiasevich–the veterans led by defending champion Jeff Stanton, Rick Johnson and Jeff Ward-and the foreign contingent held by the lone Frenchman Jean Michel Bayle. By the fourth round of the series, rookie Jeff Matiasevich led the series over Stanton, Bayle and the rest. A win in Las Vegas during the middle part of the year, increased the Kawasaki pilot’s point lead. Towards the end of the season though, Matiasevich started riding defensive to protect his lead. Defending champ Jeff Stanton and Frenchman Bayle began to reel off wins and shrink the rookie’s lead in the standings quickly. A tenth place finish at round 17 in San Jose all but locked Matiasevich out of title contention in 1990. Jeff Stanton would go on to finish sixth at the final round in Los Angeles and clinch his second straight title. Riding conservatively only earned Jeff Matiasevich one career win, and third place in points, his best season in supercross. Had Matiasevich not rode so defensively, he could have been the first rookie to win the 250 Supercross crown. Three years later that was accomplished my some guy named McGrath.
Knowing that Millsaps has a 19 point lead with eleven rounds remaining we can throw in two scenarios, thanks in part to the consistent Millsaps. Scenario one is that if Dungey were to win straight out starting this weekend in Dallas, and Millsaps were to get second at each round, it would take till round thirteen in Houston before Dungey would take over the points lead. Scenario number two is that if Dungey starts a win streak and Millsaps takes thirds from here on out, RD5 would take over the points lead by after round ten in Daytona. That’s the easy way to figure this out, the problem with that is that I doubt Dungey or anyone else for that matter will go on a hot streak for the next several rounds. RD can’t seem to get off the line unless he goes through the LCQ to light the fire under him, and Villopoto for some reason can’t keep himself off the ground long enough to barely crack the top five. So right now I’d say a Championship isn’t a pipe dream for Duke, and he’s only getting stronger as the season goes on. Make sure you leave your thoughts in the comments section below.
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