Defending champion Eli Tomac of Cortez began his 2021 AMA Supercross season Saturday in Houston with an early crash that pushed him to the back of the field.
But despite recovering to rejoin the race, he would not muster one of his trademark comebacks.
The day belonged to Justin Barcia.
Barcia took the early lead after the first turn, with Justin Brayton, Adam Cianciarulo and Tomac in pursuit.
Tomac was eighth after one lap, but he crashed in the fourth and dropped to 16th place in the field of 22 riders. Ken Roczen, who finished last season in third place overall, moved into second place in the key fourth lap. Cooper Webb, runner-up in 2020, was 10th.
While Barcia and Roczen raced wheel-to-wheel ahead of the crowd, Cianciarulo stalked Marvin Musquin for third place, about 2 seconds back. Malcolm Stewart stayed in the hunt, racing in fifth place.
Tomac, meanwhile, struggled near the back, stuck behind Zach Osborne and Dean Wilson in 14th place and about 15 seconds off the leaders’ pace. As the clock winded down, he gained a spot to move into 13th place, but he wouldn’t finish higher.
At the front, Barcia repeatedly held off passes by Roczen to win the race wire to wire, and Musquin, Cianciarulo and Malcolm Stewart rounded out the top five.
Tomac started his day at NRG Stadium riding like the champion.
He was the second-fastest qualifier, just 0.03 seconds off Chase Sexton’s 44.006-second lap. And he placed a comfortable but competitive fourth place in Heat 1 after completing the first of nine laps in sixth place. He moved into fourth place in Lap 5.
Barcia and Roczen, in a preview of the main event, went to the lead in the first lap, and placed one-two at the finish. Tomac’s teammate on Kawasaki, Ciancirulo, was third, and Brayton was fifth.
Osborne won Heat 2 after starting in third and overtaking Cooper Webb in Lap 8. Stewart was third, and Chase Sexton charged into fourth place after a slow start in seventh. Aaron Plessinger was fifth.
The Monster Energy AMA Supercross season returns to Houston on Jan. 19 and Jan. 23 for the second and third races of the 17-race series. The series wraps up May 1 at Rice Eccles Stadium in Salt Lake City.