Defending champion Eli Tomac of Cortez rebounded Tuesday from a slow season start to win the Houston 2 Supercross and join the hunt for the series lead.
After two races in Houston, the Kawasaki ace is now just four points behind leader Justin Barcia, who finished ninth.
Tomac beat runner-up Dylan Ferrandis to the finish line by a convincing 4.976 seconds after starting fast, avoiding two early crashes and taking a commanding lead in the seventh of 29 laps at NRG Stadium.
After a 13th-place finish in Houston on Saturday, Tomac was feeling pressure in a season with plenty of title contenders.
“If you just look at the times in practice, everyone is on the same second,” he said after the race. “If you look down the list, there are like 12 guys on the same second. In the past, that would have maybe been two or three guys who were on the next level. As we saw tonight, it was a whole different podium.”
Earlier Tuesday, it appeared the champion might have another tough day.
He was seventh during qualifying rounds with a lap of 42.415 seconds. His teammate on Monster Energy Kawasaki, Adam Cianciarulo, was fastest, with a best lap of 41.797 seconds.
And he was fourth during his qualifying heat, finishing behind Barcia, Zach Osborne and Cianciarulo.
“I was stressed out,” Tomac said. “Sixteen points (from his previous performance) is horrible after Round 1, right? Like that is a terrible hole to be in. I was pulling my hair out.”
But in the main event, Tomac got a fast start and after one lap, trailed only Cianciarulo and Chase Sexton in the race for the lead.
He moved into second place when Cianciarulo crashed in the sand in the fifth lap and fell to 14th place. Then, Sexton then hit the sand in the seventh lap, dropping out of the race and giving Tomac the lead.
Running ahead of the pack, Tomac picked up a four-second lead over Justin Brayton, who later yielded to Ferrandis for second place.
“It was wild to see two crashes in the same spot,” Tomac said Tuesday. “That was a gift that way. After that, it was all about maintenance and maintaining the lead.”
About midway through the race, Tomac felt pressure from behind, and a need to push harder.
“Zach was coming on strong. I was kind of pacing myself up until the halfway point, and then I tried to go harder,” he said. “It was one of those nights. Clean air was huge tonight in that way.”
Round 3 of the Monster Energy AMA Supercross series returns to Houston on Saturday. The series then goes to Indianapolis for three races, on Jan. 30, Feb. 2 and Feb. 6.