Eli Tomac, of Cortez, Colorado, made a stunning comeback in the Salt Lake City Supercross on Saturday night, racing from 15th place to overtake rival Ryan Dungey for the victory.
With the win, Tomac stands alone atop the 450SX leaderboard, with 319 points to second-place Dungey’s 316.
The rivals entered the race at Rice-Eccles Stadium tied for first. A loud crowd of more than 43,000 fans had watched Dungey and Tomac duel in a heat race and was primed for the main event.
KTM rider Dungey grabbed the lead in Lap 1 and held it for the first 18 laps, according to the official lap chart.
Tomac started badly and was as far back as 15th at the start of the race. In 11th place in Lap 2, Tomac began his charge, quickly passing riders in each lap. The Kawasaki rider benefited from Justin Bogle’s crash in Lap 8, and he passed him and Blake Baggett to tuck into third place just behind Jason Anderson and about 8 seconds behind Dungey.
He went by Husqvarna rider Anderson, who went wide on a curve, and passed the lapped Vince Friese to come up behind Dungey in second place in Lap 14.
Dungey, running out in front of Anderson, had lost track of Tomac, who was deep in the pack for the first five laps. He didn’t see him coming until Tomac challenged Anderson for second place.
“I was actually kinda surprised,” Dungey said in the post-race news conference. “He kinda caught me off-guard.”
As the race became a two-man contest, the difference came in the whoops. Dungey chose to jump through the bumps, while Tomac skimmed over the top of them and attempted to pass Dungey in the curves.
Tomac immediately pressured Dungey in the whoops and curves, and after several attempts, passed him in Lap 19. He opened up a 6-second lead and kept it for the final nine laps, beating second-place Dungey by more than 6.3 seconds.
It was Tomac’s ninth win of the AMA 450SX Supercross series, and his ninth in the past 13 races.
Husqvarna rider Jason Anderson, of Rio Rancho, New Mexico, finished third. KTM rider Marvin Musquin, of Clermont, Florida, finished fourth. Tomac’s Kawasaki teammate, Josh Grant, of Wildomar, California, finished fifth.
Tomac later described his bad start as nerve-wracking.
“There’s a lot of guys and everyone’s tight, and you know, banging bars, and it’s not a position you want to be in,” he said. “After that, it was just go time.”
Both Tomac and Dungey seemed to say at the press conference that the race was won in the whoops.
Dungey regretted his decision to jump through the bumps while Tomac skimmed the bumps. “I just feel like that left-hander going into the whoops to the left-hander after – that chunk – I just gave up everything,” he said.
“The skim was working,” Tomac said.
The 2017 race for the Supercross title is being billed at the closest race in 44 years. For Tomac, that’s not surprising.
“I think the days of one guy completely dominating and running away with races is pretty well gone,” Tomac told the Deseret News during a prerace news conference on Friday. “It’s so competitive now. It’s tough. If you’re buried on the start, a lot of times, you can’t make it all the way to the front because there is so many good guys. ... There are not many secrets left out there, and at the end of the day, you just have to go do it.”
What’s it going to take to beat Tomac?
“Just win,” Dungey said. “And fight like hell.”
“We’re going to race each other pretty respectfully,” Tomac said. “We’re going to race each other hard, but nothing that’s going to be out of control or really dirty. We’ve got two to go, we’ll do what we can do.”
Their next race is on April 29 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The final, 17th race of the 2017 AMA Supercross series is May 6 in Las Vegas.