If you’re an Eli Tomac fan, chances are you’re grumbling right now about Monster Energy Supercross crowning another “paper” champion in the marquee 450SX class. After all, Tomac has won half of the races in the past two seasons—nine last year, eight this year—and still couldn’t muster better than third place in the final 2018 standings.
But to say that is to ignore just how dominant Rockstar Energy Husqvarna Factory Racing rider Jason Anderson was in 2018.
Following in the footsteps of four-time 450SX champion Ryan Dungey, his longtime training partner, Anderson took his first championship at the top level in 2018 (as well as the first for his team) after winning four races and taking 11 podiums. Finishing outside of the top five only twice all season, even a late-season hiccup in Salt Lake City wasn’t enough to allow Marvin Musquin to surpass El Hombre, who held on to take a nine-point championship victory.
“We’ve put our whole lives into this,” Anderson said after finally clinching the title. “I’ve been riding dirt bikes for so long, (so) to win this championship between me and my team, it’s the most surreal moment of my life up to this point. Man, I’m so happy. I was tested this year… I’m just beyond words.”
When Tomac crashed out of the lead in the Anaheim opener, Musquin, Anderson, and Justin Barcia claimed the three podium spots. Unable to ride through pain in his shoulder in Houston, the Kawasaki rider withdrew from the event, only to be joined on the sidelines by Musquin as the French KTM racer suffered his own shoulder injury during a crash in the heat rounds.
Without two of his top title rivals to battle him, Anderson won the Houston main event and took the points lead. He never looked back.
The next seven rounds saw Tomac and Anderson trade victories, but with no real change in the championship margin. While Anderson remained in the hunt as Tomac won in Anaheim 2 and Glendale, Tomac suffered another last-place main event finish in San Diego. It was during this stretch of the season that we also lost top riders Ken Roczen and Cole Seely for the year, as both would bow out before the Atlanta round that marked the halfway point of the championship; Barcia also missed significant time before returning in Minneapolis.
All the injuries helped to open the door for other riders to make it onto the podium. Blake Baggett became a consistent presence in post-race with five podiums to his name, but no rider could top the feel-good story that was Justin Brayton’s first career victory in Daytona. At 33 years old, Brayton became the oldest first-time winner in Supercross history, finally taking the checkered flag in his 131st career start.
But 2018 was the year of Anderson, and Musquin and Tomac’s attempts to catch him despite serious disadvantages. The trio would lock out six of the 17 podiums on the year: Tampa, Atlanta, St. Louis, and the three-race stretch from Seattle to Foxborough. The last round of the six saw Musquin make his most aggressive move as a 450SX rider yet, bouncing into Tomac on the final lap in an ultimately successful but unpopular attempt to reclaim the lead and his second win of the season.
Still, as spectacularly consistent as Anderson had been, the penultimate round of the season in Salt Lake City wiped out most of his points lead. Contact in the holeshot led to a damaged wheel and time in the pits, and the Californian could only muster six points while Musquin won and chopped 20 off the championship advantage.
That left the title still in doubt at the Las Vegas finale, but Anderson got exactly what he needed to lock it up. While Tomac scored his eighth win of the year and Musquin finished second, Anderson only needed to crack the top 10 in order to keep the red number plate and earn the number 1 for 2019.
Mission accomplished: he finished fifth.
There are plenty of compelling questions going into the 2019 season. Will Anderson follow in the dominant footsteps of his training partner Dungey, and dominate the sport for years to come? Can Tomac ever put together a consistent enough season to take the title? How will the return of top riders next year impact the championship race? We’ll have the entire Lucas Oil Pro Motocross season to ponder those questions, and another taste of Supercross this October at the Monster Energy Cup.
But for now, it’s a time for celebration in the Husqvarna camp. (At least until Hangtown next weekend.)