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The gate drops for Monster Energy Supercross at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Feld Motor Sports, Inc. photo)

Atlanta Vs. Daytona: Racing Supercross At Speedways

The Monster Energy AMA Supercross circuit visited two speedways this season.

The first was iconic Daytona Int’l Speedway, which has been a traditional stop on the cross-country Supercross campaign since 1974. The event celebrated its 53rd running this year, with the legendary Ricky Carmichael tackling the in-field course design once again.

For athletes such as Red Bull KTM’s Cooper Webb, there’s no other race on the schedule that compares to the Daytona Beach experience — from the dirt itself, to the course layout, to the crowd that piles on the high-banked frontstretch.

But for the third consecutive year, the series took a detour to a second speedway-style track.

Last Friday, teams pulled into Atlanta Motor Speedway to prepare for the 13th round of the season. On Saturday, Honda HRC’s Chase Sexton conquered the grueling course in the infield of the 1.5-mile NASCAR track, dominating from lap one to the lap-15 checkered flag.

Sexton Scores Big At Atlanta Supercross

With the average lap time being around 1 minute, 30 seconds, it was the longest track of the season, by far. Lap times at Daytona were around the 1-minute, 10-second range. Additionally, the Atlanta course featured two whoops sections, a few sand sections and a range of traditional Supercross obstacles, providing a new and welcome challenge for many of the 450SX competitors.

“The whole lap was focused on getting through that first set of whoops,” Sexton said. “With how gnarly the track was, you had to be pretty on point.”

The No. 23 Honda rider still put on a picture-perfect performance, collecting his fourth career victory. His assessment of the track was similar to the general consensus among the 450SX riders, from the “next-level whoops” to the deeply-rutted dirt.

“This one is more of a Supercross track,” said Red Bull KTM’s Aaron Plessinger. “We’ve got the big doubles, the steep jumps and the tunnel jumps, which we do have at Daytona, but there, we have the black sand. This place is clay, soft, rutted. Both tracks are really gnarly.”

Plessinger had an up-and-down day in Atlanta, but rebounded to finish sixth. Despite his troubles, the No. 7 KTM rider gave the track his stamp of approval.

“I love speedway tracks, I wish they would add more,” Plessinger said.

Troy Lee/Red Bull/GASGAS rider Justin Barcia placed Atlanta ahead of Daytona on his list of favorites.

“I was quite happy with the track. It’s high-speed, it’s technical, but it did break down enough where we had to pick good lines and hit our marks,” Barcia said. “I liked it better than Daytona, to be honest.”

The No. 51 GASGAS rider finished second in the main event.

Rather than comparing it to Daytona, H.E.P. Motorsports’ Shane McElrath put the Atlanta track in the same category as Red Bull Straight Rhythm — which is essentially the dirt bike version of a drag race, involving one-on-one matchups on a straight, half-mile course.

“The rhythms were so long,” McElrath said. “Daytona is just rough. The sand there, it’s more outdoor type. Here with the clay, once the lines broke in, the speed was there all day … We don’t normally ride Supercross this fast.”

For the No. 12 Suzuki rider, who finished 12th on Saturday, Atlanta outranks Daytona in regard to pure difficulty.   

“Daytona is kind of known for the one-off, non-Supercross race. But this speedway is almost harder,” McElrath said. This was also the first year he raced at the facility.  

Tomac Talk: Carmichael, McGrath & Dungey Weigh In

There is a final, underlying level of importance to last weekend’s race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

With the track crossing over between a typical Supercross layout and a Pro Motocross outdoor-style course, it’s fair to expect that the SuperMotocross playoff rounds at the end of the year will feature similar track designs. Though there have yet to be any details released about what obstacles will be included during the three-race playoff campaign, Atlanta seemed to hint at what’s coming down the line. 

Barcia added, “This is more like a SuperMotocross track, in my opinion. Based on the way all our bikes handled tonight, I’d say we’re all quite excited for what’s to come.”

The first SuperMotocross World Championship race is scheduled for Sept. 9 at zMAX Dragway in Concord, N.C.; the second will take place on Sept. 16 at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.; and the third is set for the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on Sept. 23.