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Chase Sexton and Eli Tomac exchanged a fist bump following Saturday's Supercross race in Nashville. (Feld Motor Sports, Inc. photo)

Since Atlanta, Chase Sexton Has Been A New Man

Since his breakthrough victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway on April 15, things have been a little different for Chase Sexton.

But the changes are not necessarily external — he still swings his leg over the No. 23 Honda HRC machine, he shows up to race every Saturday and his steel blue eyes remain locked on chasing a 450SX Supercross championship.

Rather, the difference has been behind the scenes.

“Since Atlanta, it does seem like he has a little more belief in himself. I think he was just getting beat down so much,” said Honda HRC team manager Lars Lindstrom. “He even said, he proved it to himself that he can do it.”

Sexton’s Achilles heel this season have been a series of minor, mid-race stumbles. While the tipovers were never significant enough to take him out of contention, the 23-year-old has lost the lead a few too many times for his liking. While one could argue that mistakes often teach the greatest lessons, the disappointing stretch of races took a noticeable toll on Sexton.

So when he arrived in Atlanta, a win wasn’t just a goal — it was a necessity.

From Lindstrom’s perspective, the most the team could do for Sexton at that point was simply help lift his mental spirits.

“It’s just making sure he knows that he’s got all the tools,” Lindstrom said. “We don’t need to show him how to go any faster … We put it on us, too. You know, maybe we need to improve the bike, because of the situations he’s had.”

Making the bike more predictable was one of Lindstrom’s objectives as the year developed, as most of Sexton’s crashes were carbon copies of each other. The front end would wash out as he rounded a corner, resulting in the No. 23 tipping over into the dirt.

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Chase Sexton lights the candles in Atlanta. (Feld Motor Sports, Inc. photo)

The stars finally aligned at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

After earning the fast-qualifier award in the morning, the No. 23 dominated the main event. Sexton took the lead on the first lap and led the entire distance.

“Around the 10-minute mark, I’m sure the TV announcers were waiting for something to happen to me,” Sexton joked during the post-race press conference in Atlanta.

But perhaps the lighthearted anecdote was more serious than the Honda HRC rider cared to admit, as his picture-perfect race appears to have pushed him past a mental milestone.

“I just feel more complete as a rider, and that’s the big thing for me right now,” Sexton said.

Despite his mistakes, the Illinois native has certainly proved his capabilities on the race track. In many cases, Sexton has mounted impressive rebounds, resulting in 13 top-five finishes in 14 rounds of competition. On top of that, he also collected two victories early in the season.

But the lingering impact of his Atlanta triumph was most apparent when Sexton attacked the track with a fury Saturday at Nashville’s Nissan Stadium. Late in the race, the No. 23 Honda hunted down points leader Eli Tomac and made a pass for the lead. Sexton added another notch to his win column, bringing his season total to four.

“For me, I wanted to progress from last year and I definitely feel like I’ve done that,” Sexton said about his overarching season goal.

The year isn’t over quite yet though.

A few curveballs were thrown in the point standings on Saturday, as Red Bull KTM’s Cooper Webb suffered a tough break during a heat race crash and was unable to compete in the main event. While Webb was second in points entering Nashville, his absence from the race handed Sexton the position as Tomac’s chief championship rival.

With two races to go, Sexton is the only rider close enough in points to challenge Tomac for the title.

“You definitely don’t wish any bad luck on anybody, but today was a perfect example that anything can happen,” Sexton said. “Today went as planned for me, so looking to do that again at the next two rounds.”

Sexton is 18 points behind the defending champion heading to Denver, Colo., next Saturday.