From mishaps to mechanicals to the missing, the second annual Monster Energy Cup was unpredictable. Three different riders won the three 10-lap finals and the $1 million jackpot went unclaimed, but the overall winner, with 2-1-2 scores, was Muscle Milk Honda's Justin Barcia, who will be a rookie in the Supercross class in 2013. Barcia's share was $100,000 for victory on the Ricky Carmichael-designed track in Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Nev.
The major changes to the MEC in 2012 included shorter lap times, a split gate start and a Rallycross-like joker lane that was mandatory for each rider to take at least once per final. The extended section added approximately six seconds to a rider's lap time. A promise of moving the action along quicker than it did in 2011 was implemented mainly from the shorter lap times. Heat race qualifying happened earlier in the day but the evening program started off with a last chance qualifier race for the final four spots in the main. The gate for the first final didn't drop until 51 minutes after opening ceremonies.
Ryan Dungey, the 2012 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Champion was the fastest qualifier over the 2011 MEC winner, Ryan Villopoto, but finished second overall after a bizarre mechanical problem in the first two finals left him shifting his KTM with his hand.
Villopoto, in his first race back since April, finished off the podium with a 1-12-DNS. A crash in race two led him to sit out the third and final race.
Missing from action was Kevin Windham and Blake Bagget. Windham suffered a concussion in practice and Baggett, the 2011 250 Motocross champion, broke his wrist.
"Short return to racing," Windham said via Twitter before the first final. "Hit Neutral on a 10ft double. Didn't even come close to passing my scat (concussion) test."
Only one of the 11-rider gate systems, that were 220 ft. apart, dropped at the beginning of race one and the race was red flagged. On the restart, Josh Grant took the holeshot with Dungey, Villopoto and Barcia behind him. Chad Reed, like Villopoto, was also returning from a knee injury and he was 7th at the end of lap one.
Dungey made it obvious that he was having shift lever problems when he reached down to shift his KTM with his hand while jumping the triples. Post race, he said his shift lever blew out to the left on lap one when he caught it on a tuff block. He rode the entire race in second gear but still finished third.
Villopoto ended his first race back from knee surgery with a 6.5 second lead.
"With a good start it makes it a little easier," he said.
The joker lane didn't provide any leader drama in the first final. Villopoto had such a lead by the time he opted on lap seven that he came out still in the lead. Dungey took the joker late in the race and went from 4th to 7th but was able to climb back to third despite being stuck in second gear.
Villopoto and Dungey led and the battle was on until Villopoto crashed on lap two when his left hand was ripped off the handlebars in a choppy section. The mistake forced his body into his front end and he was tossed over a bowl turn. He gathered himself, rode through the joker at first opportunity and finished in 12th.
Up front, Dungey had trouble with his shifter yet again. He reached down with his left hand several times, apparently trying to shift the bike while he battled for the lead. The distraction allowed both Mike Alessi and Barcia to slip by and Reed was also in the mix. Dungey rode alone for most of the race but took second on the final lap when Alessi took his joker lap.
On lap five, Barcia needed several attempts on Alessi to take the lead. When he took his joker option on lap seven, he was forced to pass Alessi again, who waited until the final lap for the joker.
Reed strategically took his joker early, just as he was ready to battle with the leaders but he slid out on lap seven and finished out of the top three.
With the second main win, Barcia entered the third and final race as the overall leader with three points to Dungey's five.
Villopoto sat out the third and final race citing a minor blow to the head. He said the team's purpose for coming to the MEC was to see how their bike setup was coming along and that they can leave knowing what to work on.
Alessi grabbed the holeshot in the third final but he threw it away when he over-jumped a section on lap one and rode overtop of a bowl turn. While Dungey and Barcia battled for the lead, Eli Tomac, the 2012 Supercross West Coast Lites champion, stayed close but quiet in third. He took the joker section on lap four and then went to work on making up the difference. When Dungey took his joker on lap seven and then Barcia on lap nine, Tomac was close enough both times to move up one spot and then win the third final.
For Barcia, a two-time Supercross Lites champion, it was his first major 450 win in SX.
"This definitely exceed my expectations," Barcia said. "The track was gnarly and we needed lots of throttle control. I'll have a lot of momentum after this race. I had a blast and I'm looking forward to Anaheim."
News and notes
Major announcements made at the Monster Energy Cup included 15-time AMA National Champion Carmichael's partnership with Carey Hart, owner of the Hart & Huntington Team. H&H will be switching from Kawasaki to Suzuki in 2013, a move that Carmichael facilitated. The new team will be branded as RCH Racing, owned by Hart and Carmichael and managed by Kenny Watson. ESPN will be following up on this story.
Chad Reed has added Monster Energy as a sponsor of his TwoTwo Motorsports team for 2013.
KTM is bringing back the KTM Junior Supercross program in 2013 after a five year hiatus. The program will run a five-event schedule and feature 7- to 8-year-olds on identically prepared KTM SXS bikes. Current racers Alessi and Dungey both competed in the Junior SX program as amateurs.