Anaheim 1 is often the tone-setter for how the Supercross season will unfold, at least in terms of who is fast.
So what did we learn from Saturday night, when veteran Justin Barcia broke through for his first 450SX win in nearly six years?
It’s tempting to say “not much,” thanks to a persistent rain that created muddy conditions and made for a slick track. Riders like defending Supercross champion Jason Anderson (14th place) and 2018 runner-up Marvin Musquin (eighth) had surprisingly disappointing races — which surely won’t be the norm this season.
On the other hand, Barcia was fast before it rained, too. And the riders who joined him on the podium — Ken Roczen and Eli Tomac — aren’t exactly flukes.
“Shoot, I probably could have told you (Barcia) was going to win this thing two weeks ago,” Barcia’s Yamaha Factory Racing teammate Aaron Plessinger said after the race. “He’s been on the gas at the test track.”
Barcia ran a patient main event and passed Dean Wilson with roughly five minutes remaining on the clock. After that, he was never challenged.
So how much can we read into Barcia’s performance given the weather?
“It wasn’t like an insane mud race,” Barcia said. “It was slippery, but we were able to do all the jumps. I think this is a good sign for the rest of the year.”
If that’s the case, Anaheim could be the start of a dream season for Barcia. In 2018, Tomac had the early lead in an Anaheim 1 main event that ultimately saw a 1-2 finish from Musquin and Anderson. Those three fastest riders of the night went on to sweep the top three spots in the point standings — though not in that order.
Even if Barcia doesn’t win another round, he still has a fantastic story. The 26-year-old wasn’t sure he would be able to continue in Supercross at the end of 2017, but was selected for fill-in duty for the first six races of 2018 when Yamaha’s Davi Millsaps got hurt.
But after Barcia podiumed in three of his first four starts, Yamaha gave him a shot for more races and set him up for a season that would revitalize his career — that is, until he injured his hand and required surgery.
Nevertheless, the team signed Barcia to a two-year deal in the offseason and he now enters 2019 as the lead rider alongside Plessinger, a rookie.
“I’ve been through a lot the past couple years, with injuries and being in a difficult place with motorcycles,” Barcia said. “I wasn’t having fun with racing. I got the opportunity last year, made the best of that. More than anything, I’m just super grateful for the opportunity to be here racing; I know it could have went a different direction.”
If you’re looking for even more signs about how the season will go after Anaheim, Barcia’s teammate happens to be another good one. Plessinger finished sixth, the best among a strong rookie class that is expected to quickly compete with the veterans.
The charismatic 22-year-old grinned while talking about competing against the likes of Tomac and Roczen.
“I’ve watched them for years now — before I went pro,” Plessinger said. “Racing them now, it’s like, ‘Oh my God. I’m out here. I’m really doing this.’’
He shook his head for a moment, reflecting on the race, then laughed.
“I’m still in a ‘Holy shit’ moment,” he said. “To get sixth against world-class Supercross racers is a good night for me, I’ll tell you that.”