Muddy Creek preview: Baggett vs. Tomac takes center stage

June 21, 2017

As summer arrives, things are continuing to heat up — on and off the track.

Blake Baggett became the first rider to score multiple 450MX overall wins this year. (Photo: Rich Shepherd / Racer X Online)

The 2017 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship is heading to Muddy Creek for Round 5 of the season, and as the calendar hits summer, the action on (and off) the track is continuing to heat up.

After four rounds in the 450 Class, three different riders (Eli Tomac, Marvin Musquin, Blake Baggett) have been in possession of the red plate, and all three of those riders are within 11 points of each other in the championship standings. There's also Jason Anderson, who won his first 450 Class moto earlier this year, not far behind.

Judging by the comments he's made in recent weeks, Blake Baggett is feeling it right now. After winning Thunder Valley, he talked about how his goal was to "break" Tomac during that race. Then he went on the PulpMX Show and made some remarks about how all the hype around "that person's father" [John Tomac was a cycling legend who has served as Eli's trainer] doesn't concern him. And after Tomac beat Baggett in Moto 2 at High Point, Baggett wanted to make it known that he was more concerned with securing the overall victory rather than pushing it to go after another moto win.

"Championships are all about being solid and having good motos every time," he told Georgia Lindsay during the NBC telecast. "I knew where Eli was, and it wasn't really a situation that I needed to hang it out there and twist it to go get him. He can have that one — it's three points, and the season is a long time."

That's confidence right there.

If you're looking for the opposite of confidence, there was a huge dose of that too courtesy of Musquin over the weekend.

During the course of the day at High Point, it was revealed that Musquin was dealing with a torn meniscus, which he suffered two days before while training. That explains why he struggled to 16-6 moto finishes. After the race, he released an update, and it wasn't exactly encouraging.

"This week was all about salvaging points in the championship," Musquin said through a team statement. "I hurt my left knee so knew it was going to be tough coming into High Point especially since we were coming in with the red plate. I had to ride both races with my feet on the pegs basically unable to put my left leg out which obviously restricted what I was able to do on the track, it was tough. But I gave it everything I had and we leave here second in points so it could have been a lot worse. I guess the next few weeks will be about salvaging points and I will just keep trying to do my best."

Eli Tomac leads the 450 Class in moto wins with three so far. (Photo: Rich Shepherd / Racer X Online)

Musquin entered High Point with the championship lead but left the track eight points behind Baggett. That means he's still right in the thick of the title fight, at least theoretically, right now, but these next few motos are going to be key in determining the outlook on the rest of his season. Although the full extent of his injury is currently uncertain, a torn meniscus isn't something that's just going to heal overnight.

That means the main title fight is now centered on Baggett and Tomac. These are two riders known for their raw speed but not their starts.

Both Baggett (10.1) and Tomac (12.9) have average starting positions outside the top ten, though those figures are a little skewed by first-lap crashes. That's the lowest starting position of any rider inside the top ten in points other than Dean Wilson (10.8).

The flip side of that is that the average number of riders they have passed in each moto (Baggett: 6.2, Tomac: 7.3) is higher than all of those other riders in the top ten. They are also the top two in laps led (Tomac: 39, Baggett: 23).

Just 11 points separate the assertive Baggett and the quiet Tomac entering Muddy Creek. If they both start near each other, it's on.

Here's a few other things to watch for on Saturday.

Is Cooper Webb on the cusp of a podium, or possibly even a win? Can Deano grab another top ten? (Photo: Rich Shepherd / Racer X Online)

Cooper Webb's improvement
It's been up-and-down season for Cooper Webb, but right now he's on the upswing. He's finished 4-6-5 in his last three motos and seems to be getting more comfortable.

We've already had five different moto winners this year, and Webb is a candidate to be the next rider to add his name to the list. It might not happen right away for the rookie, but he's making progress and moving in the right direction.

While competing in the 250 Class, Webb won overalls twice at Muddy Creek (2014 and 2016). You may recall a battle with Baggett in 2014 that still holds up as one of the most exciting finishes ever. Webb lost that moto in a near-photo finish but bounced back to win Moto 2 and the overall.

Dean Wilson's streak
A few weeks ago, we noted that only three riders had finished inside the top ten in every moto: Musquin, Baggett and Wilson. You can cross Musquin off that list after High Point. That leaves just two riders — Baggett and Wilson.

Yes, after eight motos, Wilson has finished inside the top ten in each one. Not bad for someone who came into 2017 as a privateer. But he's still in search of his first podium finish.

As far as points, Wilson is currently seventh in the 450 Class, but is just five points behind Broc Tickle (fifth place) and two points behind Justin Bogle (sixth place). Josh Grant (eighth place) and Cole Seely (ninth place) are both within five points of catching Wilson though.

Can Wilson keep the streak alive at Muddy Creek?

Even goggle issues couldn't deter Zach Osborne from tying for the overall at High Point. (Photo: Jeff Kardas / Racer X Online)

Zach Osborne vs. Jeremy Martin
Despite the craziness of the 250 Class this season (five different moto winners, three different overall winners), two riders have started to separate themselves from the pack a bit. That would be Zach Osborne and Jeremy Martin, who traded moto wins last weekend at High Point. Alex Martin is eight points behind Jeremy and 26 points behind Osborne but is coming off a race in which he lost 17 points to the top two.

The points race could be a lot closer were it not for Jeremy Martin's DNF in Moto 1 at Hangtown or his crash in Moto 2 at Glen Helen. But there are a few metrics that show just how close things have been between these two this year.

Average qualifying position
Osborne: 3.5
J. Martin: 4.0

Average starting position (after Lap 1)
Osborne: 7.0
J. Martin: 7.8

Osborne: 1
J. Martin: 3

Laps led
Osborne: 33
J. Martin: 34

Moto wins
Osborne: 3
J. Martin: 2

Overall wins
Osborne: 2
J. Martin: 1

There is a large crop of riders who could potentially earn a 250MX win at Muddy Creek, but no matter what's happening up front, keep an eye on Osborne and Jeremy Martin to see how the title race is affected.

Aaron Plessinger is one of the top 250 Class riders without a win so far. (Photo: Rich Shepherd / Racer X Online)

More winners in the 250 Class?
It seems like a safe bet that there will be at least one more 250 Class moto winner added to the list before the end of the season (joining Osborne, the Martin brothers, Joey Savatgy and Dylan Ferrandis).

Austin Forkner looked to be on the cusp after going 2-3 at Thunder Valley but was unable to crack the top five in either moto at High Point.

Adam Cianciarulo has had exactly one top-four moto finish at every round so far but he has yet to put together two good motos in one day, which has kept him off the overall podium so far.

One of the most impressive rides at High Point came from Aaron Plessinger, who rode to 3-3 moto finishes despite a painful groin injury suffered during practice earlier in the day. Might his first win of the season be around the corner?

Watch the Tennessee National on Saturday, June 24. NBC Sports Gold will be streaming every moto live and commercial-free for Pro Motocross Pass subscribers, and MAVTV and NBCSN will have live television coverage. Click here for more info on how to watch.