Team Honda HRC’s Chase Sexton had been knocking on the door of his first career AMA Pro Racing 450SX Supercross victory in the Monster Energy Supercross Series, and it all came right on Saturday evening when the 22 year-old from La Moille, Illinois raced to victory before an overflow crowd of 45,000 inside downtown San Diego’s Petco Park Major League Baseball Stadium.
Q: What was running through your mind in the last five to eight minutes of the main event?
CHASE SEXTON: I would say it was more early, when I got into the lead. I’m like, I’m not wasting another opportunity. I was pretty locked in. I felt really good with the track. The whoops, I was comfortable in, which was the biggest thing. I could hit every lap with confidence and not have to worry about stepping out. I just really hit my marks. It’s hard to put it into words. I’ve been chasing this… it feels like forever, but it’s only been a year and a half or something like that.
Q: Did you have any opportunity to see where anybody else was in the race at the halfway mark and check in on anybody?
CS: Yeah. I knew where Eli [Tomac] was. I think Jason [Anderson] was in second at one point. I saw him. Then I saw Eli. I was just trying to hit my marks every lap and kind of keep myself at a good distance where I felt like I was comfortable. I was looking at the pit board, looking at lap times, and just riding like a practice moto. It was enjoyable. It’s addicting. I want to do it again.
Q: Supercross champions always learn from their mistakes or their weaknesses. Talk about the training you did this season to maybe offset some of your weaknesses from last year that came up to bite you.
CS: I think for me, just learning the bike, and just learning what I can get away with on the 450 and what I can’t. Obviously, last year I hit the ground a lot, and it came back to haunt me. So, I wasn’t very confident, and when you’re not confident you seem to hit the ground more. This year, obviously Anaheim I crashed, and then last weekend was the first race where I didn’t crash. I stalled it, but I didn’t make the mistake that I had made prior. Last weekend wasn’t a good result. I wasn’t excited, but I was happy that I got through it without making those dumb mistakes.
I just felt really good on Saturday. Even in practice, I wasn’t the fastest but I felt like I had really good racecraft. I felt like I was squirting out of the corners good. I was staying low and stuff. Ultimately that’s what it comes down to, is just feeling comfortable. Horrible starts in practice, and then horrible heat race start. I told myself I’ve got to get out front in the main event because the track was, I felt like more difficult to pass on this weekend than normal. I just needed to get a good start. I wouldn’t say I changed a whole bunch training-wise. I did spend a lot of time in Santa Barbara [this off-season], which I felt like matured me. Overall I just feel a lot more mature this year than last year. I’m going to keep getting that way because I’m still only 22. Just want to keep improving and get better.
Q: You mentioned in your podium interview that you spent a lot of time testing the bike this week. What in particular were you testing for? Also, now that the first win is out of the way, does it feel a relief? Do you feel you needed to get that win out of the way in order to try and concentrate on going for this championship this year?
CS: Yeah. This week we left the Honda test track and went to Lake Elsinore. They have a pretty good set of whoops there. We were struggling last week, me and Kenny both, in the whoops. We spent two good days of testing, which I feel like it paid off. I felt more comfortable from the first practice on. I felt really good everywhere else, but when you don’t feel comfortable on a certain part of the track and you have to go around that 20-however many laps, it’s difficult to do.
As far as getting the first win, it definitely feels like a weight lifted off my shoulders. Like I’ve said so many times, I was in that position a lot and it never happened. I started to question it, and tonight I just had to believe, and finally got it done. It’s crazy. The 450 class is gnarly this year, like it always is. There’s a lot of racing left. If I can keep getting good starts and putting myself in a good position, then I think we’ll be where we want to be.
Q: Now you’ve had that first win, and have some momentum rolling into some more familiar territory in Anaheim. How much will it mean to you to be able to back this up with some good performances down the road?
CS: Definitely. Like I said, it’s addicting to win races. It’s been a while since I’ve won a supercross race, since I was on a 250. I don’t want to be a one-hit wonder. I want to go out there and back it up. Like I said, if I keep getting good starts in the main, it makes your life a lot easier, like these guys were saying. I haven’t been doing a whole bunch of start practice, but I’ve been doing other stuff with the bike and trying to fix stuff on the track.
Q: What are those things that you have been changing on the bike?
CS: This week we switched triple clamps, shocks. Changed stuff with being a little bit more rigid. I felt like we were getting a lot of flex with the bike. We changed a lot of stuff this week. It was nice to see something pay off, because we threw a lot of stuff at it I was there for a while testing this week. I’m not saying it’s perfect, and I’m not saying that it’s going to work everywhere, but it definitely made life a lot easier in the whoops on Saturday.
Q: How much longer did this race feel, trying to keep that pace up towards the end of the race when you’re just managing the gap?
CS: It definitely felt long, but it’s different when you are feeling comfortable. There’s races like last year at Atlanta, I actually had Eli behind me. I wasn’t very consistent in the whoops and I was kind of just hoping and praying every lap that I was going to go through them and not crash. Tonight I felt like I was riding well. I felt really good on the bike. It was much easier for me mentally to keep the gap where I needed it, because I felt comfortable. It is a long race. I don’t know how many laps we did tonight, but it was one of our shorter tracks of the season so far. Four-fifty mains are long in general, but tonight definitely felt a little longer.
Q: You talked a lot about what you worked on with the bike. Can you also talk about what you work on mentally to keep your spirits animated in light of the results that you haven’t had that you wanted in the past two races?
CS: Especially when you don’t get the results, you’re always motivated. At least, for me it drives me more. The first race was definitely frustrating when I felt like I had a shot at winning and crashing, but I felt like I rode good. Then last weekend was really just not good. I keep getting calls and texts saying, “You’re so close, you’re so close. It’s coming.” I tell people I don’t want to hear it anymore! I just got to go out there and do it. So, for me, mentally I had to keep trying and doing the same thing. I don’t feel like I did too much different. Just comfort on the track. I think that’s what got it done tonight. But I haven’t really changed much. Just keep believing. I knew I had the puzzle pieces, I just had to put them together.