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2000 AMA Supercross Preview and Predictions

After our recent article predicting that Kevin Windham would de-throne Jeremy McGrath as AMA Supercross Champion in the year 2000, we were challenged to do a more thorough analysis of the season, and predict the top 10 finishers. Here goes.

We’ll begin with the nature of predictions — they assume no injuries and no mechanical failures affecting any of the riders. They also are inevitably wrong, but they are fun. Having said that, and with that as our basic assumption, we predict the following finishing order in the year 2000 AMA Supercross Series Championship.

1. Kevin Windham (Honda)
2. Jeremy McGrath (Yamaha)
3. Mike LaRocco (Honda)
4. Ricky Carmichael (Kawasaki)
5. Larry Ward (Kawasaki)
6. Ezra Lusk (Honda)
7. David Vuillemin (Yamaha)
8. Jeff Emig (Yamaha)
9. Tim Ferry (Yamaha)
10. Jimmy Button (Yamaha)

We will also rate the five fastest riders. This is a rating of flat-out speed for each rider then they are “on” — not for an “off” night.

1. Kevin Windham (Honda)
2. Ricky Carmichael (Kawasaki)
3. Ezra Lusk (Honda)
4. Jeremy McGrath (Yamaha)
5. Robbie Reynard (Suzuki)

Finally, we will rate the five riders we expect to be the most consistent from race to race in 2000.

1. Jeremy McGrath (Yamaha)
2. Mike La Rocco (Honda)
3. Larry Ward (Kawasaki)
4. Kevin Windham (Honda)
5. Ricky Carmichael (Kawasaki)

There you have it. Our fearless predictions. Now, let’s talk about why we chose the riders we did in the places we selected for them.

Our earlier article discussed Kevin Windham versus Jeremy McGrath. Let me say something additional about Kevin Windham. He’s been a series champion before. His consistency last year was missing early in the year, but he knows how to be consistent and he knows how to ride smart. What do we mean by “ride smart”? We mean he knows how to take a third, fourth or fifth place on an off night, rather than take a soil sample and lose a huge amount of points. Lots of riders haven’t learned this yet, but this is an absolute key to winning a championship. You must get good points every night.

It is also rumored that the factory Hondas are just awesome this year. Ryan Hughes, who was in Vegas (and actually rode better than the other Honda riders) has said the new frame and engine and suspension combination creates the best bike he has ever ridden. This is saying a lot, given the fact that Ryno rode a factory Kawasaki when Emig was dominating on the very same bike.

Windham can also beat McGrath when McGrath is having a good night. When McGrath is on there are very few riders who can hang with him. Windham is definitely one of them. Ezra Lusk and Ricky Carmichael are others — when they are having good nights. Windham is the only other rider fast enough to hang with McGrath (and actually faster than McGrath, on occasion) who has shown consistency throughout a championship series on a 250 (something Carmichael and Lusk have yet to show). After Windham made the admittedly substantial adjustment from the Yamaha 250 to the Honda 250 last year, he rode very well indeed. Although he lost the Outdoor National Championship to Greg Albertyn (Suzuki), Windham won more overalls than Albee did. Enough about Windham.

We think McGrath’s consistency and speed will put him in second place next year. We don’t need to say anything more about Jeremy McGrath. The record book and six AMA Supercross titles in the last seven years says it all. We just think it is time for him to be edged out by Windham.

We picked Mike LaRocco for third place based on his experience, speed, desire, conditioning and bike. We expect LaRocco will adapt well to the new Honda, and be even faster next year. Yes, he’s getting older, but his conditioning still ranks at the top, and John Dowd has shown us that older guys can still be fast. We like LaRocco’s consistency as well. Even though he is consistently a bad starter, he consistently drives through the pack to the front by the end of the race (utilizing his speed and conditioning). He also, occasionally, gets a good start. If he does so this year, we expect him to win races.

Ricky Carmichael is our pick for fourth place. If you look at our speed rankings, we ranked Carmichael behind only Windham in the speed category. In fact, as soon as RC gets a little more experience on the 250, we expect him to be the fastest 250 Supercross rider in the world. Why is he only fourth? Although we expect his consistency to improve dramatically (and he has been consistent enough to win three National Championships), we still expect RC to occasionally crash his way out of the top points paying positions. If Carmichael finds the consistency this year that he has displayed on a 125 (remember, he won every single Supercross he entered on a 125 in 1998), RC could well be battling Windham for the Championship while pushing McGrath back to third place. We just think RC will be learning again this year, and fighting for the Championship in 2001.

We went with Larry Ward in fifth place. Larry has shown consistency that has lasted for years. He has won Supercross races. He is also getting on an excellent motorcycle (the Kawasaki KX250) that we feel he will adapt to quickly. We think the Kawasaki KX250 will be fast right out of the box, and tuned to Larry’s liking. This wasn’t the case with the Suzuki RM 250 last year, which was continually re-tuned throughout the Supercross Season. We also think Larry has ridden at the front often enough that he doesn’t get psyched out by other riders.

It was difficult to rate Ezra Lusk as low as sixth place, and he could certainly prove us wrong, but Lusk has been around long enough to learn consistency and win championships — and he has done neither since switching to the 250 class in 1995. Lusk has blazing speed when he is “on” (even faster than McGrath), but he has never shown the consistency necessary to win a championship. We like Ezra, and we know he has an awful lot of talent, we just don’t think his head’s in the right place to consistently beat the type of competition he will see next year.

David Vuillemin is a bit of a question mark for us, but we chose him for seventh place next year. Vuillemin is young, but very dedicated and very fast (he almost made our top 5 “speed chart”). Next year will be a learning year for Vuillemin, and he could well place higher (and even win the championship) in years to come. Those of you who have not seen Vuillemin ride will be surprised by his speed and style.

We picked Jeff Emig for eighth place, but, to be honest, we have no clue what Jeff will do next year. We couldn’t leave him off the top ten after his performance at the U.S. Open in Las Vegas, but Jeff’s personal life, and the effect it has on his dedication to racing, is still a big question mark. He may even race in Europe next year. He has admitted himself that he takes his huge talent for granted when he is on top, and actually works harder with his “back against the wall”. Did Vegas and the $100,000.00 allow Emig to relax and re-assume his partying lifestyle? We don’t have a clue, but Emig is clearly fast (he’s the only defending Supercross Champion in the field besides McGrath), and if he rides anything like he did in Vegas, he will place much higher than eighth in the final series standings.

We chose Tim Ferry of the Chaparral Yamaha team for ninth place overall next year. Like Larry Ward, we think Ferry will eventually work his way back to a factory ride, but this year will be difficult for him on privateer equipment. Although he is a teammate of Jeremy McGrath, MC is the only Chaparral rider to get a full factory Yamaha next year. Ferry has a great work ethic, a great attitude and considerable talent, but in this incredibly talented field we are picking him for ninth place in the series.

Jimmy Button is our pick for tenth place, but Button could clearly place much, much higher. Button has never shown consistency, but speed and endurance earned him an Outdoor National victory last year. This is also Button’s second year on the YZ400, and he will certainly be more comfortable on the machine. The big question mark is Button’s consistency. Last year, he had trouble with crashes and stalling the big four stroke (which is always difficult to re-start). If this happens with any frequency in 2000, with the type of competition he will be facing, Button won’t even make the top 10.

2000 will be the most competitive Supercross series ever. Think about it — we left guys like Albertyn(1997 LA Supercross winner and 1999 250 outdoor champion), Tortelli and Reynard out of the top ten! Go ahead, tell us with your E-mail why we’re wrong.