The ninth annual Monster Energy Cup delivered the excitement promised by the biggest purse and most unique race format of any motorcycle race in the world.
The event brought some new twists to Sam Boyd Stadium this year with the three Cup Class Main Events held on three different track variations, each requiring the racers one pass through a slower-route Joker Lane. With a million dollars to any rider who could sweep the three Main Event format, it was Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Adam Cianciarulo who edged out his team-mate, two-time and defending Cup Champion Eli Tomac, for the event win and $100,000, proving this 450cc class rookie has the speed and the mental nerve to take on the competitive 450cc Supercross Class racers.
From the first gate drop the excitement of 35,424 fans spiked as Adam Cianciarulo grabbed the holeshot in his class debut and looked fast enough to gap the two racers behind him, GEICO Honda’s Jeremy Martin, and Smartop/Bullfrog Spas/Motoconcepts Honda’s Malcom Stewart, who were both in their first appearances since big injuries in previous seasons. Smartop/Bullfrog Spas/Motoconcepts Honda’s Vince Friese, visiting 3x World Champion Team Honda HRC’s Tim Gajser, and defending Monster Energy Cup champion, Monster Energy Kawasaki’s Eli Tomac, were right behind the top three. In the same stadium where a simple mistake cost him a Western Regional 250SX Class Supercross title just five months before, Cianciarulo made another small mistake; the Kawasaki rider washed out the front end in a corner and dropped back to fifth as Friese grabbed the lead. Tomac reached second place but then lost his bearings on which track section he was on and drastically mis-timed a triple jump. Tomac recovered and on lap six got into the lead. The top riders waited until the final lap to make their pass through the Joker Lane, a slow section comprised of three steep wall jumps separated by deep, white sand. Tomac took the win, separating himself as the only rider in the running for the million dollars. His new team-mate Cianciarulo crossed the checkered flag close behind in second.
On the podium Tomac said about his mid-race mistake, “…our normal line right now is double double, [but] I went double triple. I totally brainfarted. That’s the track getting me right now. Gotta get my head straight here, ’cause that was scary.”
Main Event #2 of the Cup Class proved that anything can happen in racing. Jeremy Martin jumped out with the holeshot with Friese close behind. Tomac was buried closer to tenth place than to first, and his team-mate Cianciarulo was outside even the top ten. Tomac went to work fast, at times passing a different rider in two consecutive corners. By lap three he was up to second place, with Friese in sight right ahead. But then Tomac highsided while landing off the roller on the track’s high-speed sweeper. He jumped back onto the bike, but the crash put him into tenth place and over eight seconds from the leader. At the midpoint, Malcom Stewart passed his team-mate Friese to take the lead and bring home the win. It marked Stewart’s first race in nine months after an injury ended his Supercross season.
Stewart was a happy man on the podium, “…we’ve got another race to go. Hopefully we’re on the top step, if not, man, we’re already making dreams come true. I’ve already marked things off my checklist. It was just to win a Main Event. I said, ‘Let’s go, now the goal is to win this overall’… …This is what Monster Energy Cup is all about. This is what they wanted, you guys want a… three-race battle? Here you go! You got it!” With Stewart taking the win, Cianciarulo finishing second, and Tomac working his way up to third, those three riders would go into Main Event #3 tied in points for a winner-take-all Vegas finale.
With $100,000 on the line Adam Cianciarulo, in his 450SX Class debut, in the stadium that ruined his Western Regional 250SX Class season just five months before, grabbed the holeshot with Tim Gajser and Eli Tomac close in tow. A few turns in, Cianciarulo got off balance on the edge of the track and had to roll the Finish Line jump, putting all three riders into a single turn at the same time.
No positions were changed then, but when Tomac got around Gajser one turn later, the two Kawasaki riders, competing for the first time and tied in points, started a nine-lap battle for a six-figure payday. Tomac got around at one point on lap six of the ten lap Main Event, but Cianciarulo slipped back into the lead within a few feet.
Tomac turned up the pressure every lap and stayed right on Cianciarulo’s rear tire until lap nine, when he strategically took the Joker Lane in the hopes of turning a faster laptime and taking the lead when Cianciarulo was forced to take the Joker Lane on the final lap. On the final lap, the two riders took their respective lanes and in a nail-biter, Cianciarulo came out less than a bike length ahead. Tomac pressured for the remainder of the lap but Cianciarulo held strong and held on for the win and a $100,000 winner’s check.
On the podium the new Monster Energy Cup champion was elated, “My first thought was, ‘What a life I get to live!’ That whole race I knew he was behind me. We had a gap and I knew it was going to come down to the Joker Lane and – just the opportunity to race with Eli. He’s accomplished so much and just to be out there on the track with him. I’m stoked to be out there. Honestly, I always looked up to Eli and so just to be out there racing with him is unreal. And to come out on top of my first race is, I just can’t ask for anything better…” Cianciarulo also showed some insight into a racer’s development when asked if the win taking place in the stadium where his Supercross championship slipped away gave him a sense of redemption. “It’s a little bit of redemption but to be honest with you I look at Vegas now – after winning the outdoor motocross championship – I look at Vegas as something that helped me get there. I really don’t look back on that race and think, ‘Oh, man.’ I think it’s really helped me grow. And what a better way, to get a Monster Cup win in 450. I always love coming here, even that night, it sucked, obviously, but I love Vegas and I’m just so grateful, can’t say that enough.”
Tomac was disappointed but not down with his second-place finish. When asked about the roost and his timing with the Joker Lane, “Going into the Joker, I thought I just couldn’t really make the pass anywhere stick, so I was like, ‘Let me get into this thing a lap early and see if I can make the speed up on the track.’ …basically [I] ended up in the same exact spot there, like you said eating a lot of roost. Great battle with Adam there. Coming out in the losing spot is going to get at me a little bit, but overall [it was a] really fun weekend, great weekend for the team, and man, that was a battle.” He and the team look to be in a very good place preparing for the 2020 Supercross season.
Malcolm Stewart finished the Main Event #3, and in the overall standings, in third place. He was elated to be back competing up at the front. “…Just going out here and having fun and getting some gate drops just kinda sets a little barrier of where we’re going to be for the 2020 season. Just keep our heads down and keep moving forward… It’s been a long road for us. Nine months ago, we weren’t looking so hot, so the fact that I’m standing up here with a third overall means a lot to me.” When asked about his plans the next two months before the 2020 Supercross season kicks off, he answered, “Oh you know we’re going to dig deep, baby! That’s what we’re going to do! Like I said, getting up here, standing up here feels good and I just want to say congratulations to Adam, [for his] first win, that was awesome. For him to step into the 450SX Class and show us how it’s done that was pretty cool.”
In between the Cup Class, two other classes race for national amateur titles. Racing on 250cc displacement machines, the 250 Futures class dropped the gate twice for amateur riders on the cusp of starting their pro careers.
The standout rider this year was Factory Connection GEICO Honda’s Jett Lawrence. He took a holeshot in the first race to a clean win. Then got a great start in the second race that put him in position to take the lead on Lap 4 and carry that to the checkers.
Bringing enthusiasm and personality to the podium celebration, his first move after taking the 250 Futures National Title was to bite into a doughnut.
He explained about his speed and his snack, “I always had the old guy with me, so it helped quite a lot: Johnny O’Mara [the former racer and now trainer]… [The race] went really smoothly and yeah, I’ve just got to thank him. I rode my heart out and I rode for this donut, so I’m going to enjoy it.”
Rockstar Energy Husqvarna’s Evan Ferry won the first Supermini Futures race from start to finish, pulling a 4.5 second gap by the white flag so he could ride cautiously to the win on the final lap ahead of Gavin Towers.
Ferry nearly holeshotted the second Supermini Futures race and was cleanly into the lead two corners in. He had an unchallenged six laps to take another win, this time ahead of a charging Chance Hymas.
On the podium Ferry accepted the National Championship for the Supermini Futures class and was overwhelmed by the achievement. “It means a lot. All the people that have won this have basically went out and won national championships and supercross championships, and I really don’t think I could have done it without the team.”
The Monster Energy Cup is seen by many racers, teams and fans as the event that kicks off the coming year’s Monster Energy AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, season even though it is a standalone purse race. It allows teams to try new bikes, riders, and bike set-ups in a high-stress environment, yet throws enough unique elements to challenge riders and machines in new ways. For information about the upcoming 2020 season, please go to Supercross 2020 Schedule to see when the series lands at a stadium near you.