With injuries having put Team Honda HRC riders Cole Seely and Ken Roczen out for the remainder of the AMA Supercross series, GEICO Honda racer Christian Craig filled in aboard a factory CRF450R as the squad's sole rider for round nine in Atlanta. It was an outstanding night for Craig, as he notched his career-best 450SX result with a fifth-overall score via an impressive 6-7-5 race tally. When the gate dropped for the first of three 450SX main events, Craig grabbed the holeshot and early lead. With four minutes remaining, Craig came under heavy pressure and had to give up multiple spots, and he ultimately took the checkered flag in sixth. In the second race, Craig managed a sixth-place start, then slipped to seventh at the halfway mark and stayed there to the finish. The evening's final race proved to be another exciting one, as Craig launched to his second holeshot of the night and rode up front like a class veteran until lap four, when he was overtaken. He relinquished three more positions by the end, crossing the finish line in fifth.
During the daytime qualifying practice period, Christian Craig struggled to get comfortable with the Georgia clay, posting the ninth-fastest time of 53.238", in the second session. Smartop MotoConcept's Justin Brayton was the top Red Rider, turning in the fifth-quickest time of 52.625".
The Atlanta round marked the second event of the season to utilize the new Triple Crown format. The event included three 450SX races, all of different durations, and the format seemed to suit Craig's style. "I enjoy the Triple Crown format," he confirmed. "I did pretty good with it at Anaheim 2 on the 250, getting a podium, so I like it. I think the three-moto format makes for some good racing and you have to be consistent all night."
The top-finishing Red Rider in Atlanta was Brayton, who scored an impressive win in race one and then followed that with sixth-place results in the second and third races for fourth overall. "I had my wife and two kids here, and this is the only race they're coming to all year, so that was extra-special," Brayton said. "I know it's not an overall win, but I'll take it." Brayton has been riding well all year and is currently fourth in points.
For the evening program, Craig requested that gear-sponsor Alias make him a special butt patch reading "#14" to show his support for the injured Cole Seely, who is a close friend and training partner. "Cole and I have been really good friends since we were both at TLD," Craig said. "We spend a lot of time together during the week, between riding, training in the gym, and just hanging out, so I thought this was a cool way to show my support. We'll be staying with him in Florida after this weekend so we can keep him company and help out if needed."
On Saturday morning, Team Honda HRC got together for a group photo in front of Seely's bike in order to send him a message of support. Later that evening, the squad received positive news that Seely had been released from the hospital and was being transported to his temporary home in Claremont, Florida. "It's really great to know that Cole is out of the hospital," said his mechanic Rich Simmons. "He still has a long road ahead of him, but we're all behind him. He was obviously really sad he couldn't be at the race, but it made him feel better knowing we were thinking about him and supporting him no matter what."
For the second consecutive week, Ken Roczen was in attendance at the race, hanging out with his team and fans. Roczen attended Friday's dealer appearance at Mountain Motorsports, joining Craig and the GEICO Honda 250 team. Between the second and third main events, Roczen was interviewed on the podium for the crowd of over 60,000 spectators. "It's great coming to the races to hang out with my fans and sign autographs, but it's really rough not being out there," Roczen said. "I really dislike being at the races and not racing; it's just hard. I can't wait to get back on the bike and be with my team each weekend."
This coming weekend, Team Honda HRC will be back in Florida for the 45th annual Daytona Supercross. On Friday, Roczen, fill-in Christian Craig, and the GEICO Honda 250 effort will take part in press day before heading to RC Hill Honda Powersports in DeLand for a pre-race party and autograph session.
Christian Craig | 32
"I hate to see anyone get hurt, especially someone so close to me. Cole is like a brother to me, and also someone I look up to, so it was such a bummer to see him get hurt. But it opened the door for me to ride in the 450 class and gave me an opportunity put in some better results than I had last year on the 450. I had a couple days on the bike and just came into it with an open mind. I didn't have any expectations except to be proud of myself and how I rode. I think that showed in how I performed. All day was solid. I had some decent qualifying and just went into the night show confident in myself. I've been working a lot on the mental side of things so it's time to finally show it. I led a lot of laps tonight, both in the first and last motos. Being up front with those guys isn't something you can practice for; you have to just do it and learn from it. It was fun to ride with those top guys. I'm looking forward to next weekend in Daytona and am hoping to keep building off tonight. Fifth is a personal best for me, so I'm pretty happy with this, but on the other hand I'm hungry for more."
Erik Kehoe | Team Manager
"Christian definitely exceeded everyone's expectations tonight. Everyone knows he's a very talented rider, but he just hasn't had much time on the 450. I think for the couple of days that he did get testing this week, he did an awesome job. He got two holeshots and ran up front for a long time in both races. We'll keep improving the bike this week and go into Daytona even stronger."
Rich Simmons | Mechanic (Christian Craig)
"Christian did a great job tonight. We brought him here to not only be another rider on the track, but to do well, and he was definitely able to deliver that. He rode smart, got good starts, rode consistent laps, and was able to get fifth overall. I think his last race was his best one, as he kind of settled down and fell in behind Jason [Anderson] and Cooper [Webb], which helped pull him through the late part of the race. He just needs to keep learning each time he goes out and not override the bike, and he did a good job of that tonight."