Triple Crown winners Sexton and Kitchen recall Saturday's round.
Team Honda HRC’s Chase Sexton and Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing’s Levi Kitchen both notched their first wins of the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross season on Saturday night at Anaheim 2 in what was the first Triple Crown round of the year. Both riders were available to the media following the races for this Debrief feature.
Chase, big night for you, you got the win in race one, had some trouble in race two but battled back to fifth. At that point, what did you do to reset and come out and get that crucial win in the last race?
Honestly, it was kind of cool, four of us were within one point going into the last race which is kind of exciting, so it was really all or nothing. I got a good start, I think Jason [Anderson] got the holeshot, then I was just feeling really good behind him, I had some good lines and I felt really solid in the whoops, which helps a lot. For me, I just wanted to stay close to him obviously, and I ended up getting around him and just tried to break away as quick as I could. The track was really treacherous, especially the long rhythm section after the start straight. I’m just stoked with how I rode, I was really having fun in the third race, the second one was a little bit of a disaster, but I’m just really pumped with how I battled back and was able to clutch up in that third main event.
Three races in, the gap to the championship lead is four points now and you and Cooper [Webb] are tied for second. This is a good position to be in… How does it feel?
It’s fun to be back in this position after outdoors last year, battling Eli [Tomac]. The first two races, I didn’t feel like I was a part of the battle. I mean, [A1] I was good, but I got passed late in the race and last weekend was a disaster for me. Coming into this weekend I was like, ‘I gotta stop the bleeding’, because Eli hadn’t lost a heat race or a main event coming into tonight. So I was able to stop that, I don’t know what happened to Eli in the third main event, I heard the crowd going wild, but yeah I was just focused on myself and was able to go one-five-one for the overall win, which I thought was a little bit odd, because usually we’re all pretty consistent, but tonight was kind of chaotic. So overall, three pretty good starts and some really good riding from me. Just stoked on the bike changes we made, even today, I’m happy with how the team has been helping me get comfortable, I’m looking forward to going to Houston and heading back east.
Oddly enough, this season has something similar going on, you’ve taken your first win at round three and the points standings are very similar with Eli leading, you second and Cooper Webb third. Same as last year. Do you like the start of this?
It is weird that I won the third round, just like last year. My starts this season have been very mediocre. At [A1] I came out swinging, but lost a lot of time towards the end of the race. Then last weekend was not fun, going to the LCQ. So, I just told myself I can’t let Eli get a lead this early in the series, because he doesn’t make mistakes, so I really put a lot of effort and focus on tonight and it worked, I felt awesome, even throughout practice and all day, I was really riding good. The track being a little more technical and had a little bit of both, it was slow in sections and faster in other areas, I think that helped me a lot. That third main, the dragons back after the finish line, finding little things like that on the track is super-fun for me, it just makes racing so much better. So, as far as my season, I don’t want to repeat last season. I want to build off of what I had in outdoors, and that’s really where my mindset is at. Eli is still leading, and we have some more work to do, so I’m looking forward to going east and starting my more normal program. But overall, stoked on tonight.
You went into the third race tonight, tied for the Triple Crown points lead. Going up against three past champions, what was that like lining up at the gate for you mentally?
It was definitely a tall task for me. I really just went to the line knowing that if I won the race, I was going to win the whole thing. So, that was really my goal. But, I wanted to get a good start, I didn’t have the greatest gate, I was lined up next to Jason, but I just told myself ‘I got to make it work somehow’ and I came out in second. I just felt really good on the track, so it was nice to really shine in that moment, because going up against these guys is definitely not easy at all.
Tell us about the pass on Anderson, it took a few corners, you guys were really crossing over each other. But, it seemed like you guys raced with a lot of respect.
Jason went a little wide in the sand which allowed me to get up the inside, I knew it wasn’t going to be an easy pass. I didn’t really expect him to be able to cut back under me, I really slowed down a lot, but he cut under and then I kind of cut back under on the straight and went wide into the next turn and pivoted nicely, then got to the inside of him over the finish line. It was just good, clean racing.
This is only your second Supercross win. How does it compare to your first win?
It’s definitely big, I was really emotional after crossing the finish line. Because, with the triple crown there’s so much that can go on and going into that last race, it was really all or nothing, so it means a lot to get it done under those circumstances. But yeah, it is only my second supercross win, they’re really hard to come by. Now I’ve got two and I hope to win a lot more.
Alpinestars did a cool lot of gear for you, a Ken Block tribute. Wearing that, do you take a little bit more pride in wearing it? Does it carry a little more weight?
Ken was a motorsport legend and honestly, this might be my favourite gear I’ve ever worn. Just with the red, white and blue and matching one of his racing suits is super special. I believe his family were here tonight, so it was an honour to wear it and it made it even better to get the win in it. So, just a really cool feeling and definitely special for everyone at Alpinestars.
Wow, what a race! Seventh is your best finish so far this year and this is only your fifth career start in supercross, so a big win for you. There’s been a lot of talk about the 250s for Star – we’ve had Eli winning everything in the first two rounds – so you’ve made a big statement here, not only for yourself, but for Monster Energy Yamaha Star Racing.
It’s huge for me, and obviously the team. Me and Stilez [Robertson] haven’t started out with the best results in these first two rounds. But especially for me, just to turn it around after having a pretty big get-off last weekend on the start and even this morning, I mean it was kind of a shit show for me. I crashed hard in two practices, so just to bounce back after that was really good.
We all know you have an unorthodox story, you weren’t an amateur phenom, you came on in the B class and Star payed attention to it, and here we are. Can you talk about the highs and lows you’ve gone through to figure out supercross.
It’s been good, I’ve definitely been hurt a few times. I feel like it’s a given when you’re trying to learn that pace that these guys are going. I didn’t really ride much supercross as an amateur, so the first year for me was definitely tough. I feel like I’m learning every weekend though, and just planning on getting better.
Your team owner is very well known for being results orientated, we know how important that is to him. After San Diego, how much pressure was there for you to bounce back, not just for a win, but for a good result?
There was definitely some pressure, but the team also saw at San Diego I was going in the right direction, I was finally a little more relaxed. Anaheim, I was very nervous and I was struggling a lot. They were happy with how I was riding in San Diego, obviously I messed up on the start, and that one didn’t work out so well. So, going into today I just tried to stay relaxed and ride like myself.
And using your team owner as motivation, how do you get along with that?
Well, he’s hard to read. You don’t know if he’s really trying to get under your skin or if he’s joking, so it gets to me pretty bad. I’m trying to learn him as much as I can, he’s always got something to say that’s for sure.
Talk about going into that last race, you go from crashing out of [San Diego], to being in a position to win this week. How did you manage all of that?
To be honest, after the first main I was a little disheartened. Jett [Lawrence] pretty much blew my doors off and then Pierce [Brown], same thing. I’m just not used to that intensity when the track is so smooth like that, those guys, they’re going really fast. So after that one, it was kind of a weird feeling. Then, in the second main, I was just lucky to be alive, I don’t know if anyone saw it, but I frame cased the supercross triple and blew both my hands off, but regrouped and ended up second. Before the last main, Swanny [Gareth Swanepoel] was telling me before it what positions I needed to get and stuff. I’m proud of myself for not letting it all really get to me, I just needed to nail the start and I did, then kind of just cruised behind Jett, it was good.
Riding around the stadium, lapping it up after the race. How was it having your former teammates Christian Craig and Colt Nichols come up and celebrate with you? Can you explain that feeling?
It was unreal, I’ve been around Colt and I’ve been around Christian. It was cool actually, Christian gave me a hug after I won a moto last year at Thunder Valley, so it was kind of cool he was there again. Even Jett and Stilez, we race each other hard on the track, but I think we all get along pretty well, so yeah it’s a good feeling.
Coming into a break now, what’s the mentality after seeing all of the disaster throughout the pits with so many of the east coast guys getting injured?
I’m just going to relax, I’ll probably go fishing and play some golf. I’ve been playing some pretty damn good golf actually, so yeah [laughs].