Eli Tomac of Cortez, racing in the final 450 Supercross of the season, finished ninth Saturday in Salt Lake City and will return home in third place in the final standings.
Cooper Webb, champion in 2019, won his second title. Marvin Musquin was second, and Chase Sexton was third.
Saturday, Tomac entered Rice-Eccles Stadium with a lock on third place in the series, too far behind Webb and Ken Roczen to challenge the leaders and too far ahead of Justin Barcia to lose his place on the podium.
It was his sixth podium finish in the Supercross series since he began racing in the 450cc class in 2013.
Apparently, no one told him the race was insignificant.
In his qualifying heat Saturday, Tomac won the holeshot and the lead, and raced to a wire-to-wire win more than 5 seconds ahead of Roczen.
Tomac, noting that he liked the hard and dry track, said he felt good about Saturday nightâ€™s main event.
â€œI had some good lines, and gosh, I gotta bring that in the main,â€� he said. â€œIâ€™m feeling good right now.â€�
But as the gate dropped on Tomacâ€™s ninth season in the 450SX, the ace from Monster Energy Kawasaki was in 11th place after the first lap. By the end of the third lap, he had dropped to 15th.
Series runner-up Roczen was out in front, followed closely by Webb and Sexton.
Sexton passed Webb for second place in Lap 6, then overtook Honda teammate Roczen for the lead in Lap 9. Webb bumped Roczen to take over second place in Lap 18, then took the lead from Sexton in Lap 23.
Roczen, his series position as runner-up secure, faded to ninth.
Meanwhile, Tomac attempted to come back from the middle of the pack. He moved up to 10th place in Lap 10, and passed Roczen in Lap 27 to finish ninth.
Musquin got by Sexton with one lap remaining in the 29-lap race to finish second.
And, so it seemed, Tomacâ€™s season would end as it began, with a comeback attempt from a big hole.
Launching his defense of his first title on Jan. 16 in Houston, Tomac finished 13th in the first of three races at NRG Stadium.
He rebounded with a win Jan. 19 in Houston 2.
â€œI was stressed out,â€� Tomac said. â€œSixteen points is horrible after Round 1, right? Like that is a terrible hole to be in. I was pulling my hair out.â€�
â€œIf you just look at the times in practice, everyone is on the same second,â€� he said, noting the increasing parity in racing. â€œIf you look down the list, there are like 12 guys on the same second. In the past, that would have maybe been two or three guys who were on the next level.â€�
After two podium finishes in Indianapolis on Jan. 30 and Feb. 2, Tomac sat in third place, behind Roczen and Webb. Barcia was fourth.
Then, on Feb. 6, he crashed into the fallen Barcia as the two battled for third place in the closing minutes of Indianapolis 3, and finished seventh. As the series neared its midpoint, Tomac finished fifth and sixth in two races in Orlando.
He needed a rally.
He entered the legendary Daytona International Speedway for race No. 9 and came away with his fifth win at the track, tying Ricky Carmichaelâ€™s record five wins at the track.
â€œItâ€™s a little hard to believe,â€� Tomac told RacerX after his performance in Daytona. â€œFive out of the past six years is more than I would ever have expected. Like I said on the podium, I can only credit it to just the track. It just fits me.â€�
The win appeared to drive Tomac through the remainder of the season. Out of the final eight races, he would stand on the podium four times.
â€œI needed this,â€� he said. â€œIâ€™ve struggled the past three or four rounds. Really struggled. Just not being me, if I want to say it that way.â€�
On Saturday, Tomac finished the season with three wins, compared with seven wins in his championship season last year, and was on the podium seven times, compared with 12 times in 2020.
It was a comeback year for Tomac that fell short. But it came with a shining moment in history.