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2024 SMX Playoff Projections: Post RedBud Update

By Trey Stire

Phil Nicoletti got his patriotic FTA gear a bit “filthy” on Saturday. (Photo: Alec Gaut)

The sprint of desperation to avoid the dreaded SMX LCQs is on. Who is securely IN the top 20 and who is in danger of falling OUT of the top 20?

As we head down the back half of Pro Motocross and closer to the second SuperMotocross World Championships, 450 riders are shooting for 153 points and 250 riders are currently looking for 149 points.

RedBud was a disastrous weekend for Dean Wilson and Derek Kelley. Kyle Chisholm continues to tread water, and massive leaps by Garrett Marchbanks and Harri Kullas have dramatically shifted the fight for playoff spots 17-25, as many riders focus on their position in points, which will determine their fate come the postseason.

Charts galore below. Keep reading!

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The SuperMotocross World Championship season is 23 rounds deep and while many top racers have already locked down a spot in September’s three round series, the five remaining Pro Motocross rounds will determine who’s in (or out) when SMX visits Charlotte, Fort Worth and Las Vegas for rounds 29-31.

Before diving into the current projections, here’s the 411 on SMX:

  • The combined points from Supercross and Motocross determine the seeding order for the playoffs. For example, Chase Sexton currently holds the top 450 spot. Each rider in the top 20 will earn points based off the traditional SX/MX point format to START the playoffs. (1st gets 25, 2nd gets 22, etc.). That means there’s a big incentive to not just ‘squeak’ in with a 19th place, for example. The higher in points a rider finishes, the more points he starts SMX with.

  • Top 20 in each class receives automatic an spot on the SMX playoff gate. If a rider is injured or opts out, this opens up another LCQ transfer, but no one else receives the automatic spot.
  • Riders who win either a Supercross main event or a Pro Motocross moto get automatic berths into the LCQs for their respective class. If they didn’t score enough points to be top 20, they must transfer through the LCQ at every round.

  • 21st through 30th in points are the racers eligible to compete in the LCQ and secure the final spots (gate picks 21-22) at each race.
  • Oh, and the 250 West class participated in one extra round compared to the 250 East series. The West’s lowest finish gets dropped
Freddie Noren is one of a few 450 racers who are in line to clinch their playoff spot in the next few weeks. (Photo: Alec Gaut)

450 Projections

Our current projections for the top 20 of the 450 class have the bubble at 153 points, which is up 12 points from the line headed into RedBud (Jett Lawrence dropping had a bit to do with that jump). We are also expecting a shift in the final stretch of the series when riders on the bubble (Justin Hill, Colt Nichols) return to competition and others jump over competitors who aren’t lining up this summer (Adam Cianciarulo, Benny Bloss).

The image below details who will make the top 20 and 30 based on that 153 point cutoff. Remember, these are projections. “CURR RANK” is where the riders are ranked after 23 rounds of SuperMotocross (post-RedBud)

450SMX Projected Rankings

This chart shows the PROJECTED SMX rankings for 450 riders at the end of Pro Motocross. Riders in bold have already met the projected cutoff

So far, there are 13 riders that we believe have secured their spot for the three race stretch starting at Charlotte (names in bold above). This includes Jett Lawrence, Chase Sexton, Hunter Lawrence, Justin Cooper, Jason Anderson, Aaron Plessinger, Cooper Webb, Justin Barcia, Eli Tomac, Ken Roczen, Dylan Ferrandis, Malcolm Stewart and Shane McElrath.

We expect three riders to secure their spots in the next few rounds:

  • Christian Craig is set to claim his spot at Spring Creek this weekend. After missing the inaugural playoffs last season, Craig has been gaining ground throughout the summer after an elbow injury in Supercross.
  • Freddie Noren is on track to lock up his spot at Washougal. A DNF in the second moto at RedBud halted his progress, but the Swede’s steady points in the first several outdoor rounds have been a big key to his success.
  • Grant Harlan could secure his spot at Round 10 in Budds Creek. A strong 11-11 day at RedBud put Harlan back on track after a rough day at Southwick

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Last season, Harlan was easily into the top 20 (12th). He’s currently projected to finish 16th but needs to keep scoring points with the heated competition behind him. After Southwick, Harlan said, “I feel like it should be no problem (qualifying) if I get back to where I’ve been in the first four rounds.”

Harlan said it was an honor to be a part of the playoffs last season, and the races are huge for him, as it is “the only way to make any money”.

Grant Harlan gained momentum after a DNF at Southwick with a consistent 11-11 day. (Photo: Alec Gaut)
Current 450 Bubble Projections

The 17th-25th range is expected to have a tight battle throughout the rest of the summer. Here are the riders to keep an eye on:

Phil Nicoletti could also potentially lock up a spot at Budds Creek. However, he can’t afford to have any more mishaps like in Moto 1 at RedBud, where he tangled with Dylan Ferrandis and failed to climb back into the points.

“It wasn’t ideal,” Nicoletti said about his clean sweep of last year’s playoff LCQ races. “I didn’t like doing it, but overall, there was a lot of recognition behind it. It would be cool to start with an extra 5-6 points going into the SMX (playoffs) because if I had an extra ten points last year, I probably would’ve made an extra $75K.”

Phil Nicoletti, the 2023 SMX LCQ “champ” will gladly let someone else compete for that title in 2024. (Photo: Alec Gaut)

Nicoletti’s Club MX Yamaha teammate Garrett Marchbanks was the biggest mover this past weekend, leaping 11 spots in the combined standings. His 7-8 for 7th and 29 points move him to 18th in our projected standings if he continues his strong performances.

Justin Hill is currently 17th and is expected back on the gate for the final four rounds of the season. He may need to pick up the pace and improve his current average of 11.7 points per round.

Marshal Weltin failed to score points at Southwick but rebounded by taking home 13 from RedBud. Our current projections put him just one point behind Hill, so Weltin will need to continue his early season form.

Garrett Marchbanks jumped 11 spots in the combined standings in his second start this summer, and is projected to qualify if he can continue racking up top tens. (Photo: Alec Gaut)

Dean Wilson could potentially be in jeopardy after this week. While practicing to line up at RedBud, Wilson injured his wrist and pulled out of qualifying on Saturday. He had his wrist examined on Tuesday and hopes to be back by Washougal, as long as there’s no major damage.

Colt Nichols may only be 26th as of now, but he could start moving up in a hurry. After parting ways with Beta, Nichols has signed with the Twisted Tea/HEP Motorsports Suzuki squad and is rumored to be returning to the gate this weekend. His adaptation to race pace and fitness levels could determine whether he stays on the outside or if he moves up.

Kyle Chisholm is one of last year’s automatic qualifiers but currently on the outside looking in. While Chiz is frequently regarded as an LCQ ace, he wants no part of that level of stress. “Each time I’m lining up, I’m thinking about stacking up points for the playoffs,” Chisholm said last week. “The bigger picture is the main goal in each moto. I have been pretty good in LCQ races over my career, but they are not fun to do. Even though people love to say, ‘Chiz gonna Chiz’, LCQs never get any easier and the goal is to definitely be straight into the main events.”

Kyle Chisholm is determined to get back to the 12-15 range and secure another automatic berth into the SMX playoffs. (Photo: Alec Gaut)

Another rider that shouldn’t be counted out is Harri Kullas. The Estonian MXGP veteran leaped to 23rd this weekend and will be competing at Spring Creek and Washougal, but is undecided on the final three rounds, primarily due to funding. Last week, he told me that he may need to make some “quick plans” if he did well at his remaining races.

Cullin Park is on the outside looking in, but with some stellar runs, could challenge for the last spot. Park has four top 15 finishes so far, but has dealt with some inconsistency over the last few rounds.

Perhaps the biggest loser of the last few weeks has been Derek Kelley. After scoring 37 points in the first quarter of the season, Kelley has managed to score 2 points in as many rounds following the first off-weekend. He described his playoff LCQ experience from last season as “not very fun” and said that improving his starts and staying on two wheels are keys to returning to form.

After starting the season near the top ten, Derek Kelley needs to rebound in the next few rounds to return to the playoff battle. (Photo: Alec Gaut)

250 SMX Projections

Our current projections for the 250 cutoff line is 149 points, which is up 2 from last week. The race for the bubble could be fairly close, but the 250 class doesn’t have as many competitors going for the same real estate as the 450 class holds.

250 Projected Rankings

This chart shows the PROJECTED SMX rankings for 250 riders at the end of Pro Motocross. Riders in bold have already met the projected cutoff

We believe that 16 250 class racers have locked up their spot on the SMX Playoff gate. This includes Haiden Deegan, Chance Hymas, Tom Vialle, Levi Kitchen, Jo Shimoda, RJ Hampshire, Jordon Smith, Julien Beaumer, Pierce Brown, Jalek Swoll, Nate Thrasher, Ryder DiFrancesco, Daxton Bennick, Coty Schock, Ty Masterpool and Max Anstie.

Masterpool and Anstie secured their spots at RedBud, and we think that three more riders could be joining them in the next few races.

Nick Romano could lock up his spot this weekend at Spring Creek. He currently has 145 points, just 4 below our projected cutline by the end of Ironman

Casey Cochran and Joey Savatgy would be the next riders in line, on pace to clinch their spots at Washougal.

Casey Cochran should seal up his ticket to the playoffs at Washougal. Photo: Alec Gaut

The two riders expected to duel for the final spot are Dilan Schwartz and Mark Fineis. While they are currently 29th and 32nd in the combined standings, their pace would have them at 20th and 21st by the end of the season. The race would be tighter, but a pair of DNFs for Fineis dropped him slightly behind. A punctured radiator after a tip over leading at High Point Moto 2 and an electrical issue during the second moto at Southwick put zeros on the board for the rookie. However, RedBud was his strongest round of the year, as he brought home 21 points and finished 10th overall.

Schwartz vs. Fineis
Dilan Schwartz is on track to secure the last 250 playoff spot. The Bar X Suzuki rider is having a solid summer after missing Supercross due to a wrist injury. (Photo: Alec Gaut)

There’s a couple of long shots in the fight as well. Jett Reynolds is currently 35th in the combined standings and is projected to end the year in 25th. Reynolds claimed a season best 12th overall at RedBud and has an average of 14 points per round since the break, after previously averaging 8. Talon Hawkins is currently in 25th, but has averaged only 6.5 points per round this summer, which isn’t enough to break into the top 20.

The final few rounds of the Pro Motocross season hold the keys to the SMX playoff gate. An ultra competitive race in the 450 class and a 250 class duel could go down to the wire, as the riders involved attempt to reach the prestigious three round finale.

Don’t count Mark Fineis out. The rookie had a pair of DNFs at High Point and Southwick, but rebounded last weekend with a career best 10th overall. (Photo: Alec Gaut)

Thank you to Alec Gaut for providing the photos for this piece! To check out more of his stellar work, click the links here!

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