Detroit marked the 10th round of the 2023 Monster Energy Supercross season and with two laps remaining, it was going to be one of the most popular races of the year with fan favorite Aaron Plessinger dominating and eying his first 450 SX victory.
Note the word "was".
Taking the lead from Adam Cianciarulo, Plessinger pulled away from the field. By Lap 11, he had an almost nine-second lead over Chase Sexton with two riders between him and the challenger.
Sexton slowly cut into that lead but by Lap 21 he still trailed by four seconds. All Plessinger needed to do was ride out the last two circuits and not make a mistake.
One lap later, Plessinger hooked his toe into the dirt and crashed violently, losing a lap in the process and falling to 13th at the checkers. A tearful Plessinger was devastated.
That was Round 10 of the 2023 season, and while he rebounded to finish just outside the top five in the next three races, (a pair of sevenths and a sixth), he would not get close to victory lane again until the season finale when he finished second to the champion, Sexton.
The end of 2023 was a turning point for Plessinger. He finished third in the Pro Motocross season, the best he's ever finished on a 450, and was fifth in the inaugural SuperMotocross World Championship - but that win eluded him.
Heading into the season, during November's Media Days, Plessinger told NBC Sports: "I had a couple of mishaps last year, but we're going to iron them out. We have the speed; we have confidence now and we're going to go rolling."
Detroit was still on his mind.
"Hopefully we come in, clean house, listen to some Kid Rock and peace out," Plessinger said when asked about what he expected from Detroit in 2024.
It was impossible to exorcise the memory of Detroit. He undoubtedly thought about it when he swept the top five in the first two rounds and it was haunting him as he dominated San Diego.
"I was making sure my toes were tucked, that's for sure," Plessinger said from the middle seat of the podium after a second consecutive mud race provided him the win. "I wasn't hanging them things off. I was definitely having flashbacks.
"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't repeating, 'don't crash' in my head all the way around the track on the last lap and I almost did in the whoops. I was definitely nervous and it was going through my head. I just had to keep it on two (wheels) and I knew I'd be good."
With his first Supercross victory, and for the first time in his career, Plessinger had the red plate. But with the parity that earmarked the first three rounds and the closeness of the points at the top of the order, that honor could be lost as quickly as it was gained.
Plessinger expected to feel relief and elation in the days the followed his first win. Those emotions never quite came.
"My mind or something was telling me the job's not done," Plessinger said after scoring his second straight podium finish with a third at Anaheim in the Triple Crown format. "I thought it would feel a lot more of a weight release off the shoulders.
"I woke up on Sunday and felt the same and I thought it's time to go try again this weekend. I'm glad this is the way I feel. I can put my head down and try harder during the week."
The points were close enough that the championship lead changed hands a couple of times during the three races that made up Anaheim 2. With time running off the clock, Jett Lawrence's up-and-down season had enough peaks that he held the lead as they ran on the track. And then there was another valley.
Lawrence crashed out of second-place of Race 3 in the Triple Crown with one lap remaining. That elevated Plessinger to fourth in the running order and when Jason Anderson was penalized two spots for passing while off track, Plessinger was moved to third - giving him the points' lead by four over his new teammate and defending Supercross champion Chase Sexton.
"I knew Detroit was the next race and I really, really wanted to carry the red plate into Detroit given the events that happened last year," Plessinger said. "It's going to be a special race and I'm ready for it. Ready to get back to Florida this week and put in some work and go up to the freezing cold.
"Hopefully my mustache doesn't break off in the 20-degree weather. I'm ready to get back up there and do some damage."
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