SuperMotocross riders live life on a ragged edge and Justin Barcia has made a career out of tiptoeing a fine line. Known throughout his career for his aggressive riding style, Barcia began to hone that tendency in 2023 with an eye to challenging for his first 450 title.
"It's very easy to go over that edge (of aggression) and I went over that edge a lot of times (during my career)," Barcia told NBC Sports. "It's a very fine line in life.
"I think throughout my career I was always a little bit overly aggressive, but ... it's my style. That's what helps me be the racer I am. I had to find that level myself, not like the team telling me or the officials. I had to want to find that line.
"I wish it hadn't taken me so long to find it, because I could have had maybe some beneficial results or not thrown away some races."
Aggression may result in a position or two on the track, but a crash often costs much more ground - real estate that is hard to reclaim in today's SuperMotocross World Championship - especially with the caliber of riders who are returning in 2024 along with new faces like Jett and Hunter Lawrence. Worse still, a crash can end a season.
"I don't know if you necessarily find consistency, you have to make it happen," Barcia said. "And for me in Supercross the speed I was at, the comfort I was at, I was consistent (when I was) off the podium. And then once I found that comfort with the bike, I found consistency on the podium for weeks and got that win. Then the crash happened."
Barcia's new approach to racing was paying off in 2023.
After starting the year with one top-five in the first seven rounds, Barcia scored his second such finish at Daytona. With momentum on his side and season winding down, he went to East Rutherford with a six-race streak of top-fives. The vast majority of these were podiums. He was one of the hottest riders on the circuit and at the time and was in fact ranked No. 1 in NBC’s SuperMotocross Power Rankings.
Barcia kept his supremacy for another week after commandingly winning the muddy race in New Jersey by a margin of nearly 15 seconds over Eli Tomac. Barcia was one of only four riders to complete the 18-lap distance that afternoon.
The following week, Nashville was not nearly as kind. A hard crash left him with a broken collarbone and shoulder injury. Barcia joined a long list of injured riders who failed to complete the full season, a list that included Cooper Webb, Aaron Plessinger, Christian Craig, Dylan Ferrandis, Marvin Musquin and Malcolm Stewart - and that would eventually claim Tomac as well.
With the exception of Musquin, all of those riders will be back on their bikes this weekend when the season begins on January 6 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim.
"The sport is extremely healthy," Barcia said. "Younger riders coming up, a lot of good veterans. I wouldn't be racing if I didn't feel like I could be competitive going to the podium and fighting for a race win. For me, my advantage would be just experience racing.
"I remember being a rookie and coming up, you can be really hot, but sometimes a little cold. You just have to use what I like to call the magic tricks I have. I can pull it out and use it to fight for more wins, right away in the season and the biggest thing, is consistency, and getting more podiums so you're the champion."
Barcia credits another year of maturity as part of his growth as a person and in the sport. Becoming a family man also had a huge impact.
"For me, finding that (line) - I had my son and my wife there," Barcia said. "It was a combination of things that had to happen for me to find that line on the racetrack. All those little things helped, but at the end of the day, I mentally had to say I want to win championships.
"This is the prime of my career on a 450, so I found that line now. ... For me there was a lot less drama. This year is another step up.
"[The 2023 season] was a really good year. I took a lot of steps in the direction I needed to go previously and that's learning when to make a move or a pass or something like that and not be overly aggressive. So that was a big thing coming into last year's season - to make smarter decisions early on and try to control my aggression."
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