By John Basher
Where does Ken Roczen’s 2016 AMA 450 National Championship season stack up against other winners from the past 12 years? That depends on how you think success should be ranked. Some believe that capturing a title in a very deep field of talent matters more than stringing together moto wins against depleted competition. Others point to sheer number of National victories as the determining factor. There’s even probably a guy out there who thinks that Chad Reed’s 2009 National title ranks highest, because that guy caught Reedy’s goggles at Budds Creek after Chad clinched the championship. If you ask me what makes a standout among Champions, I’ll tell you to take a look at the numbers.
I’m a statistics freak, thanks in part to collecting baseball cards when I was a youngster, and also because I took Statistics in high school. In my formative years I learned that numbers don’t lie. Statistics take emotion out of the equation. So while my wife and I had our honeymoon in St. Lucia at the same Sandals resort that Ryan Dungey and his wife did, that doesn’t mean Dungey’s 2015 is superior to, say, Ryan Villopoto’s 2011 crown. Coincidentally, RV tied the knot one day before I did. I’m sure Dungey splurged and got the butler service and penthouse suite, but he has six more zeros in his bank account than I do. And I’m guessing Villopoto had a horse-drawn carriage whisk his wife and he away to some mountain estate where caviar and goose flambe were served. But I digress.
HERE’S SOMETHING ELSE TO CHEW ON: KEN ROCZEN WON BY AN AVERAGE OF 14.847 SECONDS IN THOSE 18 MOTOS. HIS CUMULATIVE GAP OVER SECOND PLACE WAS 267.254 SECONDS, OR 4.454 MINUTES. THAT’S ALMOST 1/7TH OF A MOTO.
Let’s take a look at the facts. Ken Roczen only lost three Nationals this summer. The Glen Helen loss was due to a bad air fork seal that caused his forks to go flat while he was leading the first moto, but that’s splitting hairs because every Champion faced some kind of adversity during their title runs). Ken was outpaced by Eli Tomac at Southwick–his worst defeat–and tied Tomac on points at Washougal, but Eli’s better second moto earned him the win. Otherwise, Roczen has been flawless. He won 18 of 22 motos–nine in a row through the middle part of the series–and hasn’t finished worse than fourth.
Here’s something else to chew on: Ken Roczen won by an average of 14.847 seconds in those 18 motos. His cumulative gap over second place was 267.254 seconds, or 4.454 minutes. That’s almost 1/7th of a moto. Roczen’s most dominant moto win happened at Unadilla, where he finished 52.444 seconds ahead in the second moto. His closest win was a 1.858 second gap over Eli Tomac in the second moto at Muddy Creek.
So, where does Ken Roczen’s 2016 title stack up against other greats from the past dozen years? See below.
Year…Champion…Points (thru 11 rounds)…When title won
2016…Ken Roczen…534 points…clinched one round early
2015…Ryan Dungey…500 points…clinched one round early
2014…Ken Roczen…494 points…clinched at last round
2013…Ryan Villopoto…513 points…clinched one round early
2012…Ryan Dungey…530 points…clinched two rounds early
2011…Ryan Villopoto…481 points…clinched at last round
2010…Ryan Dungey…493 points points…clinched two rounds early
2009…Chad Reed…459 points…clinched two rounds early
2008…James Stewart…550 points…clinched two rounds early
2007…Grant Langston…394 points…clinched at last round
2006…Ricky Carmichael…539 points…clinched two rounds early
2005…Ricky Carmichael…544 points…clinched one round early
2004…Ricky Carmichael…550 points…clinched one round early
Based on points earned through 11 rounds, Roczen’s 2016 title run is fifth. Blame that on Ricky Carmichael and James Stewart for having perfect seasons, and basically on Carmichael for demolishing the field during his whole career. What’s interesting is how Roczen’s 2016 season shows better than anyone else–including Ryan Dungey, Ryan Villopoto, and even himself from 2014–from the past seven years. Now if you’re the type who equates absolute success to clinching a title before the final round, then Ken Roczen won’t be at the top of your chart. Roczen only (I can’t believe I’m using the word “only” here) clinched one round early; Carmichael, Stewart and Dungey all clinched with two rounds to spare.
So, what’s the answer? Where does Kenny Roczen stack up? In fighting against every fiber of my statistic-loving self, I answer by saying, “Who cares?” At the end of the day, hoisting the AMA number one plate is all that matters. After all, four-time 250 National Champion said, “The goal is to win by going as slow as possible. They don’t pay more points for lapping the field.”