In 2019, Monster Energy / Yamaha’s Justin Barcia won the Anaheim 1 SX opener, but the man they call “Bam Bam” did not find the podium the rest of the year and was down by more than 70 points at this point of the season. In fact, he was only inside the top five one other time the whole rest of the 2019 SX season, so after he won the Anaheim 1 opener for the second-straight year, many thought we would see more of the same in ’20, but the #51 has been as steady as a rock for the most part.
Since winning the 2020 Anaheim 1 SX, Justin has recorded two more 2nd place finishes, has been inside the top five in 7 out of 9 main events and sits 3rd in the 450SX Championship point standings—23 points away from 1st. This is by far the best first nine rounds of Justin’s career. The closest he has been to this was his rookie year in 2013 when he was 57 points away from the lead after nine rounds. They say tigers don’t change their stripes, but Bam Bam has definitely changed something, pushing the reset button on his career with Factory Yamaha in 2018.
After an awesome charge from outside the top ten to finish 2nd on Saturday night in Atlanta, Justin sat down with all the podium finishers for some post-race Q&A with the media and every question seemed to be aimed at Bam Bam. You can check out what the #51 had to say about his third podium of ’20, his issues with bad starts and having to charge through the field every weekend and his aggressive battle with the red plate holder, Eli Tomac, below.
Congrats Justin. You told me that starts were everything and if you could get a good start, you’d be on the podium. You’re on the podium, but your starts still…[were not great]?
(laughs) I actually had a pretty good jump, but I was in the second gate and got [Tyler] Bowers on the inside but Mookie [Malcolm Stewart] got me by an inch, so I had to shut it down. It was some crazy racing out there. The track broke down a lot. It was one of the rougher track of the season so far—for me anyway. I was in the middle of the pack and made a lot of passes the first couple of laps. Then Vince [Friese] and [Justin] Hill were riding really good. I sat behind them for a little bit and then made a couple more passes. I got around Marty [Davalos] and was in second, but Kenny [Roczen] rode a good race. He was checked out in the beginning so good ride for him. It was fun. Brutal track for sure.
After five laps into the main [when in 7th], are you thinking you can finish on the podium at all?
Yeah, I’m always thinking podium. The last four weekends I’ve started in the back and I really wanted to get to the podium but those ones weren’t possible. Tonight, I knew where everyone was at a little bit and I thought all the guys in front of me I could catch. It was definitely not easy by any means, but I was able to get into 2nd with probably five or so laps to go. ‘Cause Kenny was checked out a little bit. It was good. There was some really aggressive racing tonight so it was interesting.
I’m curious about messages [on the pit board] you were getting from Sean [Justin’s mechanic].
It was so hard to see the pit board right there for me. I struggled with it a little bit, but I’m sure he was giving me my lap times. But honestly, I don’t even know what he was putting on the board because I was so tunnel-visioned. Kenny said he was tunnel-visioned out front trying to make no mistakes, but I was tunnel-visioned trying to get those guys in front of me and attacking. So I wasn’t able to see the pit board. I feel bad some time (laughs) ’cause Sean’s probably writing stuff and I hardly ever see it. I’m always looking out past it.
This track tonight was very hard to pass on. It was almost like you were setting yourself up to almost have to be aggressive. Can you talk about how there are tracks where there are opportunities [to pass] and somewhere there are not and the difference in your strategies?
For sure the track was definitely different than we’ve been racing all year. There were a lot of slick corners that were marbly and there were a couple of rutted corners. The base here is really slick and it was a little bit tight. All the ruts got really low, and we were trying to find the smooth lines. For me, I had clean passes so I was able to make good passes and move forward good. I was worried after the heat races. Well, I wasn’t worried but I was like, “This is a really tough track to pass on.” Because I couldn’t move forward. I was stuck in 4th. I put more pressure on myself for that start [in the main] and obviously I didn’t get the start so I was like, “Let’s see what happens.” But I knew how the track broke down and I knew there were going to be mistakes. That was the biggest thing for me. A lot of guys made mistakes in front of me and I was able to capitalize on that.
Fans love sand sections, but rider…? I guess you can speak top that? Are you a fan of tonight’s track or any sand ever?
No, sand is awful. (laughs) Let’s save it for Southwick. I like the sand. I sent it. I like going high and doing stupid stuff so I sent it. Actually, the cool thing was, I knew it wasn’t fast, but I made one pass in the sand section. I jumped all the way into 2nd when I passed Hill so I was like, “Cool! That was worthwhile jumping that a couple of times.” When you’re in the front, yeah, it’s great, but when you’re in the back you have so much sand in your eyes, all down your back and you’re all chafed and stuff. So no, I’m not that cool with it for racing. (laughs) It’s not that fun for anyone.
Are your starts something you can fix? Is there a direction you can go, ’cause it’s been tough. You used to be really good at starts.
It’s just been a work in progress for me. Last year, the power of my bike was really strong, so I changed my body position a lot to try and manhandle the bike a little and now I have a really happy setting on my bike with the engine. So I’m kind of working backward a little to get in my comfort zone. So really it’s just putting it all together. I’ve been practicing a lot. Honestly, I’m getting better each weekend, but you don’t always see it. I felt like my heat race start was pretty good. I was 5th or something so I was happy with that. In the main event, like I said, I felt like I had a good start but Mookie got me by a hair and he’s a big kid so he can push you around. He got that wheel and that was the end of that. I gotta keep working on my starts. I’ve definitely had the speed all year and I’ve been super consistent, A2 was a difficult race for me but I’ve been plugging along kind of silently and holding the points where I’ve been at. I talked to Ricky [Carmichael] on press day and I told him it’s time to either do it or not. Tonight was definitely an improvement, but I’m looking for that win again. That’s what it’s going to take to win the championship; is to get some wins. I know I have the speed, I just need to put all those things together.
You found yourself smashing bars with Eli Tomac early in the race, but it’s not for the lead. Are you thinking to yourself, “Ah, come on, not again?” Or, do you kind of like that kind of stuff?
No, I don’t really like it. I made a good clean pass on Eli but then…If someone hits me so hard that it physically hurts me, I’m not happy with it. I thought the pass on me was stupid, and then he did a pass on [Blake] Baggett and cleaned him out. I thought he was kind of on a mission tonight to get to the front and whatever it took he was going to do it. But it ended up costing him. I thought he rode a bit harder than I thought he should have and I know pretty hard because I’ve done it before. (laughs) I was just trying to ride my own race and move to the front of the pack. And when you get caught up in the battle that’s not in the front, you lose so much time. If you’re not a second faster than the guys in front of you, you’re not going to make those passes back up. It was definitely a little annoying in the middle of the race, but I got through it.
Photos by: Octopi