Colt Nichols has been the secret assassin in the 250 class so far this year. The Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha pilot has been fast for a number of years now, but a couple of nasty injuries earlier in his career have prevented the 26-year-old from reaching his full potential thus far.
Nichols steadily improved throughout the Houston residency, and that concluded with a race win last night in the third and final race inside the NRG stadium.
Both Star Racing Yamaha’s got off to great starts, leaving the pack in their wake, but it was Christian Craig who led the way early on, ‘’The Star racing Yamaha’s took off like rockets in one and two,’’ Colt said on the podium, ‘‘It just felt like another day in California with me and Christian trading laps. I tried to be patient. I knew where he was faster, so I tried to pick up on a few lines.’’
Nichols came on stronger and stronger as the minutes counted down. Both riders had sections of the track where they excelled. Craig was super-fast in the whoops, but Nichols had the step-on-step-off section dialled. The leading pair were setting a pace that nobody else could match. They quickly came upon lapped traffic, in fact Craig and Nichols lapped everyone outside of the top six.
‘‘The lapped riders came into play and became a pretty big issue. If you look at the 250 class there are a lot of young riders and first season guys, so it is safe to say that you’re going to be in lapped traffic quite a lot.’’ Confirmed Nichols during the post-race press conference.
Colt was able to deal with the lappers effectively, but it wasn’t an enjoyable experience for the eventual race winner, ‘‘I don’t think any of us are really looking forward to that (dealing with lappers). But it is something we are going to face, it made it tough for sure. Christian was coming up on them first and I was just trying to go where he wasn’t. It felt like we hit lappers really early. I tried to play it smart and I’m glad I was able to do that tonight.’’
As mentioned, Nichols had parts of the track dialled last night. But he also had the added luxury of being able to watch his teammate and learn where he was losing time on the points leader.
‘‘Me and Christian were just trading laps. I picked up on a few of his lines and saw where I was a little bit quicker. I just really tried to wait and I tried to be smart. I picked my battles and I felt I did that really well. I was able to close in on him and kept applying the pressure. It made it a really fun race.’’
Despite being a veteran of the class and a proven race winner Nichols was perhaps slightly overlooked by the media and his rivals coming into the season. But this isn’t something that concerned Nichols at all, ‘‘I learned a lot in 2019 and had a good off season too, so I was able to come into this one prepared. I knew if I stayed healthy, I would be good. It didn’t bother me that I was forgotten about. I believe in my own ability and what I’m capable of. It feels good to go 3-2-1 in Houston. We’ll move on to Indy and try to keep it moving.’’
With his win last night Nichols is now the joint points leader with his Monster Energy Star Racing Yamaha stablemate Christian Craig. ‘‘I haven’t won a race in a while, so it felt good. A few guys crashed out so I’ve taken advantage of that today and put myself in a good position.
A win always gives you a boost. I was happy with where I was at 3-2 of the first two rounds. I knew I was riding well but a win does give you a boost. I will be sharing the red plate going into Indy which is cool for the team.’’
The battle of the Star Yamaha’s will continue next week in Indianapolis.