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5 Minutes With... James Stewart

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San Manuel Yamaha’s James Stewart has now won two races in a row and has pulled to within 12 points of points leader Chad Reed with fully 14 rounds still left to run. All of a sudden, the points chase seems wide open again. It was obvious that Stewart was having trouble throughout the night at Anaheim II, but he still managed to win the race, which begs the statement, as he puts it, “...if we can get wins like this, I just can’t imagine when everything goes smoothly...”

Racer X: That was an interesting night of racing. It wasn’t the typical James Stewart, who is smooth and nearly perfect going around the track. You came out on top in both of your races, but it didn’t look great.
James Stewart: Yeah, basically, I’m just trying to make it good for the fans, you know? I went that 24 and 0, undefeated, so I figured we’d change it around a little bit this week and make it a struggle. (Laughs) But no, it was honestly a tough weekend for me, as far as just trying to get adjusted to the track, and also physically it was tough for me. Like I said earlier, man, if we can get wins like this, I just can’t imagine when everything goes smoothly, and maybe we’ll do a little better.

In the Heat race, you got a little ragged a couple times and landed on a Tuff Block over the finish line and stuff like that. What was going through your head? On one hand, you’re winning, and on the other hand, you had that stuff going on...
It was really not being 100-percent comfortable on the track and stuff, and with things like that, to be honest, I felt like I just rode around all day. Coming in, I just knew... When I saw the track, I was like, “Dude, this is going to be one of those tracks where I’ve just got to ride around.” I had the fastest laptime in the Heat race, and I didn’t understand how, because I never felt like I was riding over my limit, for sure, but I was making a few mistakes, and I had to honestly just pull it together. I just told myself in the main event, “Dude, if you’re going to ride like this, you might as well pull off right now,” because I don’t ride like that. That’s not me. I will not sit out there and jeopardize my career over something where I’m not comfortable.

Speaking of that, you had a pretty good get-off in the first practice and bent your bike up, and it seemed like you were favoring your left wrist or hand or something like that. Then rumors were swirling that you had a broken wrist, and then I came to your pit, and you were just sitting there signing autographs like normal.
Yeah, you know how it is. Me and [Travis] Preston... He got cross-rutted, and I got cross-rutted, and unfortunately we got cross-rutted right into each other, and I went down. The scariest part was when I cut my hand. I guess when you have your adrenaline going, and your heart’s beating hard, blood comes out a little quicker, and I looked down and thought I slit my wrist, because there was blood dripping on my boots and stuff like that. I was like, “Dude, oh my god, I’m going to die right out here on the track!” But we went back, and it was sore for a little while, and then I just kind of got over it.

But missing half of that practice when you only get two of them is probably not ideal, is it?
No, to be honest, it was probably a blessing, because the way I was riding, I didn’t want to ride any more laps than I had to. Obviously, I had the fastest laptime for a little while [in the first practice], and then I just really struggled all day. Like I said, to struggle and win, I don’t know how many times I can say it, but I’m stoked on that.

But you know you have points to make up, and then you had that opportunity with [Chad] Reed crashing in the first turn... Does it upset you that no one else could hold him off and give you some more points on him?
No, because I know I’ve done that a few times, and actually I’ve done it where I came back and actually passed him. It’s one of those things that, when the train starts rolling, you just get out of its way. It’s different when you go down in the first corner. Your whole mindset changes. You ride like you have nothing to lose, and he was riding like that and he was riding really good. I was just in a position where I was a little farther ahead and I was just taking my time. I knew for a while that those guys were riding really good, and I was like, “Dude, I’m just going to have to bide my time,” and once I got on them, I just wanted to try to pass them. The cool part was that it was the first time I ever raced Ryan [Villopoto] and was actually battling, and that part was fun. It was one of those things where I was like, “Oh, man, this is pretty fun.”

You didn’t know what to expect, though, probably. That’s one of the things about racing someone for the first time. You have experience with most of these guys, but not Villopoto.
Yeah, no, for sure, and I was catching them, and I came up short on this jump, and he actually pulled away from me again, and then over that little ant-hill deal, like the same thing where he got his wrist taken out [by Josh Grant at Atlanta in 2008], I ran into the back of him, and I’m like, “Dude, we can’t do that!” (laughs), then I jumped the next deal, and he was in the air, and I almost ran into the back of him again, and I was like, “Dude, I’ve got to go now,” because I was staying a little bit lower over the jumps. My cornering came in – when I had to do it, I started doing it – and I passed him in a corner, and got [Josh] Grant in a corner, so I was stoked on those, too.

As we head East, and you have two wins under your belt, do you feel like it’s going to suit you more, or less?
We’re just going to keep on putting it down. I love east coast, and like Aldon [Baker, his trainer] always says, the season doesn’t start until Daytona. You always see a different category of people after Daytona, where it starts thinning out and some people start getting lackadaisical, and that’s what we train for. We train for it really to kick into gear there, so all I can do is my best. It’s better being 12 points down than 18 points. Either way you slice it, I got first, he got second, and that’s three more points for me. But it’s a long season, and I’m definitely going to just keep cracking away.

I know you may not be doing the math, but at this rate, if you win the next four, 12 points would be gone, assuming Reed was second every time. That would be round seven of 17. It actually seems like 12 points isn’t a lot.
Yeah, but to be honest, this is the third race, and honestly, I didn’t think if I won the race that he would finish any worse than second. We’re both riding really good, and we’re one and two, and obviously everybody knows that. I still believe that both of us can go down in the first corner and still come back up definitely to the podium, and he showed that today, and I’ve done it in the past. But, hey, that’s what champions are made of. When it’s crunch time, you’ve got to get it done, and I’ve got to take advantage of that. I learned that from Ricky [Carmichael]. I remember him saying things after the races, “I got lucky tonight,” and the guy still won championships. I know how that is. You take the good with the bad and keep rolling on and make it happen.
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