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450 Words: Houston

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After practice on Saturday in Houston, it was obvious something had changed.

  • James Stewart stretches one out for old time's sake
James Stewart has always been about speed. He’s left a mark on the sport for a lot of things, like breaking down barriers, winning races and championships, generating fans and creating rivalries. But his legacy will always start with talk of his incredible speed. James is just fast, and this has been known since he first burst onto the sport’s radar as a minicycle racer.

And so it was odd, then, to see James get passed cleanly by Chad Reed on the opening laps of Anaheim 1. Odd to hear him, after winning the Phoenix Supercross, say, “I wasn’t the fastest guy tonight.” Odd to see Reed’s best lap at Anaheim 2 best Stewart, and everyone else, by over a second.

After practice was complete in Houston, though, things weren’t so odd. Not only was the #7 on top of the lap board consistently, that #7 machine and rider looked much more solid, much more in control, and yes, much faster, than they had at the previous three rounds. When Stewart pulled into the mechanic’s area to talk, Reed laid down a fast lap and briefly put #1 on top of the board. Stewart calmly went back out and went even faster. And in the second session, there were no troubles at all, with Stewart going eight tenths quicker than anyone else.

The main event was similar. Ryan Villopoto got out to a great start and got to lead some laps in the 450 class for the first time. But soon Stewart closed in and even busted out an old Bubba-style trick—he jumped all the way over a dragonback section that gave everyone else fits. He passed RV there, battled with him briefly, and then pulled away to his first convincing victory of the season.

In practice, on the back of his pants, Stewart wore a butt patch that said O Bubba, with the O styled after Barack Obama’s campaign logo. After dominating the racing on Houston in a manner he could not do at the first three rounds, it’s clear that James is all about change, too.

{LINKS}Meanwhile, credit goes to Villopoto, who has steadily improved each week. Stewart and Ricky Carmichael were both injured and out by round four of their rookie seasons, so in comparison, Villopoto is over par. Best of all, he’s smart enough to keep trying to catch Stewart and Reed, but not ride over his head doing so. These are lessons that are easy to teach yet hard to learn, and RV’s crew has done the right things to keep him on task.
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