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Monday Conversation: James Stewart

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San Manuel Yamaha’s James Stewart has had a tough go of it the past couple of weeks. In Indy, he fell twice on his way to second place, and in Daytona, he went down in a heap in the first turn and came back through for seventh, while both times out, his championship rival Chad Reed has won. In New Orleans, Stewart finally got back up on the top step of the podium.

Racer X: You had a couple of unlucky weeks, but here you are again. Can you tell us what it means to you to get back on track, so to speak?
James Stewart: I mean, I don’t think they were unlucky. It was just making mistakes, and that first corner last week was out of my hands. I didn’t really feel like I did anything wrong. I’ve been riding good the whole time, but I just think that when you’re on the ground and trying to dig yourself out of the hole, it’s tough to win races. Tonight was a great night for me, though. I’ve just got to really thank Doug [from Bridgestone] because the track was really slippery and he gave me some awesome tires tonight.

In those early laps, Chad Reed was showing you a wheel here and there. What were you thinking about at that point?
I was just thinking about my deal. He’s a great rider, and he does that all the time – he tries to make you over-ride the track and pressure you into a mistake, and tonight I was solid as a brick. I made one mistake in that whoop section over there just because of that sand and stuff, and I was able to throw down some hot laps and ride my race, and I was able to win.

Talk about that rhythm section. You started jumping from the dragon back over the next jump, then tripling out, on the last lap of the Heat, and Reed did it behind you in the main. Reed said he saw you do it on tape and was like, “Dang it,” because he was planning on doing it.
I did it one time in practice, and I figured they would’ve gotten it from that, and there were like 18 cameras on me from everybody, but I knew they were going to figure it out. It’s like anything, either jump it or don’t. I jumped it one time, and then I jumped it almost every lap in the main event, and I knew he was going to do it, because I did it right in front of him. He’s a champion, and I knew he was going to do it anyway.

One lap, I saw you case it on both jumps through there...
Yeah, one lap, I came up short. I switched my line because I was over going to the far outside, and I kind of just spun, and hit a low line and cased that one, then I went for the next one and cased that one... [Laughs] I was just like, “There’s no way I’m singling. I’d rather do two and a half, two and a half, than go two-one, two-one [laughs].”

That’s the kind of commitment that we expect from you, and we’ve talked in the past about your willingness to do anything it takes to win. So was that an example of that?
Honestly, I just think people take that “I want to win” thing the wrong way. I want to win during the week. I work really hard, and I work too hard just to come out here and ride around. Some people say that’s a negative, but honestly I don’t care. I put my heart into it, and if I’m an idol of kids out there, I want them to know that anything I do, I put all my heart into it. At the end of the day, I am who I am, and that’s why my fans love me. I try my best.

The sand turn into those whoops seemed really difficult because it robbed your momentum before those whoops. Can you talk about how hard that was to get going, and the big mistake you made in there the one lap?
I was just trying to cut back and get into that middle line because it was a little worn-down, and I just slid out. I cut too hard and I slid out. One lap, some guy was down in it, and it’s so hard because that sand, there’s nothing you can do: when you hit it, it just moves. It pushed me straight to the outside, and I had to go around him. It was one of those areas where you could lose a lot of time or make up a lot of time, but I made it through a lot better than I did before, and I was able to capitalize on that. I don’t even know how Chad was doing in there, but I’m sure he was hitting them pretty good. It was all about endurance and trying to focus on my lines and watch the pitboard. I was able to do that.

At Daytona, I saw in a photo of mine that you had both your fingers in one finger of your glove. How much did that bother you for a whole race?
I mean, it sucked! It was my two end fingers, and luckily I don’t use the clutch that much, so I was able to hold on, but it was just so annoying. I spent the first two laps trying to pull it out and put it in the right finger hole, but I couldn’t get it out. I didn’t care, though, if I had to snap those suckers off and tape them back on later to try to get as many points as I could [laughs]!

Your bike was really bent up, and to charge through with that, your glove, no visor, and I’m sure you hit your head a bit...
I didn’t hit my head, I was just confused because I felt like I fell over – and I got ran over, and Josh [Hill] took my visor off – and then I picked up the first bike I saw that was a blue bike because I figured it had to be mine because there was no way my bike was way over there. And I saw Chad stuck in the first corner, and I saw everybody down, and then he [Hill] told me that wasn’t my bike, so I went over to mine, and I thought, “Man, I should’ve kept [Hill’s bike] because yours was in better shape than mine!” But at the end of the day, it was one of those deals that whether you win or lose the championship, every lap that I race this year – all 20 at every race – I’ve been trying my best, and that’s all I can ask from myself. And Daytona, with a bent-up bike, if I didn’t even have handlebars, I’d steer it by the clamps!

{LINKS}For us, it’s a math problem at this point, just doing the math on how you and Reed are going to end up in this championship, and it doesn’t seem like anyone’s getting between you and Chad, so are you aware of the math problem, and are you thinking about it?
I don’t care, it’s just one of those deals where I’ve got to win. Nobody’s gotten between us all year, except for Grant that first race, and for me, I’ve just got to keep on winning and trying. He got seven second-places in a row and it’s not going to change now. All I can do is do my best, and I was able to do that tonight. I’m happy to get the win, but we’ve still got a long way to go. We’ll just see where we end up at the end.
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