Scouting Stewart and Reed

January 6, 2010 11:00am | by:
Talk about Monster Energy Supercross always begins with James Stewart and Chad Reed. We can hope, dream, and guess about other contenders, but all evidence points to them as the clear favorites. Besides the retired Ricky Carmichael and occasional challenges from Kevin Windham, no other rider has yet proven to be a genuine weekly threat to Bubba and Reedy in supercross.

  • Chad Reed will mount Stewart's old bike in pursuit of another SX Title in the U.S.
The 2009 season opened up big wounds between the duo, so 2010 begins with drama thick in the air. Their old controversies are still fresh—Stewart replacing Reed at L&M Racing, Stewart and Reed banging bikes in Anaheim and Jacksonville, Chisholmgate at Salt Lake City, Reed teeing off on Stewart in the Vegas pre-event press conference, and the wild Vegas finale where Reed ran Stewart off the track while Stewart hung on to win the title in an atmosphere of trash talk, drama, controversy, and straight-up hatred for each other. Does it get any better? Well, this year, Reed is riding for Stewart’s old team, Monster Energy Kawasaki, so there is potential for more!

So who will win? Well, of course this entire conversation must be prefaced with “providing no one gets injured,” because the Stewart-Reed battle in 2008 ended after just two rounds when Stewart went out with a torn ACL (and they were tied in points at the time). But if they both remain healthy, here are some things to think about:

Stewart’s Health: Stewart didn’t race the Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship, but he was going to get his racing laps in at the Rockstar Energy Drink U.S. Open in Las Vegas, as well as off-season SX races in France, Italy, and Australia. But an illness stopped him on the last day of racing in France, forcing him to pull out of the rest of the events and back off of his training regimen to recover. “It’s just rest,” Stewart told me a few weeks ago. “It’s not like an injury where a doctor can tell you it will be four or six weeks and you’re good.” So most of James’ off-season has been touch-and-go as he balances training and recovery. His Aldon Baker-led boot camp started a little later than he wanted, but don’t worry: Stewart is still going to be fast at Anaheim, because he’s James Stewart. Still, the SX season features seventeen races in eighteen weeks, leaving little room for recovery if trouble flares back up.

Reed’s Health: Last year Reed suffered from a strange stomach illness that made it hard for him to keep food down and stay strong. “From Houston on, I felt like I had nothing to give,” Reed told me recently. “I felt like I didn’t have the energy I needed. I really struggled at St. Louis—ten laps in, I felt really nauseous. That night was the beginning of my violent throwing up. That’s all the what-ifs that go along with motor racing, and it takes being 100 percent to win a supercross title. At that point in time, James was the best guy and he was winning all the races.”

  • James Stewart, as always, begins the season with massive expectations.
  • Reed didn't dominate Down Under, but don't expect him to be slow this weekend.
  • Will an off-season illness have an impact on Stewart's racing?
It did appear that Reed was getting weak late in the races. Early in the year, he struggled to get starts on his Suzuki. Once he figured them out, he would often battle with Stewart until the ten- or fifteen-lap-mark before losing major ground. That happened in St. Louis, Jacksonville, and Salt Lake, although his Salt Lake charge was held up a bit by Stewart’s teammate Kyle Chisholm. Regardless, Reed was not 100 percent throughout much of the season. He thinks he’s closer to having his issues figured out, but still, seventeen races in eighteen weekends is a long grind.

Their Schedule: Reed didn’t race the outdoor tour in 2008 but did in 2009, while Stewart did the opposite. What’s the best balance to win in supercross? Surely racing hard all summer can only make a rider faster and fitter, but Reed’s year-round schedule might lead to burnout.

“I feel like I achieved being a faster and stronger rider,” he says. “Supercross is all about putting the jumps together and getting corner speed. It’s a feeling you chase, but I know what that feeling is like. I wanted to be better. I wanted to be more complete as a rider.” To alleviate the burnout, Reed actually took more time off than you would think. Once he wrapped up the AMA MX crown at Budds Creek, he basically stopped riding during the week until he got on his Kawasaki a month later.

Stewart hoped to find the perfect combination of rest and racing until his illness came along and put him on the couch. Still, he isn’t too worried about what Reed gained during the summer.

“I guarantee when Chad lines up at the gate at Anaheim, he will forget he raced outdoors,” Stewart said a few weeks ago. “At Anaheim last year, I forgot all about going undefeated outdoors. One thing about racers, it’s week-by-week. The last time he won an AMA race was in August! And Anaheim brings a lot of pressure. Everyone is riding really well after a full off-season, but then you get all these cool videos in opening ceremonies and all of this hype. It’s a big storm. It’s a lot of pressure, so you have to be able to deal with everyone saying, “Okay, you’re the guy.”

New Bikes: Last year Stewart switched from Kawasakis to Yamahas. The transition looked easy when he ran Reed down at the U.S. Open, but his setup took a turn for the worse by the time the season started in Anaheim. At round four in Houston, Stewart finally appeared locked in with his blue bike. Now he has another all-new machine, since Yamaha completely redesigned the YZ450F. At least he won’t be adjusting to a new team this time, though, and learning the staff is key to dialing in a machine. Once again, Stewart looked fast at the Open, and you have to think he’ll do everything he can to avoid last year’s early struggles.

As for Reed, he’s on Kawasakis himself now. Some point at his struggles winning races in his own series, the Monster Energy Australasian Super X tour, but Reed is a proven gamer who steps up when he needs to. He wasn’t on Stewart’s pace on a Suzuki at last year’s U.S. Open, but he was actually going faster when the U.S. series opened at Anaheim in January. For years we’ve theorized about other riders getting on Reed’s pace, but in the end he’s the only one left battling Stewart and Carmichael.

Reed told me he’s actually happier with his green bike than his yellow one, which you would expect him to say, but he has a legitimate reason: he gets to go back to the familiar KYB suspension components he used on Yamahas instead of the Showa units used on the RM-Z.

New Tires: On paper, this one should affect both riders equally, as both switch from Bridgestones to Dunlops for the first time in supercross. Stewart has expressed no qualms with the new tires, but Reed’s situation was a little more dire. He raced a Bridgestone-shod Suzuki at the Motocross of Nations and was basically racing a Kawasaki with Dunlops a week later Down Under. That didn’t leave much testing time, and soon word filtered out that he wasn’t getting on well with his new treads. But Reed spent December testing back here in the U.S. and says he’ll be fine. What’s interesting is, Reed didn’t have an issue with traction on his new tires. He needed testing time to learn how the new rubber affects his suspension.

Since both riders have equal access to Dunlop tires and personnel, the real issue may be who can simply adapt best to all the newness. Some riders can feel even the smallest difference in tire compounds and pressure, while others don’t even notice.

New Teammates: Much has been said about Reed teaming up with Ryan Villopoto at Monster Energy Kawasaki, as you have two really big stars occupying the same tent. So far, so good, we hear, but until the duo actually races each other, you really don’t know how it will pan out. In covering the Reed/RV story in our February issue, it appeared both riders were mature enough to handle the situation. Reed suggested Villopoto may be faster than him at the test track, and he’s even okay with that. Kawasaki has long held to giving their riders equal treatment, and some believe the duo can even push each other to go faster. Like we said, so far, so good.

Stewart’s new teammate is Josh Hill, and reports are that Hill is leaner and meaner than ever. He could be set for a breakout year. But none of this should affect Stewart, who already had Hill riding and training at his house last year, too.

The Anaheim 1 Factor: In any bench-racing session on 2009 supercross, Stewart fans have one uncounterable move up their sleeve. Stewart left Anaheim 1 down 18 points on Reed and managed to come back and win the championship by four points. That means Stewart made up nearly a full race worth of points in the sixteen races after the opener. After he won the title in Las Vegas last year, Stewart said on the Supercross Live! webcast, “I guarantee you one thing, it is not going to be this close next year.” Indeed, if Stewart just stays off the ground this weekend, he’s got a major head start on last year. That could be bad news for everyone else!