“We have yet to see the best Chad Reed has to offer,” said 1997 AMA Supercross class champion and SPEED/CBS Sports color commentator Jeff Emig. “Reed is more of a champion now than ever before. He’s not a quitter and has more fight in him in the late stages of his career. Last year fueled his fire.”
It’s hard to put a finger on when the animosity between Stewart and Reed began, but their past has never included doing dinner together the night before a race. Some say it goes back to 2003 when Stewart slowed down to let Reed pass him, then regained the lead to show his dominance. The resentment intensified when Stewart switched teams and essentially took Reed’s job before the start of 2009. Whatever the case may be, the rivalry is real and it spills over to the race track
Last year during the main event at Salt Lake City’s Rice-Eccles Stadium, Stewart’s teammate Kyle Chisholm was black flagged after interfering with Reed’s charge on Stewart. The incident took on a life of its own, forcing many to ask a question that only Chisholm can answer: Did he erase this possible watershed moment by using team tactics and protecting Stewart’s lead? In Reed’s mind, it’s not a question.
“Who can deny that wasn’t intentional,” said Reed about it. “What James organized and had done in Salt Lake City showed me a lot about who he is. In Vegas I had to put the pressure on him and hoped he would make a mistake. I was extremely kind to him considering the situation.”
2009 wasn’t an easy year for Stewart either. After starting the season with a 23-point championship deficit, Stewart rallied back from the easy-to-forget 19th place finish at Anaheim 1. He went on a seven-race win streak following Anaheim 1, and in doing so stole the lead from his arch-rival, the defending champion Reed. Following his seventh consecutive win at Atlanta’s Georgia Dome, he led the championship contest by three points and set the stage for the most dramatic second half of the season.
“We’ve come a long way after where we started in California – 23 points behind,” said Stewart on mounting the impressive comeback. “We have a long way to go, and I will not give up until the end.”
Reed landed his first win of the season at the new Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, tying the AMA Supercross class points race with Stewart. One week later at Daytona International Speedway, Reed took advantage of a first-turn crash by Stewart, who finished seventh, and won his second consecutive race, establishing an 11-point lead in the standings.
En route to Las Vegas, Stewart picked up an additional four race wins and took advantage of Reed’s disastrous seventh-place performance in Seattle, where he was forced to play catch-up after a wild first-turn crash. In Las Vegas, Ryan Villopoto rubbed elbows with Stewart before passing him for the lead and the eventual win. Reed worked his way through the field and made a heavy-contact pass on Stewart to earn his 12th runner-up finish of the year. Stewart finished third and was awarded the championship. “
“The turning point for my season was the win at Phoenix,” said Stewart. “If I did not win that race, the whole season would have been different. The win changed the momentum for me. I look forward to racing with the number-one plate in 2010.”
Reed finished the season as runner-up for the fourth time in his career. “This is a tough pill to swallow,” said Reed. “This is not how I wanted the season to end, and I look forward to another shot at the number-one plate.”
With the emergence of several existing AMA Supercross class riders, such as Josh Grant and Ryan Villopoto, the chances of 2010 being a two-horse race are slim. Villopoto, who became the first rider in history to beat Stewart—not once but twice—in a race where he did not crash, adjusted well to the 450cc transition despite a mid-season illness.
“James is a great rider and it felt good to beat him, but that’s what I need to do to win the championship in 2010,” adds Villopoto. “Having won twice last year, I can say that I can race with everyone, including the top guys. I ended the season on a high note and will use what I learned this year to chase after the championship.”
Grant won the opening race of the 2009 season and finished fourth overall as a rookie. Reigning Western Regional AMA Supercross Lites class champion Ryan Dungey enters his rookie season in the premier class and brings some AMA Supercross class experience to the track. As a Lites class rider in 2008, Dungey mounted the 450cc machine and finished second in Minneapolis. Training under the tutelage of supercross icon Ricky Carmichael, expect Dungey to come this year prepared for battle.