This year, the sport really needed Anaheim to play out like it always does. We’ve endured a rough off-season of crunched budgets and economic woes, but when the tour began on Saturday, everything looked as great as it always does. The industry and sport really needed a shot in the arm, and the opening round delivered.
On the track, though, the “Groundhog Day” theme only went so far. In fact, the race was in many ways a complete opposite of 2009. This time, Chad Reed was dealt the bad hand when an errant Austin Stroupe footpeg ripped away at his front spokes. He ended up 19th, the same spot where his old rival, James Stewart, finished in Anaheim last year. Reed even got a spot in Erin Bates’ SPEED hotseat on live TV, and yes, he let his frustrations pour out just like Stewart had a year ago.
There were similarities to Anaheim ’09, though. Much like last year, Stewart looked a tad off dialing in his new Yamaha, and a Suzuki rider was there to challenge him with a combination of speed and smoothness.
But this Suzuki rider wasn’t Reed, who is now off to the races with Monster Energy Kawasaki. This year’s Suzuki star is Ryan Dungey, who threatened to match last year’s race-winning rookie effort by Josh Grant. Dungey’s ride was a revelation. Where many rookies grapple with arm pump and nerves during the first race of their first full season in the big class, Dungey looked smoother and more relaxed than anyone. Even Jeremy McGrath needed two races to loosen up during his rookie campaign, but Dungey, who ran the gauntlet en route to Lites titles and MX of Nations wins last year, looked unshakable.
Sadly, Grant’s fortunes were just the opposite, as he was unable to go in the main event while dealing with a shoulder injury suffered in practice.
Stewart’s strategy was also much different than in 2009. While Dungey led, he gathered himself up, let the race come to him, and ended up in victory lane instead of on the ground.
Stewart staying up benefited one other rider besides himself. Kevin Windham could have landed his GEICO Powersports Honda on the Anaheim podium last year – or even possibly won it – but he ran into a downed Stewart while charging up from fourth place. This time, the carnage never came, and K-Dub emerged with a third.
“It took me 16 years, but I think I’m finally over getting nervous at the opening round,” said Windham. In a few ways, this Anaheim was the same as always, but in many, it was totally different.