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Racer X Redux: Phoenix

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So the most consistent man in supercross remains as consistent as ever. Chad Reed follows up his nineteenth at Anaheim 1 with another nineteenth at round two in Phoenix.

  • The two-two is off the track for a few weeks. Besides Jeremy McGrath, we're talking record longevity here.
But now he’s out with a broken hand, so he should continue the consistency with a string of DNSes. When the gate drops at Anaheim 2 this weekend, it will mark the first American SX start that Reed has missed since moving to the premier class in 2003.

Welcome to the 2010 edition of Monster Energy Supercross, which just may wind up being even crazier than 2009. Once again you have Reed and James Stewart in the middle of the drama, but this time we nearly lost both from the championship chase.

And the series leader is Ryan Dungey, because Stewart’s night was somehow possibly even worse than Reed’s! Meanwhile, up front, you had three young riders building confidence, sweeping the podium and now sitting 1-2-3 in points too.

Of course we mean Ryan Dungey, Ryan Villopoto, and Josh Hill. Dungey’s performance would be listed as unbelievable if he had not ridden so well at Anaheim last weekend. The kid has only raced a 450 in supercross five times. His first ride came at Indy in 2008, where he finished fourth, then he grabbed tenth in the all-time mudder at Daytona, and then he had a second-place finish in Minneapolis that everyone remembers.

(And Hill won that night, BTW).

  • Dungey and Villopoto got the starts and poured it on from there.
Now Dungey has a second and a first in 2010, as well as the points lead. Only one rookie season has ever started better, and that’s when Damon Bradshaw won rounds one and two in 1990. Bradshaw was only 17 at the time.

That was this week’s excuse to insert Bradshaw into this column. Next week, I’ll mention how Bradshaw was leading the third race in 1990 as well, until he crashed and broke his ankle. Had that not happened, he would have probably gone undefeated throughout his entire career. Just a theory.

Anyway, Dungey might avoid such trouble. He has never been a wild crasher like Bradshaw. Since he turned pro at the end of 2006, Dungey has only missed one race due to injury, when he broke his collarbone in practice at Steel City in ’07. Otherwise, he’s taken a few lumps (battling Jason Lawrence in ‘08, for example), but he’s pretty much always there week in a week out.

He even battled through a little adversity in Phoenix. He looked off in practice – yes, he was second-fastest overall, but that was based on one strong lap right at the end of the first session. After the race, on the Supercross Live! webcast (plug), Dungey told us they made big changes to the bike throughout the day, and he was worried that it might not work out. They obviously guessed right, and his Suzuki was dialed in for the night show.

Last week I figured a few riders would improve in Phoenix once they rid themselves of Anaheim 1’s nerves. Hill and Villopoto did. As for Davi Millsaps, he took another ninth. Well, two out of three ain’t bad.

Villopoto was a whopping 41 seconds behind Dungey at the end of Anaheim; he was just six seconds down at the end of Phoenix. He was even closer for most of the race, spending the first twelve laps stalking Dungey. He was making up time in the second set of whoops and perhaps looking to set something up there.

Both guys were really pushing the pace and logging consistent 54-second laps. Dungey maintained that pace, but on lap thirteen, Villo dropped off a bit. Dungey won the race between laps 13-16 by staying in the 54s, when Villopoto started logging 55s. Remember, that’s about the same point in the race where Stewart caught Dungey last week. The kid learns fast.

Villopoto should only get faster as he readjusts to racing up front again. And if he wants to practice pushing at the thirteen-lap mark, he has a really fast teammate to work off of each week … oh, wait, not anymore.

Then you have Hill. As other internet observers pointed out, Hill looked on it right from the start of the day in Phoenix. He was treating practice like an NBA dunk contest, pushing the envelope further each time out. He was so impressive to watch that the San Manuel team was still pumped watching the second practice, even though their other rider wasn’t even out there.

Who is that other guy? Uh, Stewart. Let me just get to that in a bit.

Back to Hill. He had a shot at Dungey in his heat race but made a few mistakes and lost time, and the same thing happened in the main. I believe Hill and RV are building their programs back up after tough 2008s, and they’re going to keep getting better in pursuit of the Dunge. Getting beat by “the fastest man on the planet, James Stewart” is one thing, but I know Villopoto and Hill feel like they should have something for Dungey.

Then again, a lot of people who used to beat Dungey can’t beat him anymore.

I’ve got some other thoughts on Hill/Dungey/Villopoto, but I’m saving them for Blogandt this week because this column is going to be too long as it is.

  • Collector's item! Check out this rare photo of Stewart fighting for the lead in an LCQ!
So what about Stewart? He didn’t ride the second timed practice and people went nuts on the floor. Texts and tweets were flying everywhere. One of these days, a rider is going to do a practice start right into a tweeting journalist down there. You’ll know when you read “@jasonweigandt Going to the hospital #sx”.

During the session, even one of the flaggers came running to me and said, “Where’s Stewart?” The explanation was all over the place. Stew’s mechanic, Paul, was just trying to stay pumped on Hill and ignore my Stewart question, then he finally relented with “He’s just hanging out.” Steve Cox talked to Larry Brooks, who said the track was blown out and so there was no reason for Stewart to go out there. Yamaha’s Bob Oliver said the same thing when Jim Holley and I tracked him down to get info for the webcast (plug).

But … we also heard rumors that James was sick, and as for the blown-out track, Reed, Villopoto, Hill, Millsaps, and Windham all went faster in the second practice.

If San Manuel wants to manage the rumors, they should just tweet during practice. All the journos will have the scoop—it’s getting to the point where we will just text and tweet the dude standing next to us.

So I tried to study James during opening ceremonies to gauge his condition. Then I realized how ridiculous it was to use the opening-ceremonies hot lap to figure out if someone is sick!

Then James goes out and starts about fourteenth in his heat race, and when you’re back there, crazy things happen, especially when you’re used to throwing your bike sideways over jumps and there are bikes on all sides. James tangled with Kyle Partridge and was down for the count.

What followed was high drama, as Stewart tried to shake off medical attention in full view of the fans, who were cheering him on. There he was, consoled by Brooks, face showing pain, walking with a limp, waving off help. I haven’t seen a show like that since Stone Cold Steve Austin battled Brett “The Hitman” Hart at Wrestlemania 13 — but in this case, Stewart’s pain was very real, because he had 400 pounds of Kawasaki, Partridge, and a pear tree come down on him.

And Partridge was relatively unhurt - read our news about it here.

Stewart managed to ride the LCQ and even win it over Tommy Hahn. But in the main he was clearly still in pain. If James does come back to win the title this year, you can bet that TV clip of him wincing in pain will be shown over and over and over. That was one heck of an effort.

And then came Reed. In the final practice session, Chad finally looked a little more aggressive on his Kawasaki, at least until he had to drop out with what looked like a mechanical issue. But he did have the fastest time of that session.

He got yet another horrible start in his heat race and could only finish third after bumping a Tuff Block and going off the track. He got a horrible start again in the main, and lo and behold, Stewart was right in front of him. And now I get to write these words: Chad stalked James in a battle for tenth while the leaders ran away….

My computer just locked up.

Chad looked like he was almost confused sitting back there, and then he decided it was time to make a move. He went to the inside of Stewart before the finish, the hands of fate slammed the two of them together, and they both went down.

Now, many of the people who watched that Reed-Stewart crash will say it was just a racing incident. Reed went inside, the Brayton-Millsaps battle ahead slowed up, Stewart cut down, Reed was already on the inside, and the two rivals collided and went down. But if you’re Reed, Stewart, a Reed or Stewart mega-fan, or someone with a vested interest in either rider, you probably don’t see it that way. And I understand that. At this point there has been so much bad blood shed between that two that they’re like a divorced couple fighting over money -- they’re not going to agree on ANYTHING.

For a moment, Reed got up while Stewart struggled in pain. It looked like Reed had his chance to make up all of those points from round 1. But then he disappeared, we later learned because he had broken his hand in the crash. That means it’s not inaccurate to write the headline: Reed Breaks Hand on Stewart’s Head.

Wait, another headline suggestion from our friend Johnny O’Hannah, who writes:

This is your headline for the Phoenix Supercross
 
Stewart goes "KAW Tippin" in Arizona!!!
 
You're Welcome,
Johnny O'Hannah

Somehow, Stewart got BACK up and logged in his laps, salvaging fifteenth and probably taking some pride knowing people railed on Reed last week for not trying to fix his wheel to try to salvage something. Although I talked to Kawasaki Team Manager Mike Fisher about that for last Friday's Racerhead and he made it pretty clear there was nothing that could be done.

  • Team Manager's are looking at Byrne as a replacement. Unfortunately he sliced his elbow open in the main and finished twentieth.
A month ago, Stewart told me, “I’m the toughest rider out there. If people knew the injuries I’ve raced through….” Well, this one was there for all to see, and it was impressive. Also, fans have actually booed Stewart and Reed during opening ceremonies at the first two races. I bet Stew gets cheered this weekend. I mean, he was so beat-up that he apparently forgot he doesn’t ride for Kawasaki anymore and decided to ride over to their pits after the race! James was probably hoping to give Reed’s broken left hand a good, firm shake, but alas, there wasn’t anyone there … but he did leave a nice set of “James Stewart Entertainment” Oakley goggles behind inside the Kawasaki semi. Maybe Chad will hang them from his rearview mirror.

The Stewart-and-Reed thing has exploded to the point where we should call them the Nuclear Cowboyz. Yup, it’s War of the Roses, and that’s good and fine since there aren’t any kids involved, except now the drama is happening with them running seventh and twenty-fourth in points, instead of first and second.

On Monday we found out Reed is getting hand surgery. That’s a bummer, because how fun would it be to see both Stewart and Reed try to mount comebacks against Dungey? To think Chad wouldn't have eventually figured it out and gotten back up front is crazy, he would have at least been a spoiler. As for Stewart, I bet he’ll be back and fast this weekend, despite the pain. As long as he can ride, you can never count him out.

  • Keep on chuggin, GL!
And this weekend might be crazy again because of all the rain they’re getting in SoCal. During the Phoenix race, Dirt Wurx sent a few guys back to California in the middle of the night so they could build the A2 track as soon as the Anaheim Monster Jam finished up. The track is already done and covered under a tarp. But with five straight days of rain scheduled, it will probably be muddy anyway.

Ivan Tedesco took fourth at Phoenix for the second year in a row, and this is impressive since his bike and team are so new. And he had to battle for it - people were going at it crazy hard from fourth on back. Andrew Short finished a typical solid fifth.

Kevin Windham is taking the mantle from Mike LaRocco and Tim Ferry. Took him a little while to get going, but once he did, he was logging 55-second laps all the way to the end and passed Austin Stroupe on the last lap. Is there some rule that says the oldest rider in the field must use the first three laps to get warmed up? Windham was going so slow on the early laps that the injured Stewart passed him, but his best overall time was over a half second faster that Stewart’s best.

  • More exposure for Austin Stoupe right here.
As for Austin Stroupe, if Suzuki wanted another bike out there to get some exposure for sponsors, this was a brilliant move. Stroupe has been right in the middle of the action, and if he keeps riding fast like this, he will be one tough customer when the East Lites series starts. Just try to stay healthy until then, Austin.

We had Josh Grant stop by on the webcast (plug), and he broke the news that Michael Byrne will be taking his spot on the Muscle Milk/Toyota Yamaha (that’s JGR) team. Grant says it will be 6-8 weeks before he can even get back on a bike, but he really doesn’t want to just wait for the outdoors to race again. My guess is his team will make him take his time.

Byrne could have made a good fit at Kawasaki now that Reed is out. Two weeks in and this is already as mixed up as NBC’s late night lineup.

On Saturday morning, Grant Langston told me his goal is to make every race and finish every race. He wadded it up in the main but soldiered on like he said he would, singling the doubles and doubling the triples en route to eighteenth. Stewart passed him late in the race in a battle of the injured.

In Lites, Jake Weimer is riding a wave of momentum that makes you win races even when you shouldn’t. Reminds me of Ezra Lusk back in 1999. He won Anaheim 1, and the next weekend in San Diego, someone landed on him on the first lap. Ezra shrugged it off, charged through the pack, and won anyway. When you’re hot, you’re hot. Weimer had crashes on press day and in practice, but he stayed close enough to the battle in the main to make it happen and win.

  • Ryan Clark is a good dude and a Phoenix resident. Took fourteenth in the Lites main. Here's some love.
The Lites race was awesome too. The top six riders were glued to each other early. Trey Canard had hurt his foot in his heat race, though, and then later crashed in the whoops, dropping him back to seventh. Cole Seeley and Will Hahn rode their hearts out hanging with the leaders, and now I’m wondering if Ping has Mark McGwire’s trainer on board at Troy Lee Honda, because he’s a master at generating career-best results. For the second straight week, Hahn ended up right on Wharton’s wheel at the finish, this time for fourth.

Ping promised me his riders would get better starts in Phoenix, and they did. Star Racing/DNA Shred Stix Yamaha team owner Bobby Reagan said the same thing about his guys, but alas, they got horrible starts again. Broc Tickle put in one heck of an effort from the back to get fifth. Tickle, folks, is serious.

Morais now, by my count, has twelve career podiums and no wins. How sick is he of hearing that old adage “Once you win your first, the rest come easy”?

Dungey probably likes that one, though. We’ll see if he can do it again this weekend.

If you want to bench race more, email me at Jasonw@racerxonline.com Last week the only person who emailed was my buddy P-Dub, and all he wanted to talk about was the Erin Bates ambush interview on Reed and Stroupe. Surely someone has something else on their mind this week.
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