Stewart knew he wasn’t in a position to fight through the pack with his ailment(s), so what did he do? He grabbed the holeshot. Problem number one: solved. Unfortunately for Stewart, though, his teammate Josh Hill was on the gas, as was Rockstar/Makita Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey, who has been gunning for the defending champ since the gate dropped at Anaheim I.
But when Hill got around Stewart, most expected him to back it down a notch. But he didn’t. He continually dived inside of Hill and did anything and everything he could to keep the lead. Stewart doesn’t know how to lay up. He nearly ate it in the whoops one lap while battling side-by-side with Hill, and that save may have been the final nail in his race’s coffin, as it wasn’t long after that when Dungey got by, then chased down Hill for the lead and the win. Hill hung on for a solid second place, but the big story – well, besides the utter dominance of late by Dungey, who is showing un-rookie-like poise – was that Stewart went to battle already injured, and despite having one hand figuratively tied behind his back, he was not in defense mode, but rather offense mode. He attacked until he simply couldn’t anymore. And that’s why his fans love him, and why even his detractors love watching him race – even if they won’t admit it.
But it’s also why he ends up in such tight championship battles even in seasons where he’s plainly dominant and mostly healthy, because when you ride like James Stewart, it seems like it’s “when” rather than “if” something is going to go wrong and cost you a lot of points. He’s a homerun hitter who also strikes out more than anyone on the team.
But the team isn’t going to trade him for the guy who doesn’t really win a lot of games, but doesn’t lose many either.
James Stewart is spectacular in victory and defeat, and the chances are he will be until he’s done racing. After all, he’s in his ninth season now, and that hasn’t changed yet.