Racer X Redux: Atlanta

March 2, 2010 2:00pm | by:
Welcome to Racer X ReduX presented by Renthal. Man, things change fast.

General Motors was once so big that the U.S. government considered breaking it up to prevent a monopoly. But GM has been losing market share for decades, with Toyota creeping up to challenge for world’s largest automaker. GM was only propped up by trucks, including the brilliant idea of taking ordinary Chevrolet Tahoes and Colorados, putting square shoulders and off-road tricks on them and branding them as Hummers. The Hummer brand was hot, and GM reaped the profits on the new “it” vehicle.

But then came high gas prices, and Hummer became the symbol for all that was wrong with America. Sales shrank, profits evaporated, and when the recession pushed GM into government hands, Hummer was put up for sale. GM was hoping to make quick cash, but last week the potential deal with a Chinese company ground to a halt, and now the Hummer brand will die; same for the original military HMMWV (Humvee), which is being phased out for a new truck.

Yup, just another notch in the belt for Toyota, riding 30 years of constant improvement and customer satisfaction to be number-one in the world. It was unstoppable, it was invincible, it was driving to the top with fully intended acceleration. Then, all of a sudden, well, you know what happened.

Toyota just made one mistake, but that’s all the competition might need to bounce back.

  • Ryan Dungey withstood the pressure and now holds 20 points over his competition again.
That’s Monster Energy Supercross after Atlanta. Ryan Dungey, once mighty, was maligned for a few weeks, some saying he was cracking under pressure or letting the competition get in his head. Ryan Villopoto was on fire, making up 20 points in four weeks. Coming to the ATL, they were deadlocked at the top of the series. In the main, the showdown was on as Dungey grabbed yet another Spike Holeshot, and Villopoto moved into second and tried to chase him down.

For a few laps, it was darned close, as they traded tenths of a second each lap. Then they got into traffic, and Dungey negotiated it well while Villopoto lost a little speed in a rhythm lane, still tried to jump a triple, and came up way short and went over the bars—unintended deceleration.

That was it: The Dunge had his third win of the year, but first this month, and a 20-point lead again (over Josh Hill, with Villo 23 “markers” back). So let’s just rest the “Dungey cracks under pressure” talk forever. The guy won two Lites titles last year under heat the whole time, he won the des Nations, and after his little incident with J-Lo-profile last week, Dungey has put up a second and a first. Barring disaster, he’ll have the points lead half way through his rookie season, and he earned it. Villopoto was clearly the fastest rider the last few weeks, but Dungey was game this time. After a few weeks of experimenting with bike settings, Dungey and his Suzuki crew went back to their old stuff, and it’s working again. Villopoto caught up once when Dungey went off his game, but will he get another break?

And now I’m done talking up The Dunge, so go and take it away in the comment section, YZSEAN.

  • Kevin Windham congratulates Trey Canard for one-upping him in the main event. Windham has finished as high as third this year, and Canard grabbed second.
Good thing Villopoto escaped from that crash unhurt, because if he hadn’t, the craziest title fight in years might have gone up in smoke. Week by week, we’re losing contenders: Kevin Windham fell early in this race and finished way back, Davi Millsaps has a few shoulder injuries and can’t find that San Diego magic again, and we already know about all the dudes who are out. And Josh Hill? Just not the same once we moved east, but the tracks can’t have anything to do with that because Indy and Atlanta were as hard and slippery as the West tracks.

We talked to Hill Saturday morning, and he said he may have found the limit on training – overtraining, perhaps. Later in the afternoon, he crashed in practice. My partner Jim Holley went down to the pits and talked to Hill’s agent Jimmy Button, who said Josh was hurting, would miss opening ceremonies and then maybe the whole race. Feeling like an insider, I caught a last-minute Tweet from Jeff Emig looking for info on Hill, so I promptly told the world Josh would be out of opening ceremonies and then maybe the whole race.

Ten minutes later, there was Hill, pulling a wheelie during opening ceremonies. D’oh!

Anyway, two bad races can hurt the confidence and motivation, so here’s hoping Hill keeps digging and keeps this points battle close. To think we had two-straight weeks of ties, and now Dungey nearly has a full-race lead!

Hill put himself on the map two years ago in Minneapolis when he won on a 450. And Dungey took second. That night, James Stewart was out and Chad Reed was sick with the birthday blues, and he crashed. Dungey took advantage to finish second, his confidence soared, and he’s been a machine ever since. Could the same have happened to Trey Canard in Atlanta? Second in your second 450 race ever? This could be a record for an off-coast, in-season rider (Minny was Dungey’s 4th 450 race that year).

And Trey didn’t just have it given to him, either. He gamely stuck with his old buddy Villopoto early and stayed strong to the end (although he admitted those extra five laps really tightened him up). It was solid, and yes, he’s allowed to race with RV even if that holds Ryan up for a few laps. If Trey can stay healthy on this big bike, he will have a ton of momentum when the Lites kick up again (and agent Denny Stephenson now has one heck of a 2011 450cc bargaining chip).

On Sunday after the race, I went to my buddy Kevin Kelly’s track in Bremen for the Red Bull Re-MX race and Ride 4 AT charity auction. And all day, everyone kept saying, “Man was that an awesome Lites race or what?”

  • Check out this sequence of Christophe Pourcel going after Justin Barcia on the start straight during the Atlanta main. This is photo 1 of 8.
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As they would say in Georgia, it’s fixin’ to get good in that class. It started when Justin Barcia finally brought his full repertoire to the races by running into dudes in practice and qualifying. As an amateur, Barcia was known for riding through guys instead of passing, but he had been pretty clean so far as a pro. Maybe he’s only allowed to bring that weapon to his adopted home state of Georgia? It started when he got into it with Martin Davalos in practice (yes, the same Davalos who rides with Barcia at MTF). Davalos didn’t like it and grabbed JB17 by the helmet. Under today’s rules, contact with another rider is a no-no, so Davalos was DQ’d from the night program. When was the last time a rider was DQ’d during the afternoon? No one knows. Maybe never? Trivia buffs may remember Davalos once got DQ’d in Seattle for fighting with Kyle Partridge, but even that was during the night show.

Anyway, Davalos was gone, but Barcia wasn’t done. In his heat, he went through, er, passed, Kyle Cunningham and a few others. The heat was building. Meanwhile, Christophe Pourcel won his heat in typical calm fashion, and when the main began, Holley and I were setting up an appointment with the trademark office so we could coin the “Fire and Ice” nickname for the pending Barcia and Pourcel showdown in the main. You just knew something was going to happen. But what we didn’t expect was Pourcel to be the first to fire. The first shot he had at Barcia, he lined him right up and took him down!

So now add “vigilante” to nicknames like “crafty” for Pourcel, who told us on the Webcast that, yes, he was trying to teach “that kid” a lesson. CP seemed way more interested in ramming and blocking Barcia than he did in actually going fast and winning the race. All the speed he had at Indy? Gone. After being knocked down, Barcia was able to catch back up to Pourcel and pass him, more blocking took place, and meanwhile rookie Dean Wilson was leading. Hey Canada, do you believe in miracles? Yes... er, no, as eventually the pace and pressure got to Dean. But he rode well and then Canada won a gold medal in some sort of team ice curling game against the U.S. on Sunday, so Canadian observationists everywhere are pumped.

Oh, so Barcia leaves Pourcel behind(!) and tries to run down Austin Stroupe. Last year, Stroupe led Atlanta’s Lites race until he stalled in the turn after the finish. This year, he led Atlanta’s Lites race until he fell in the turn after the finish! And he fell right in front of Barcia, who, ironically, had nowhere to go and ended up riding right into Stroupe, allowing the Crafty One to motor right past.

Later, Barcia ran down Pourcel again, but crashed, and crashed again trying to get up. He finished 18th.

  • Austin Stroupe is Mr. Consistency - well, outside of Pourcel's consistent 1-1 in the first two rounds.
Is this not brilliant theater? You have the cool, calculating and aloof Frenchman playing dirty, paired against a wild, aggressive, outgoing young American. And the kid had the speed and home crowd on his side, only for the Frenchman to sneak up from behind and steal the win. The only thing left was for the Hulkster to come out to “Real American” and challenge Pourcel for the title!

And how about ex-wild-child Stroupe being the consistent one? He did fall while leading, but he kept his nose a lot cleaner than the comp, so he’s right there in points if Pourcel falters. And although Pourcel may want to return to racing forward in Daytona, Barcia may not let him. I am really, really excited about this rivalry, and I plan on selling real fire and real ice to profit on the hype.

Just forget about how the rookies rode in Indy. Wilson and Barcia were much better in Atlanta, and so was Blake Baggett, who was fighting for the top five early, crashed, and came back to fifth. He was flying, too. Not as good this time for Kyle Regal, who started way back and finished 11th, and last week’s heartbreak, Ryan Sipes, who crashed early in the main and finished 15th.

Props to Levi Kilbarger, who scored an impressive ninth.

  • Ivan Tedesco got a start and held strong, making a large improvement on recent weeks.
Ivan Tedesco got his first non-disastrous start in a few weeks, but he wasn’t quite able to hang with the podium guys this time. There was a good battle between he and Justin Brayton for “top Yamaha.” Tedesco won it. Brayton also said Josh Grant is going to start riding this week, so he could be back racing soon, which is only going to add to the craziness. Michael Byrne was seventh, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Muscle Milk/Toyota Yamaha (JGR) finds a way to keep him on.

Yes, there’s a chance we’ll see Reed and Grant back for Toronto (or earlier) – and you thought the Winter Olympics were over!

Well, ReduX is over, because I’m spending the week down here in Florida and it’s 70 degrees out. Also, the wife is pregnant (hopefully with my kid) and I figure if I take them to Disney World now, it’s like getting a two-for-one deal. Unborn babies get in free – but they sure do eat a lot.

See you at Daytona, or follow my twitter @JasonWeigandt. Hey, my 59-year-old dad is even doing it! Or email me at jasonW@racerxonline.com. The wife loves it when I take time out of family trips to respond to emails.