Monday Conversation: James Stewart

Monday Conversation: James Stewart

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Yoshimura Suzuki’s James Stewart becomes the fourth winner of the 2014 Monster Energy Supercross Championship, and considering JS7 sits third all time in career supercross wins, maybe that’s not a shock. However, his approach this season is surprising, and, yes, different than in the past. The old James Stewart just tried to blow past people with pure speed. Now, he’s talking strategy, smarts, patience and bike set up. After the race, James chatted with several reporters.

Racer X: How was it?
James Stewart: It was good to win like I did, to get better as the race went on, to pass Ryan in the beginning and to have a solid race. Couple little mistakes but I think we all were making them. The track was slippery and tough. It just feels good … to be so close at Anaheim, to have a chance to pass for the lead with five laps to go and go down, and at Oakland we were riding really good, I just ran out of time. We [the team] all kind of knew it [the chance to get a win] was there; it was just a matter of time before we got a good start and put 20 solid laps in. I knew I had a chance to do it, but with some of the things and some of the years I’ve had in the past, you’re just like, let me cross the checkered flag and then I’ll celebrate! But we did it.

Go through the race a little bit.
I got a great jump and I don’t know if I moved too far forward coming off [the gate] but I spun. I’m not sure what happened, and then those guys got me, but I squared around the inside. I think maybe I passed Ryan, I think we went back and forth a couple times in the first few corners. By that time I kind of knew he was going to be the guy, and I was keeping an eye on Reed. I made a few mistakes the first two laps and they kind of closed back up on me. I was watching Ryan, but I’m also watching the race behind me making sure I’m not slowing it down too much, and make sure we were starting to kind of gap those guys. Ryan made a mistake. He would close right up there, throw a wheel on me and I’d get a clean lap and just kind of pull away. Then I ended up catching the lappers and they kind of jacked up a little bit, but those guys were racing, too. So I was able to get though those and pull away for the last three or four laps. It was good. The track was easy to over-ride and I think we did a pretty good job tonight.

James Stewart (7) held off Ryan Villopoto to claim his first win of 2014. Photo: Simon Cudby
James Stewart (7) held off Ryan Villopoto to claim his first win of 2014. Photo: Simon Cudby

In that second corner, I think that dragon back step up, that looked like one of the scarier sections out there.
Yeah, one time I almost looped out over it, and one time I almost landed on Chisholm. It was tough because you had to commit right out of the corner. If you didn’t commit you didn’t have enough speed and the bike would just spin going off the top of it. It was tough. The last lap all I was thinking, if I get through that and the whoop section the race is mine. I was kind of cutting that corner close over there before the finish line. I kind of tagged that little pole a few times. There were a few parts to the track that I knew I just had to be kind of careful and let the race wear on and I felt like I would get better and that’s what happened. It feels good to know that you’re doing the right things.

Did you go through a progression of setups throughout the day?
We did. I think it was more chasing the track. When you first got here it was really tacky and more of a drier kind of dirt. Then the second practice it was shiny, just slippery. So we changed the tire. Then the third practice changed to like a moisture—it was really just kind of greasy like Anaheim. Then you get to the heat race and it was kind of loose and the main event was different. So we were more chasing the track, just trying to, I call it “guestimate” what we can do as far as the main event. We made a pretty big decision by changing both tires. Normally we don’t try to do that but we did it and it seemed to work, so I was happy about that.

You did a lot of work during the week. What did you change? Did it make a difference tonight?
With Rob [Rob Henricksen, RG3 suspension] coming on [to the team], everything we had during the off-season, from an engineering standpoint, our bike was good. We raced the Monster Cup and we were trying to build off that. He came in and started changing a lot of things a couple weeks before Anaheim. Since November, I’ve spent three days in Florida until now. So I’ve been out here in California testing pretty much every week. Every week we change something and see if it’s better. We completely screwed the motorcycle up at Anaheim 3. And the cool part is as a team, just through everything we went through last year, there’s no pointing fingers after it. I’m right there with them. Those guys know I work my butt off, those guys know I’m in shape, so it’s easy to come in and know that we struggled with the bike. It wasn’t a physical thing, it wasn’t anything else. We just struggled with the motorcycle. So we went back and put the main event setting on at the test track, and it sucked. So we just built off that and made sure we didn’t go that direction again. I think we’re only getting better. We’ll go back from today, there’s some changes that we need to make and we’ll go back and work on it next week.

You and Chad showing the 20-year-olds in the rest of the field that there’s still some life in you.
[Laughs] You guys throw me up there to that old age too quick. I’m like two years older than Villopoto and Dungey. I’ve been around for a while and I think honestly this is probably the best I’ve ever been in my career as far as race smarts, management, physical condition, even when I was training with Aldon [Baker] I feel like I’m stronger now than I was then. I feel like the team is completely behind me. We went through struggles last year, but even with those struggles I was happy racing. So it means a lot to come out here and go, all right, we did it again, boys. We did it conventionally. It wasn’t like Atlanta last year, I felt like we won the race but it wasn’t like I dominated. Tonight I felt like, I got out front and this is where I belong, I want to try to finish this off. So I think the mentality is a lot different, and hopefully we can just build off this. You should never get too overconfident. You have great races and you have a bad race and fortunately last weekend we know why we had a bad race and this weekend we nailed it. Every race so far that we’ve been good, even when we’ve been bad we’ve still been right there. There’s a long way to go and this championship ain’t done until they count me out. Hopefully we just continue to knock these points down. Anaheim 1 stings right now but we just got to keep fighting and get back into it.

With the testing going well out here do you stay out here or do you go back home to Florida?
One of the things that the team did this year, we knew our test track needed to be better. So Mike [Webb, team manager] put a lot of money into it to make it better. He brought in dirt. He did what was necessary. That made it easier. Plus we got Broc and Josh [Tickle and Hill from RCH Suzuki] but they do their own thing and we kind of do our own thing. So I’m really the only guy that tests right now. It helps me out. I feel like I’m actually a pretty good test rider. Unfortunately sometimes it doesn’t pan out, but I think this year the bike is better than ever. Like I said, I’ve been riding better than ever, so that’s a testament to bike setup, me, and just being strong either way. So it’s going to be good.

Another career win for you, are you thinking about the numbers?
No. What was on my mind, somebody said I got 46, what number was on my mind was 1. I was going to get the first win of 2014. So we got that. We’ll worry about the record books when we get there. You’ve got to start winning first. It’s my own fault; sometimes you start looking ahead, trying to chase a number and you haven’t even gotten to second place all time. Our focus is main event, ride 20 laps, and I feel like if we ride 20 laps how I can, hopefully we’ll have races like that. Ryan [Villopoto] will be strong. I’ll be good, but my whole thing is just to be solid every weekend and I really feel like we have been, just sometimes the results don’t show it.

Stewart is now 21 points back of Villopoto. Photo: Simon Cudby
Stewart is now 21 points back of Villopoto. Photo: Simon Cudby

First lap you were behind Ryan and you took two or three shots at him and got him. It looked like you were out of the gate like, “I can win this, I’m going to go for it.” Did you feel that good right off the bat to go after him that early?
Yeah, I did. I think that all comes back to being in shape, knowing I have what it takes. That’s just because I’ve been injury-free. To come here and to know that I had a great off-season and to know that I can run that pace as long as I need to. So I wanted to take a shot, plus I knew the track was kind of one-lined so I didn’t want to get out there and let him get comfortable or vice-versa. And he was trying to get back around me. I think it maybe kind of surprised him a little bit because I’m normally not the guy that takes big shots in the beginning part of the race when it comes to getting the lead. I take chances when I’m last place off the gate, I’ll make that happen, but if I’m up front I usually try to let the race settle down. But tonight I felt good. It’s funny how you go from last weekend holeshot to fourth in two corners and tonight I got a decent jump, came around third or fourth and then made my way up to first.

The tracks this year seem like they’ve been a little bit more technical from the get-go. Would you say that’s true in your opinion? And if so, does that suit your style?
For sure, I agree they have done a better job. I think they allow for more passing. This track was tight, but when you get back into football stadiums they’re going to be a little bit tighter. The 180s [180 degree turns] definitely help. The whoops were bigger tonight but they were rounded. That was a big key. That was nice. As for the team and how I feel, I feel like this year it’s been different. I’ve been able to ride really smooth, to a point to where sometimes I come in and they’re like, “Are you trying?” Yeah, I am, but I feel like the tracks are a little bit tougher, and I feel like as the day goes on I’m really proud of myself for being at my best in the main event, not practice or the heats. Three, four weekends we have been. Tonight we were just able to put it out front and 20 good laps and we won. So that’s what it came down to.

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