Ryan Villopoto has thrown a wrench into the two-man machine that has dominated the 2009 Monster Energy® AMA Supercross, an FIM World Championship, and with the penultimate round set for this Saturday at Salt Lake City’s Rice-Eccles Stadium, the story line is expected to take another exciting twist.
On the heels of his first career victory last week in Seattle, the Monster Energy Kawasaki-backed Villopoto has become the wild card in the James Stewart and Chad Reed championship race. Villopoto’s win not only turned Reed’s five-point lead into a three-point deficit to Stewart, but he also became the first AMA Supercross class rider to win a main event in which Stewart did not crash, snapping the previous string of 54 consecutive races that Stewart had either won or crashed.
Coming into Seattle, Stewart had won 34 of 53 starts to that point with at least one crash in each of the 19 races he lost. He did stall his motorcycle on Saturday night, but he never touched the Seattle dirt, which means Villopoto’s first win came with the rare distinction of doing it on a night when Stewart either crashed or won — the first such night in his AMA Supercross class career.
At the start of the AMA Supercross main, Reed, of Tampa, Fla., crashed and began to play catch up from 19th place, and Stewart, of Haines City, Fla., was mired in 11th by the end of lap one. Throughout the early portion of the race, Alessi and Villopoto battled for the top spot before Alessi washed out just before halfway to give up the lead. Villopoto, in his first race back since New Orleans on March 14, put his head down and rode to an impressive and surprising victory.
"It’s awesome," said Villopoto. "I can’t thank my team enough and everybody that put effort into it. It hasn’t been the year we wanted but they never gave up. I could see James and Chad out of the corner of my eye sometimes. I just focused on Mike (Alessi) and he made that mistake. The track was super tricky tonight and there were some slick spots so you really had to ride smart."
Stewart managed to salvage a second place finish while Reed finished seventh, which is the worst finish of his 2009 season.
"I don’t know what happened. We all almost went down and we got the short end of the stick," said Stewart. "I was so far in the back and saw Ryan and Mike out front and realized how far back I was. It’s all about the championship though and tonight was good for that. The way Chad has been riding all year, it was definitely surprising to see how things played out."
In the penultimate round of the AMA Supercross Lites Western Regional Championship, Rockstar/Makita Suzuki’s Ryan Dungey, of Belle Plaine, Minn., took advantage of a stellar start to gap the field and extend his points lead heading into the class’ final race this Saturday in Salt Lake City.
"I’m super pumped," exclaimed Dungey. "Just pumped on the whole day. I had 100-percent effort from my team. The track was falling apart out there but they just kept working hard. I was able to get a good start and just took it from there. I do have a (bigger) points lead but we still got a race left so it’s not over. I’m just really happy, the fans were great and now I have some momentum going into next weekend."
Dungey’s closest challenger in the championship, Jake Weimer, of Rupert, Idaho, suffered from a bad start on his Monster Energy/Pro Circuit Kawasaki and completed the first lap in eighth place. Dungey now leads by nine points heading into Salt Lake City.
The first supercross race held at Rice-Eccles Stadium took place in 2001 where 42,135 packed the home of the 2002 Olympic Opening and Closing Ceremonies to watch Ricky Carmichael race to victory. Carmichael holds the all-time AMA Supercross win record in Salt Lake City with two. Stewart holds the all-time AMA Supercross Lites class win record at Salt Lake City with two.
The AMA Supercross class will air on CBS Sports Sunday, April 26 at Noon (EST), and the Western Regional AMA Supercross Lites class will air on Sunday, April 26 at 2:00 p.m. (EST).