Thursday, May 5, 2011

Wild Supercross title race heads to finish in Vegas

Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Monster Energy Supercross championship race marked by myriad plot twists and seesaw swings in the standings likely will be decided between two of the season's best story lines.

  • Ryan Villopoto heads into final race with nine-point lead.

    By Steven Bisig, U.S. Presswire

    Ryan Villopoto heads into final race with nine-point lead.

By Steven Bisig, U.S. Presswire

Ryan Villopoto heads into final race with nine-point lead.

Ryan Villopoto, who ended the 2010 season on a stretcher and was on crutches for three months after a crash broke his right leg in three places, will enter Saturday's season finale at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas in control of the race for his first championship. Trailing by nine points is Chad Reed, six months removed from making a multimillion-dollar withdrawal to start his own team after a dearth of sponsorship left him rideless.

After 17 races featuring four points-lead changes and five winners with a shot at the title, it's perhaps a fitting end to a memorable season.

"It's been an absolute barnburner," says Ralph Sheheen, who will handle play-by-play of the 20-lap race live on Speed. "They all have intriguing stories of why they should be deserving champions."

Also in the hunt is defending champion Ryan Dungey, who has rebounded from a mediocre start and the preseason loss of mentor and team manager Roger DeCoster to move within 12 points of Villopoto. Two-time champion James Stewart, second in wins (five) but hampered by several crashes, is a long shot 23 points behind.

"You never know when an out-of-control Stewart can change the outcome," jokes Reed, who lost the lead in Toronto in one of multiple run-ins with his longtime rival this year. "Anything is possible."

If Reed wins Saturday, Villopoto, 22, still needs only a sixth to clinch, but the Kawasaki rider says he doesn't plan to ride cautiously. "It's a little bit of a cushion, but I'm not going to change anything," said Villopoto, who credits vigorous daily fitness with adapting to riding with five plates and 12 screws in his right ankle and leg. "You have to not leave the door open an inch, because they'll take it. You have to watch your back. You've had to do that all year."

The Poulsbo, Wash., native already has rallied from blowing a seemingly insurmountable 26-point lead that dissipated after a DNQ (did not qualify) in Jacksonville. "He's riding really well, and to finish outside the top six is a long shot," Reed said. "But if there's any season that can happen, this is it. It's been amazingly unpredictable."

The Australian has been in the underdog role since forming TwoTwo Motorsports a month before the Jan. 8 season opener in Anaheim, Calif. With a hand-picked crew of four, he often has outperformed riders with factory support despite riding a Honda that is mostly production based.

"We make decisions based on racing, not necessarily what's best for the brand or company or having it approved by a higher-up," the two-time champion said. "I've been on the majority of factory teams and have a good understanding how they operate. They have a lot at their disposal as well."

Since Honda factory rider Trey Canard suffered a season-ending injury last month, Reed has had full access to Honda's parts trailer and the full support of his engineers. He thinks he could have won in Salt Lake City last week if he'd been more aggressive but says, "That's never easy to communicate from the brain to the right hand that twists the throttle." He still thinks he's been riding as well or better than two years ago, when he was runner-up.

"It's an exciting time," said Reed, who triumphed in San Diego for his first win in two years. "Win or lose, it's been an awesome year, and we've had a lot of fun and learned a lot along the way."


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