|ESPN.com: Racing||[Print without images]|
AP Photo/Jeff Roberson
INDIANAPOLIS -- Finally, the rivalry lives.
The last two AMA Supercross champions were neck-and-neck in the standings coming into the season's halfway point and a date at Lucas Oil Stadium, but the on-track battle had not been that close. James "Bubba" Stewart, the 2006 champ, had won seven straight races after an opening-night fall. Chad Reed, last year's champion while Stewart sat out following ACL surgery, finished second in all of Stewart's wins and hadn't rode his best yet.
On Saturday night, Reed turned the tables in a thrilling win in front of 61,358 boisterous spectators that saw Stewart fall on Lap 3, erase the subsequent seven-second deficit by Lap 13 then fall again four laps from the finish of the 20-lap main event while Reed powered through to the checkered flag in perhaps a tide-turning win.
"It validates that I can win," the 26-year-old Australian said. "It just feels like a relief more than anything. I really felt that I could have been strong in the beginning of the year and just wasn't getting it done. James just got real comfortable and riding real well -- it was a train that was hard to stop."
Reed didn't feel he was in for a big event, saying he felt horrible during practice, but in the night session he was up to the task on the No. 1 Suzuki. He hung with Stewart in a tight heat race, perhaps setting a tone, then in the main got the all-important holeshot.
When Stewart fell on his own moments later, Reed was handed a huge lead. Only he rode tight and allowed Stewart -- letting it all hang out on his No. 7 Yamaha -- to run him down. Noise thundered down from the near-capacity crowd as Stewart surged to the front, but his lead was short-lived when he fell to the dirt for a second time. Still, he resumed racing and finished second.
"I made some mistakes; I was on the ground twice. I can't have that," said Stewart, 23.
Through nine races this season it has been this simple for Stewart: Stay on the bike and win, or fall and lose. He went down in the season opener Jan. 3 at Anaheim, Calif., posting a 19th-place DNF, then stayed on for the next seven races and won them all, putting himself back in the title chase. He took a three-point lead to Indianapolis but left tied with Reed.
Stewart brushed off suggestions that the end of his win streak Saturday signified the start of a second-half showdown between him and the defending champion.
"At the end of the day I was still the fastest. I've put the work in and that shows," Stewart said. "I can fall, come up and catch him, fall again and still come up. It's not a rivalry."
"I just feel he doesn't count me as a challenger," Reed countered. "He's riding really, really well. At times I think he counts me out. I'm somebody that never, ever gives up."
The title won't be won by anyone but Stewart or Reed. The season win totals might not be equal but the points are, and Reed will be the one on a streak going into Daytona this weekend.
Not a rivalry? Not a chance.
After three consecutive AMA Superbike titles, Ben Spies figured he was ready for a world stage.
Validation took one weekend.
Spies, 24, got a pole and a win in his World Superbike debut, winning the second race of the season-opening day at Phillip Island, Australia, on a Yamaha.
In the first race, Spies ran off the track twice to avoid accidents and finished 16th, then shook that off to win the second race after battling longtime veteran Nori Haga of Japan, the winner of the first race.
"It's great to get a win under my belt," said Spies, of Longview, Texas. "It takes a little pressure off. I feel pretty fortunate to come out of here in fourth [in points] after what happened in the first race."
No American had won in World Superbike since Colin Edwards in September 2002.
John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Carl Edwards lost the fight Saturday at Las Vegas, running with Roush Fenway Racing teammate Greg Biffle in the closing laps of the Sam's Town 300 but failing to get his No. 60 Ford out front at the end.
But in the season-long points battle he continued to cruise along, posting a third top-5 in as many races and a second runner-up. Kyle Busch, the other Cup regular running the full season and the consensus co-favorite for the championship, can't say that, though he did win two weeks ago at California.
As good as Busch was at Fontana in the Joe Gibbs Racing No. 18, the points benefit was nullified by an early wreck with Scott Speed at Vegas and a 39th-place finish. He's sixth in points and 109 back of Edwards as the series enters its slow part of the season with one race in the next four weeks.
When Edwards won the 2007 Nationwide title he only had four finishes worse than 30th, and 2008 titlist Clint Bowyer didn't have any; his worst days were a pair of 25ths. And Bowyer also won just one time. In other words, Edwards has the recipe for championship success, despite missing out on wins. So far.
Rick Crawford arrived in the Truck Series for the 1997 opener with one truck, one engine and the crew from his late-model car. "A wing and a prayer," he described it.
He finished 11th at Walt Disney World Speedway that day, the prayer answered. His Circle Bar Racing team kept on going. Hasn't stopped yet, in fact.
Crawford, now a Truck Series institution and one of its nicest guys, will make a record 300th start Saturday at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Some things have changed since that 1997 opener (there's a backup truck now), but a lot hasn't: the team, owner Tom Mitchell, the Ford trucks. There aren't many relationships more enduring in any form of motorsports.
"I think I'm proudest of [that] fact," said Crawford, 50, a five-time race winner and series runner-up in 2002.
The Mobile, Ala., native has never made a start in Nationwide or Cup racing, a true Truck guy through and through.
If the first four Outlaws races are any indication, it's going to take an awful lot to deny Donny Schatz a fourth consecutive title.
The Tony Stewart Racing driver bagged his third win in four starts Thursday at Las Vegas, maneuvering through traffic on the half-mile oval to assume the lead midway through the 30-lap A-main and avoiding late tire troubles that plagued several drivers.
Sammy Swindell and Craig Dollansky, each early leaders in the race, finished second and third, respectively. Schatz leads the points by 37 over Jason Sides and 42 over 20-time champion Steve Kinser.
The series races again March 13-14 at Silver Dollar Speedway in Chico, Calif. Its scheduled race this weekend at Ocean Speedway in Watsonville, Calif., was postponed last month due to excessive rain.