The Fastest Man On The Planet: Part Three of a James Stewart Retrospectiveby Jack Gaffney April 10, 2021 0 comments
When we left off on James Stewart, he had just won his second and final AMA National Motocross championship, going an undefeated 24-0 post-ACL surgery. After winning the Motocross Des Nations for The United States for a second time, he jumped from Monster Energy Kawasaki to San Manuel Yamaha for the 2009 Supercross Campaign.
That is where the third part of this retrospective on the legendary career of Stewart begins.
Stewart making the jump to Yamaha would not be the only noteworthy move heading into the 2009 Supercross season. Defending two-time champion Chad Reed had gone to Rockstar Makita Suzuki after spending every year of his career in America on a Yamaha at that point. 250 phenom Ryan Villopoto would make his highly anticipated 450 debut with Monster Energy Kawasaki, essentially slotting into Stewart’s spot.
At the season opener in Anaheim, Stewart and Reed would find themselves in a battle for the win early on. Stewart took the holeshot, but Reed would outrace him in a rhythm section to take the lead. After about five laps, Stewart would out-muscle Reed and took the lead back from his rival after that tracks first whoops section.
The second whoops section on that same lap would be the pivotal moment of the evening, as Reed and Stewart got tangled up. What can be chalked up as a racing incident, Stewart’s head slammed hard into the side of a whoop while Reed was able to keep going and finish third. In the aftermath, James would DNF and end up placing 19th that evening as Joe Gibbs Racing Yamaha’s Josh Grant pulled off the upset victory.
At the second round of the year in Phoenix, Stewart would take home his first Supercross main event win. In about a full year in the building where he picked up his last main event victory, he held off a hard-charging Reed down the stretch. That win in Phoenix was the first of seven consecutive main event wins for Stewart. It would also start a stretch of seven consecutive runner-up finishes for Reed.
Despite this, Stewart only led Reed in the standings by three points heading into the halfway point of the season, almost entirely due to Stewart’s accident at Anaheim 1. However, Reed would find his luck turn around, as he won three of the next five rounds in Indianapolis, Daytona, and St Louis. He turned a three-point deficit into an eight-point lead heading into Round 14 in Jacksonville.
There are two supercross rounds in the career of Stewart that are the most exciting. This is one of them. James and Chad were known rivals by this point, but this is where their rivalry would get turned up to eleven. During practice that day, both riders were shown on camera visibly getting into it verbally with each other. This was not seen on track to this point in 2009. But in all honesty, there would not be several dedicated paragraphs to this race if it ended right there.
Reed would end up holding on to the lead for a little over the first half of the race after passing Mike Alessi in the second corner of the race. Stewart would then tuck in behind Reed and dissect his lines and waited to make his move, and with seven laps remaining he did just that. Stewart railed an outside 90-degree corner heading into a triple and would end up standing Reed up and took the lead for a few moments.
However, at the other end of the track on the same lap Stewart would accidentally come across in midair and his rear tire hit Reed’s front tire, forcing Stewart to miss-ride the next section and gave the lead right back. Stewart would then make the same move he initially made on the previous lap and made what was ultimately the winning move, standing Reed up after a triple and then checked out to get what was win number 10 of 2009.
After Stewart took the checkered flag, Reed rode up next to a stopped Stewart and proceeded to grab him by the back of his neck and had some choice words for him. In a 2016 video, Reed said he was not happy about Stewart cross-jumping him during the race.
“We can take each other out when we’re on the ground. You can T-Bone me, do this, do that, I’m good. I dish out just as much as [James] dish out, but cross jumping in the air is not cool.”
Stewart and Reed would then continue to argue on the podium afterward. Stewart recalled:
“[Chad] was looking at me, but he was looking through me, and I remember like I was gonna stare this guy in his eyes. Like I’m staring just in case he flinched just in case if I had to knock him out or something.”
With just three races remaining in the season. Stewart would be just five points back of his archrival and had just taken home what was maybe the biggest win of his career to this point.
Round 15 in Seattle would see Stewart finishing runner-up to hometown hero Villopoto in what was his first 450 win of his illustrious career. Regarding the bigger picture, it was a huge night for Stewart. Reed would get into a wreck just seconds after the gate drop and had to charge from dead last to finish seventh. Stewart now was up three points with just Salt Lake City and Las Vegas remaining.
Stewart and Reed would once again find each other in the crosshairs in Utah as they battled hard for the win for the bulk of the evening. At one point, Reed forced Stewart wide and into some tuff blocks, but somehow was able to stay upright and managed to not lose much time to his title rival.
Things got interesting was when James’ teammate Kyle Chisholm almost wrecked Reed in a bowl corner while getting lapped after Stewart retook the lead. Chisholm would get parked by FIM race director John Gallagher for the incident. Regardless, Stewart would win race 12 of the year and take a commanding six-point lead into Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas, Nevada.
With a six-point lead, all James had to do was finish third or better to guarantee himself the 2009 Supercross World Championship in the event of a Reed win. With that in mind, he played the numbers game and allowed Villopoto to run away with the win that evening. However, Reed (despite a bad start) was able to cut his way to Stewart and even attempted to take him out in the famed Thunder/Monster Alley area in the back of Sam Boyd Stadium. Reed forcefully got by Stewart, but could not force him to the ground. Stewart would take home the 2009 Supercross World Championship by four points over Reed.
We would not know it until years later, but this would be Stewart’s final major championship as a professional motocross rider. This would also end what was the best three-year stretch of his career dating back to January 2007.
Stewart accomplished the following: 25 Supercross Main Event wins in just 35 Main Event Starts. Two Supercross Championships. 28 individual Moto Wins. 13 AMA Motocross Overall Wins. A perfect motocross season coming off a torn ACL. One AMA Motocross Championship, and a Motocross Des Nations win.
If Stewart never hurt his knee at Washougal in 2007, those numbers would look even crazier. The argument can easily be made that if that incident never happened he would have won five straight championships between Supercross and Motocross. And this would ultimately be the stretch that more than well earned him the title of “The Fastest Man on The Planet”.
Despite not participating in The AMA Motocross season in 2009, he would take the opportunity to participate in that year’s X-Games in Los Angeles in July. He participated in The Best Whip Challenge and ended up receiving a silver medal. Stewart would then pull out of doing that year’s SuperMoto event due to some minor injuries just prior, and that would end his lone appearance at the event. After that, we would not see Stewart until Anaheim 1 in 2010.
Stewart picked right back up where he left off to begin 2010, taking home the opening round win in Anaheim after passing 450 rookie Ryan Dungey of Rockstar Makita Suzuki for the lead with just a couple of laps remaining in the main event. It seemed Stewart looked primed for a successful title defense to start the new decade, but a string of accidents at Chase Field in Phoenix would once again derail a supercross title defense.
In his heat race, he would get tangled with Kawasaki rider Kyle Partridge after a triple jump. Stewart seemed to seriously hurt his wrist, appearing to be in considerable pain after getting up. Despite this, he was able to come back and win in the LCQ that evening. Unfortunately, his night was not going to get much better as Reed (now with Monster Energy Kawasaki), ended up running into Stewart in a corner and forced him to the ground.
Despite their history, this incident did not seem intentional on the part of Reed. Stewart was ahead of him and sliced down in the middle of the corner. Reed was not able to stop before hitting him. If anything, this can be chalked up as a racing casualty to the fault of neither rider. Reed would end up missing the next dozen rounds as well, with a broken hand. Stewart would end up getting the worse end of things.
Stewart would race at Round 3 in Los Angeles but afterward would get surgery for a broken wrist. Due to Stewart’s recovery taking much longer than expected, this injury would essentially cost him the rest of the year, save for a lone round in Unadilla where he placed 11th overall. Dungey, the man who gave Stewart everything he could handle at the opening round in Anaheim, would go on to win both championships that season and for the next eight years, either Dungey or Villopoto would secure Supercross World Championship honors.
While not being on track, Stewart was still able to make headlines in 2010 with his FUEL TV show Bubba’s World, debuting in March of that year. Bubba’s World was in the same vein as Rob Dyrdek’s Fantasy Factory as an example, but also followed Stewart to race weekends. The initial season took place right after he won the Supercross championship in 2009, and the following season in early 2010 when he got hurt in Phoenix and went into the summer. The show would get canned afterward, and that was that for Bubba’s World.
After a longer than expected recovery from the broken wrist, Stewart was good to go for 2011 Supercross. He started out winning three of the first five rounds and held a five-point lead over Villopoto in the standings.
Unfortunately, a 15th place result at round six in Houston would see Stewart fall back nine points of Villopoto. He would rebound a week later in San Diego, cutting the gap back to three heading into Atlanta. Atlanta 2011 to this day is one of the craziest finishes in any motorsport ever and needs to be seen to be believed.
Stewart got the main event holeshot over his old friend Reed but would bobble coming out of a flat corner and surrendered the lead to his long-time rival on lap four. He never let Reed out of his crosshairs from then on out, despite making an even bigger mistake with seven to go after a rhythm lane.
The the real fun began coming to the white flag. Stewart took his shot in the final corner, using teammate Kyle Regal as a pick, and rode Reed high into Regal to take the lead. Reed, not willing to go quietly into the night, would attempt to retaliate on Stewart twice. First, a few corners after Stewart took the lead going to the first triple. Later he would try again after the second triple, and two tries would be all Reed needed.
Stewart and Reed would both go down and pandemonium struck The Georgia Dome. Villopoto, who was running third at the time, blitzed by both Stewart and Reed in the whoop section as they were getting up. Dungey caught them once they got up to speed. Villopoto would end up winning, and Dungey went from fourth to second on the final corner, railing around the outside as Reed and Stewart were still going at it.
Stewart ended with a fourth-place that evening after being first when the white flag came out. Another finish in supercross might never top this. Absolute chaos is the best way it can be described.
Stewart would have another memorable moment just a week later in Daytona. While leading early in the main event, he would do what has been effectively called The Wall Jump, in which he jumped over a wall that was made intended to have riders slow down before hitting it, and made the bold call to just jump over it. This move would have him running a few seconds faster than the field when lap times came in. He would successfully pull off the wall jump again on the next lap. The lap after, he went forward over the handlebars at the beginning of a rhythm section.
His Yamaha, which miraculously landed straight somehow, ghost rode itself over the ensuing triple jump before crashing. This crash would put Stewart from first to 20th. However, he was able to rally to a ninth-place result after getting back on his bike, which was still rideable. This is one of those results that on paper do not look impressive, but when you watch it, it is one of the more impressive runs of his career.
At this point, Stewart was second place in the points behind Villopoto but was 23 points back as the season hit the midway point. The rest of March that year would not only see Stewart not find the top step of the podium but also get arrested. James was charged with a first-degree misdemeanor for falsely impersonating a police officer in his home state of Florida after he pulled over a highway patrol car in his truck using illegal red and blue police lights. He went to court for this in November and plead no contest. James was sentenced to probation, a $500 fine, and 75 hours of community service. Obviously not one of his finer moments, but this ended up not costing him any rounds in supercross.
Stewart would then go on to win two of the next four rounds at St. Louis and Seattle and was in the thick of a four-way championship battle with Villopoto, Dungey, and Reed, sitting nine points back of first place Villopoto. However, Stewart closed out the season with finishes of 10th at Salt Lake City and 15th at Las Vegas. He finished the season nearly 40 points back of champion Villopoto.
On top of four finishes outside of the top-10 that season, 2011 was a disappointment for Stewart as winning was everything to him. The fact that Villopoto failed to qualify for the Jacksonville main event and still won the title especially stings. Once again, Stewart would skip the motocross season, and this would also end his stint with San Manuel Yamaha. James later in the year would sign a three-year contract with Joe Gibbs Racing Yamaha. But as you will see, this marriage could have gone better.
Stewart would come out to a sluggish start with JGR Yamaha, scoring a sixth and an eighth-place finish at the opening two rounds in Anaheim and Phoenix. However, he would then rattle off three consecutive podiums, sandwiched with a win in Oakland. Outside of a 15th-place finish in San Diego, he would be a consistent podium threat for the next month. However, he was down big in points to championship contenders Dungey and Villopoto after St. Louis. James that next weekend would get redemption at Daytona after throwing a win away there the previous year.
Despite being third in points (albeit down big to Dungey and Villopoto), rumor and innuendo were floating around that Stewart was beginning to sour on the JGR program just months after signing a three-year contract with the team. Following a race day practice crash in Indianapolis that forced him to miss that night, and next week in Toronto, these rumors would come to a head.
Joe Gibbs Racing Split and Final Destination
Stewart, who essentially would be done for Supercross after season 20 in Houston, was on the mend in Florida. JGR team Manager Jeremy Albrecht, also a former mechanic for James in his early pro days, had this to say about his rider in an April interview with Cycle News.com.
“I think it’s confidence, he’s thinking it’s something with set-up or whatever. But we go testing, and he picks the set ups that we race with, it’s not like we build it and say ride it. When all these rumors started, nothing seemed that bad.”
All of one day after the supercross season concluded in Las Vegas, Stewart and JGR Yamaha would part ways. Yamaha as a manufacturer after they lost him would go nearly seven years without a 450 Supercross Main Event win.
Stewart would not take long to find a new team, as just a day after his release, it would be revealed that he would be taking his talents to Yoshimura Suzuki. This would be the final team Stewart would race with as a professional. And not only was he making a mid-year team swap, but would also compete in the full AMA Motocross tilt for the first time since his perfect season in 2008.
He came out of the gates in 2008 form, winning the opening four motos of the season aboard his RMZ-450 at Hangtown and Freestone MX. Unfortunately, James’ good fortune would end here, as he would suffer a hand injury leading in the opening moto at High Point and would force him out of competition for the next month.
He would come back in early July but would get hurt once again soon after in Unadilla in the second moto of the day, forcing him out for the rest of the season, and ultimately, the year.
We will bookmark this retrospective right here. For the final section, we creep towards the demise of the Stewart’s illustrious career. However, before then we also look at the formation of the Seven brand, hitting 50 career supercross wins, and what he is up to now.
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