Photography by Kit Palmer
The number of race starts since his last AMA Supercross victory matched his competition number, but that 22-race drought came to a thrilling end Saturday night in Anaheim, when Chad Reed scored a popular come-from-behind victory at Anaheim II, perhaps the most unexpected win of the 42 in his history in the championship. In the closing three laps fans were on their feet cheering Reed on to victory, his first in nearly two years.
Finishing just 1.297 seconds behind the Discount Tire Kawasaki rider in second was Yoshimura Suzuki’s James Stewart, earning his first podium of the season, this after leading most of the way. Ken Roczen was a close third in a tight finish among the podium riders.
With his third-place result Roczen takes over the series lead from Ryan Villopoto, who had his share of problems on this night.
In a chaotic last lap, series contenders Villopoto and Ryan Dungey crashed together. Both Ryans had fallen earlier in the race and found themselves battling for position on the last lap. Going into the final turn Villopoto took an outside lane. Dungey saw an opening, and riding more aggressively than we’re accustomed to seeing all night, he dove underneath Villopoto. The two made contact and both fell in a heap. Villopoto was able to pick his bike up first and he made it to the finish in fifth, Dungey sixth.
Justin Brayton quietly rode to another solid finish in fourth, this after beating Villopoto straight up in their Heat race. Brayton’s been hanging tough all season so far on his Joe Gibbs Racing/Toyota Yamaha (painted up at A2 in retro Yamaha yellow and black) and he finds himself just five points out of the series lead.
The series points battle couldn’t be much tighter after three races. Rookie Roczen leads the way by one over Villopoto. Reed and Dungey are tied in third and Brayton fifth, all separated by a scant five points. Stewart’s podium even puts him back in the game, now sixth in the standings, 16 points out of first.
It was an exciting race from start to finish. Dungey nailed the holeshot and led the field followed by fast-starting veteran Nick Wey. After a hectic first couple of laps that saw a lot of passing, four of the main contenders emerged up front with Dungey holding the point over Stewart, Villopoto and Roczen.
The first major fireworks of the night came when Roczen moved up and made an aggressive pass on Villopoto to take third, the slick track seemingly not favoring Villopoto’s aggressive cornering style.
Dungey lost the lead dramatically when he crashed at the end of a long whoop section. It was the same place he’d crashed earlier in the day in qualifying. He was quickly up and going again, but Stewart was now leading over Roczen and Villopoto.
At mid-race the top three were all close. A surging Villopoto made his move by Roczen for second and began closing on Stewart.
The closing laps were intense. First Villopoto and Stewart came together and Villopoto, in spite of being on the inside, went down. A slow-motion replay revealed that when the two collided, Stewart’s boot got caught between the front wheel and fork of Villopoto’s Kawasaki. That locked the front wheel on RV’s bike causing him to crash. Stewart somehow came out unscathed after the hard contact and kept his bike on the track and in the lead.
Meanwhile Roczen was being challenged by a coming out of nowhere Reed not far back in second. With four laps to go Reed passed Roczen. A lap later he stayed on the gas hard over a rhythm section and jumped into a turn ahead of Stewart to take over the lead. The exchange was met with a roar from the Anaheim crowd, thrilled to see Reed suddenly going for a win again.
In the closing lap Reed took a few cautious looks over his shoulder to check his narrow lead on Stewart and held on to score the emotional victory.
“Last year was so gnarly,” Reed said of his trying 2013 season. “It was so emotional week in and week out. We made so many changes. When you’re 31, going on 32, you’re the old guy out there and you start to second guess yourself. That was when I knuckled down and made the choice I felt was right. I worked way too hard for that win. I’ve had 41 others and they came a helluva a lot easier than that.”
When asked if he thought he could be a championship contender this year Reed answered in the affirmative. “When I’m riding like this I’ve always been one,” he said. “I honestly believe I can be. That’s why I spend millions of dollars to go racing. I’ve got the best team, I’m proud of them. They worked their butts off this past season.”
Stewart looked solid all night even though he ultimately ended up second. He alluded to a cold as a possible reason for fading late, but was careful to take nothing away from Reed’s win.
“It’s always frustrating to be leading a race, not go down and still lose it,” Stewart said. “Chad was riding really good. A cold really kicked my butt. Two weeks of it now, but no excuses, he just rode better. I wanted to get him and guys were going down all around me, but still Chad smelled it, he took it, and to get out of here on the podium the first time this year, we’ll be alright.”
Roczen was happy with another podium and the points lead.
“My riding tonight could have been a little better,” said the German rookie. “It was good fighting, good passing. The track was tricky tonight. I’m real happy for Chad - it’s good for him, so congratulations. Overall though it was a good race. I’m happy to be on the podium. Every single race I’m taking a lot of experience and learning for the season.”
The series moves to Oakland, California next Saturday, Jan. 25.
450SX Class Results: Anaheim
1. Chad Reed, Dade City, Fla., Kawasaki
2. James Stewart, Haines City, Fla., Suzuki
3. Ken Roczen, Murrieta, Calif., KTM
4. Justin Brayton, Cornelius, N.C., Yamaha
5. Ryan Villopoto, Poulsbo, Wash., Kawasaki
6. Ryan Dungey, Belle Plaine, Minn., KTM
7. Weston Peick, Wildomar, Calif., Suzuki
8. Josh Hill, Yoncalla, Ore., Suzuki
9. Andrew Short, Smithville, Texas, KTM
10. Jake Weimer, Rupert, Idaho, Kawasaki
450SX Class Season Standings
1. Ken Roczen, Murrieta, Calif., KTM, 60
2. Ryan Villopoto, Poulsbo, Wash., Kawasaki, 59
3. Chad Reed, Dade City, Fla., Kawasaki, 57
4. Ryan Dungey, Belle Plaine, Minn., KTM, 57
5. Justin Brayton, Cornelius, N.C., Yamaha, 55
6. James Stewart, Haines City, Fla., Suzuki, 44
7. Justin Barcia, Pinetta, Fla., Honda, 42
8. Andrew Short, Smithville, Texas, KTM, 38
9. Wil Hahn, Menifee, Calif., Honda, 30
10. Broc Tickle, Holly, Mich., Suzuki, 26