Ricky Carmichael and Mike Alessi lead their respective classes as the AMA Toyota Motocross Championship ventures to Budds Creek for round four of the 12-event series this weekend.

Carmichael comes to the recently-confirmed MXdN 2007 venue heavily favoured to win the premier AMA Motocross class on his Makita Suzuki RM-Z450, and it's easy to understand why the six-time champion is the clear-cut favourite. He's never lost an AMA Motocross national at the popular Maryland track since moving up to the premier class in 2000, and will be going for an unprecedented seventh victory in the class this Sunday. In addition, Carmichael is coming off a victory at Southwick last Sunday, extending the Floridian's lead over Australian Yamaha rider Chad Reed to 14 points.

Honda's AMA Motocross class rookie David Millsaps continued his strong freshman season by scoring his second podium result at Southwick, but a tight back flared up on the young Georgian last week. He's hoping to stay loose at Budds Creek so he can prolong his solid run.

Kawasaki's number one rider, James Stewart, continued his hot and cold season last week. He won the first moto before a reported mechanical problem led to a crash in the second. The winner of the season opener eventually scored a fourth overall at Southwick and currently sits seventh in the standings, but Stewart has made history at Budds Creek before. In 2003, the venue hosted his first race back after being injured during the AMA Supercross season and, even though he wasn't 100 per cent that year, he shocked everyone by making a triumphant return and winning the Motocross Lites class, then called 125.

The rivalry between Carmichael and Stewart has raised the bar in AMA Motocross this year. The two are pushing their bikes right up to and often beyond the limits in their high-speed battles.

"Either I'm crashing or he's crashing nearly every weekend," Carmichael admitted, "At this level, something is bound to happen. I'm just trying to keep stringing good motos together.

"We usually get heat and humidity at Budds Creek, and those are just the kind of conditions I practice in all the time, so I'm looking forward to another good battle there."

Reed is looking for his first win at Budds Creek, but the well-liked Aussie has finished on the podium at every round this year and is as close to Carmichael at this point in the season as he's ever been.

"I feel pretty happy about the way things are working out," Reed said, "Good things can happen when you ride clean and, so far, so good. I'll stick to this programme and see how everything plays out."

Stewart rode well last week in spite of dealing with nagging injuries from his crash in Mt Morris last month.

"I want to thank my team and Doc Augustine for getting me ready to race," he admitted, "I'm trying to do my best to hang in there, even though I'm not totally healthy."

Red Bull KTM rider Alessi is quietly getting the job done in the Motocross Lites class. After scoring victory in the series opener, the young Californian has since scored a pair of third place finishes to keep him atop the class standings.

"Keeping consistent is my plan," said Alessi, who is 25 points ahead of Honda's Andrew Short, "I think I'm the only rider to finish on the podium in every race so far, so I hope I can keep that streak going at Budds Creek."

Short moved up to second place in the standings after winning at Southwick last week, and he's eager to use the win as a launching pad.

"Getting the overall win at Southwick is a great way to get my season turned around," said Short, who scored a sixth and fifth-place in the first two Motocross Lites rounds, "But we need for Alessi to have a little bad luck to get up there in the points. That may be asking for a lot since he's been so steady. Fortunately, we've got a lot of racing to do yet this season."