James Stewart plans to return to AMA Motocross action at this weekend's Red Bud round, where fans will hope he can restart his thrilling battles with reigning champion Ricky Carmichael.
Six-times champion Carmichael heads to round five having won the last three events in a row, following Stewart's round one victory. However, Stewart was injured when he crashed out of the lead at round two, then suffered a heavy mechanical-related fall at round three. The Kawasaki star sat out round four to recover.
Those accidents and injuries have allowed Carmichael to open up a 20-point lead over nearest title rival Chad Reed, of Australia. Even though Carmichael won the last round in Budds Creek on June 18, with convincing 1-1 moto finishes, he said he sees improvement in the Yamaha rider.
"I have to hand it to Chad, he's really stepping up his game," Carmichael said after trailing Reed in the first three laps of the second moto in Maryland. "I'm going to have to stay sharp. I see us having some more good battles this season."
Reed said his incentive to improve is trying to match the rider he considers the best of all time.
"I'm motivated by the challenge of trying to get closer each week to Ricky," Reed said. "They don't call him the GOAT [greatest of all time] for nothing. I'm working my hardest to be able to run with him. Sometimes I get frustrated because I'm riding my best and I still have a long way to go. For the first time in a long time I feel like I'm actually closing the gap a bit. If I can keep improving maybe I can challenge him sometime soon."
Michigan's own Nick Wey, from Dewitt, is having one of his best seasons ever. Wey is third in the standings coming into Red Bud, having ridden his MDK/Motosport Honda to a pair of top five finishes so far this year.
The championship chase is heating up in the Lites class. Red Bull KTM's Mike Alessi leads the standings, but Ryan Villopoto, of Poulsbo, Wash., who rides for Monster Energy Drink/Pro Circuit Kawasaki, has closed to within seven points of the series lead after winning two of the last three rounds, including the most recent race in Maryland.
Alessi and Villopoto collided in the second moto at Budds Creek, resulting in Alessi crashing. Villopoto called the contact a 'love tap' and claimed it was just a normal racing incident. Look for the love to continue between Alessi and Villopoto at Red Bud.
Broc Hepler proved he is fully healthy and ready to go for wins once again after returning to action for the first time in nearly 10 months and scoring a second overall at Budds Creek. The Makita Suzuki rider is hoping to run near the front at Red Bud.