Ryan Villopoto’s knee injury boosts field’s title hopes for 2014 Motocross Nationals

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When the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship fires up in May, one key name will be missing from the starting gate.

Ryan Villopoto – the defending champion in the premier 450 Class and the most dominant rider active – will miss the entire 2014 outdoor season as he goes under the knife to fix a lingering knee issue.

On Saturday, Villopoto wrapped up the AMA Supercross season with his seventh win of the 17-race season. It capped off his fourth consecutive Supercross title, matching the record held by Jeremy McGrath.

With each title, Villopoto has inched closer to carving out a spot on the Mount Rushmore of motocross alongside legends like McGrath and Ricky Carmichael – the only thing holding him back has been his health. This will be the fourth time in the last six years that Villopoto has withdrawn from the outdoor Nationals due to injury.

“Going from a really great feeling after winning a fourth straight Supercross title, to knowing I am going to spend the summer rehabbing a knee injury is devastating,” Villopoto said in a press release issued by the Monster Energy Kawasaki team.

With the defending champion on the sidelines, the 450 Class looks wide open this summer.

The only other rider to win a 450MX championship in the last four years, Ryan Dungey now steps in as the early title favorite. The path to a championship this time around won’t be as easy for him as it was in 2010 or 2012 though – he was faced with a shallow field of challengers both of those years.

A pair of former champions may prove to be the most daunting competition this summer. 2008 champion James Stewart caught fire midway through the Supercross season, and 2009 champion Chad Reed was enjoying a career renaissance before injuries ended his Supercross season early.

Dungey will also have to contend with his own Red Bull KTM teammate Ken Roczen, a rookie in the 450 Class, as well as the likes of Justin Barcia and Trey Canard.

No one ever wants to see a champion relegated to being a spectator, but with such an open field, the stage is set for some incredible battles this summer – starting with the opening round May 24th at Glen Helen Raceway.

Fernando Alonso likes NASCAR country, but he’s not leaving F1 any time soon

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) Jimmie Johnson strolled into the Charlotte Convention Center and did a double-take when he saw Fernando Alonso hanging out in a hallway.

“What’s he doing here?” NASCAR’s seven-time champion wondered.

Alonso made the trip to North Carolina to make an appearance at NASCAR’s annual preseason media tour. No, a ride in NASCAR is not imminent, but the two-time Formula One champion is about to embark on his first major sports car race .

Alonso will race this weekend in the Rolex 24 Hours at Daytona for United Autosports, the sports car team owned by his McLaren F1 boss, Zak Brown. It was Brown who paved the way for Alonso to compete in last year’s Indianapolis 500, and he is helping the Spaniard knock prestigious races off his wish list.

Alonso spent about 10 minutes chatting with Johnson, and the duo was eventually joined by sports car aces Scott Pruett and Joey Hand, who were brought to the NASCAR event by IMSA to help promote the Rolex, and then Cup champion Kevin Harvick.

The meet-and-greet with Alonso was a thrill for Johnson. Alonso was equally impressed.

“The first time I heard his name it was probably 2003 on the NASCAR video game,” Alonso said Tuesday. “I used to choose him, not knowing him, just because of the car. I remember playing with another friend of mine, he likes a chocolate company I will not name now, and he was choosing that car and I was choosing Jimmie’s car.

“But that was the first time I heard of him, and obviously the success that he has in the years in motor racing, he became a legend of our sport, and massive respect.”

Johnson said he’s always been a fan of Alonso’s and spent some time telling Alonso how well he ran in the Indianapolis 500 last May. Alonso led 27 laps and seemed to be in contention for the win until his engine expired 21 laps from the finish.

“He handled himself so well, really did a great job, and I think brought a lot to the table,” Johnson said. “He brought worldwide attention to motorsports and it was really good for us here stateside.”

While in NASCAR country, Alonso was asked about potentially trying a stock car someday. It’s not something that could happen soon, he said, but it is something he’d like to at least attempt.

“Right now, it looks quite far. The driving technique and the experience all those guys have, it’s difficult for me to achieve that level,” Alonso said. “I will never know until I try, so I would like one day to test a car and after that, driving the car, I will know how enjoyable it will be in racing.

“Outside (watching), the races are great because they are all in a group, it is not predictable at all and until the last lap, you don’t know what is going to happen. We love watching from the outside, but I don’t know from the inside.”

Alonso has so far only had three days of testing at Daytona in the sports car to adjust to a closed cockpit, as well as driving at night and in traffic. Trying different series has been a thrill for him, and he’s still eyeing a way to get Le Mans on his schedule.

“It’s one thing that I would like to do, I would like to compete in the best races in the world, and Le Mans and is one of the top races,” he said. “If that day will be this year or not is still to be discussed, but maybe yes.”

More AP Auto Racing: https://racing.ap.org/