WATCH LIVE: Will James Stewart reverse his fortunes as Motocross season’s second half starts at Budds Creek?

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The first half of the 2014 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship is in the books, and the series is set up for some great second-half racing over the next six rounds, beginning today at Budds Creek.

Get set for a full afternoon of racing with the pre-race show airing exclusively online at 12:15 P.M. ET on ProMotocross.com and NBC Sports Live Extra. All four motos will then stream live from 1:00-5:00 P.M. ET, with NBCSN also televising live coverage of second motos in both classes at 3 P.M. ET. Click here to access the Live Extra stream.

Clearly this is Ken Roczen’s championship to lose right now in the 450 Class. The Red Bull KTM rider his finished on the podium in all 12 motos that have been run this season – an incredible display of consistency that has given him a 26-point cushion over teammate Ryan Dungey. Historically though, Roczen has been a much better rider in the first half of the season. When he was racing in the 250 Class last year, one crash at Round 9 was all it took to wipe out his points lead and hand the championship over to Eli Tomac. As long as Roczen can avoid those big mistakes, he will be the favorite to earn a title in his rookie season in the premier class.

Tomac battled with Roczen throughout the season last year in the 250 Class, and had Tomac been healthy entering this season, you have to think he may have added some extra intrigue to this 450 Class title race. Tomac is out of the championship running after missing the first four rounds with a broken collarbone, but since his return, there has been no adjustment period needed. The GEICO Honda rider has been a podium threat in every single moto he’s raced, battling with Ryan Dungey, who has been his usual consistent self this season, and Trey Canard, who has continuously improved throughout the year and could be on the verge of a moto win.

One of the biggest conundrums in the series right now is James Stewart. Just a few weeks ago, Stewart was being talked about as a legitimate title contender after sweeping both motos at High Point to move within striking distance of Roczen in the championship race. In the two rounds since then though, the Yoshimura Suzuki rider has been nowhere to be seen near the front of the field, repeatedly doomed by first-turn crashes which have forced him to work his way up from the back and just salvage as many points as he can. The slide has coincided with the news that Stewart was provisionally suspended by the FIM for a failed drug test during the Supercross season and could face even heavier sanctions pending the outcome of his case. Whether or not the controversy hanging over Stewart is affecting him mentally, the last two rounds have taken him out of the championship discussion for now.

Even if he can’t win a title, Stewart is still a competitor at heart and will be hungry to win races. He turned the fastest lap time in 450 Class practice this morning at Budds Creek, the first time this season he’s earned the distinction of being the top qualifier. Being the top qualifier will allow Stewart to choose any gate he wants for the start of the first moto, which could help propel him to a good start. If he can get a clean start and put himself near the front, maybe he can finally reverse his fortunes this afternoon.

Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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