James Stewart sweeps Motocross race at High Point, tightens 450 Class championship standings

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After a slow start to the season, James Stewart appears to be back where he belongs – in the championship hunt.

Leading 33-of-34 laps across the two 450 Class motos Saturday at High Point, it was a dominant day for Stewart en route to a 1-1 sweep. It’s the first overall victory of the season for the Yoshimura Suzuki rider, who has now won three of the last four motos raced.

Stewart, who wasn’t fully satisfied with his bike during the first two rounds, will head into the off-week with a lot of momentum. “Good way to go into the break,” the 2008 series champion said after the win. “We still got a ways to go, but we’re starting off the right way. We’re getting there.”

The most exciting racing in both motos came directly behind Stewart with Trey Canard, Ken Roczen and Ryan Dungey repeatedly engaged in tight three-way battles for position. All three riders seemed fairly evenly-matched, and most of the position changes came from mistakes on the track.

In the first moto, Roczen – who had fallen from the bike at one point – moved up from fourth to second late in the race after miscues from both Dungey and Canard. Dungey got cross-rutted going off a jump, causing him to come up short on the landing and go off the track. A few minutes later, Canard crashed on a jump with two laps left.

Canard would fare better in Moto 2, successfully defending the second-place spot from his challengers. Meanwhile Roczen would benefit from another mistake by Dungey. Having already swapped positions twice in the battle for third, Dungey went down with two laps to go and handed the spot back to Roczen. Thanks to the late pass, Roczen secured third in the moto and second-overall for the day, while Dungey missed the overall podium for just the second time since 2011.

More importantly for Dungey, it’s a setback as he attempts to track down Roczen in the championship race. Giving up a position to Roczen in each moto resulted in an 8-point swing in the standings, increasing Roczen’s lead to 16 points. Meanwhile Stewart is closing in, having now pulled to within 22 points of Roczen.

High Point 450 Class Overall Results
1. James Stewart (1-1)
2. Ken Roczen (2-3)
3. Trey Canard (4-2)
4. Ryan Dungey (3-4)
5. Josh Grant (6-6)
6. Weston Peick (10-5)
7. Andrew Short (7-8)
8. Chad Reed (5-10)
9. Brett Metcalfe (9-7)
10. Phil Nicoletti (8-12)
*Moto 1 and Moto 2 results in parenthesis

Coyne transitioning from underdog to Indy 500 threat

Photo: IndyCar
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For most of the team’s existence, Dale Coyne Racing has been the Chicago Cubs of American Open Wheel Racing – a team whose history was more defined by failures, at times comically so, than success.

The last decade, however, has seen the tide completely change. In 2007, they scored three podium finishes with Bruno Junqueira. In 2009, they won at Watkins Glen with the late Justin Wilson.

The combination won again at Texas Motor Speedway in 2012, and finished sixth in the 2013 Verizon IndyCar Series championship. That same year, Mike Conway took a shock win for them in Race 1 at the Chevrolet Dual in Detroit.

Carlos Huertas scored an upset win for them in Race 1 at the Houston double-header in 2014, and while 2015 and 2016 yielded no wins, Tristan Vautier and Conor Daly gave them several strong runs – Vautier’s best finish was fourth in Race 2 at Detroit, while Daly finished second in Race 1 at Detroit, finished fourth at Watkins Glen, and scored a trio of sixth-place finishes at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Road Course, Race 2 at Detroit, and the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

And 2017 was set to possibly be the best year the team has ever had. Sebastien Bourdais gave the team a popular win in the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg, and then rookie Ed Jones scored back-to-back top tens – 10th and sixth – at St. Pete and the Toyota Grand Prix of Long Beach to start his career.

But, things started unraveling at the Indianapolis 500. Bourdais appeared set to be in the Fast Nine Pole Shootout during his first qualifying run – both of his first two laps were above 231 mph –  before his horrifying crash in Turn 2.

While Jones qualified an impressive 11th and finished an even more impressive third, results for the rest of the season became hard to come by – Jones only scored two more Top 10s, with a best result of seventh at Road America.

But, retooled for 2018, the Coyne team is a legitimate threat at the 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

Bourdais, whose No. 18 Honda features new sponsorship from SealMaster and now ownership partners in Jimmy Vasser and James “Sulli” Sullivan, has a win already, again at St. Pete, and sits third in the championship.

And Bourdais may also be Honda’s best hope, given that he was the fastest Honda in qualifying – he’ll start fifth behind Ed Carpenter, Simon Pagenaud, Will Power, and Josef Newgarden.

“I think it speaks volumes about their work, their passion and their dedication to this program, Dale (Coyne), Jimmy (Vasser) and Sulli (James Sullivan) and everybody from top to bottom. I can’t thank them enough for the opportunity, for the support,” Bourdais said of the team’s effort.

Rookie Zachary Claman De Melo has been progressing nicely, and his Month of May has been very solid – he finished 12th at the INDYCAR Grand Prix on the IMS Road Course and qualified a strong 13th for the “500.”

“It’s been surreal to be here as rookie. I’m a bit at a loss for words,” Claman De Melo revealed after qualifying. “The fans, driving around this place, being with the team, everything is amazing. I have a great engineer, a great group of experienced mechanics at Dale Coyne Racing.”

While Conor Daly and Pippa Mann struggled in one-off entries, with Mann getting bumped out of the field in Saturday qualifying, Daly’s entry essentially puts three Coyne cars in the race – Daly’s No. 17 United States Air Force Honda is a Dale Coyne car that has been leased to Thom Burns Racing.

Rest assured, the days of Coyne being an “also ran” are long gone, and a Coyne car ending up in Victory Lane at the biggest race of the year would complete the Chicago Cubs analogy – the Cubs won a World Series title in 2016, and an Indy 500 triumph would be the crowning achievement in Coyne’s career.

Follow@KyleMLavigne