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.

Houston Supercross by the numbers: Five riders begin to gap the field

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Chase Sexton stumbled in San Diego and Eli Tomac had a hard fall in Anaheim 2, but the Monster Energy Supercross numbers for Houston suggest they will continue to be the ones to beat in Houston. To do so, they will have to turn back challenges from another pair of riders who have swept the top five in the first three rounds and another with a worst finish of sixth.

Houston Supercross numbers
Cooper Webb’s ability to close races makes him a Houston favorite. – Feld Motor Sports

Despite an accident in his heat in San Diego that sent him to the Last Chance Qualifier (LCQ), Sexton recovered to score a top-five that weekend. His podium finish in Anaheim 1 and overall win last week in Anaheim 2 makes him one of the three riders with a perfect top-five record. He is joined by Cooper Webb, who finished second in the first two rounds and fourth last week, and Ken Roczen, whose consistency in the first three races contributed to him grabbing the top spot in this week’s NBC Supercross Power Rankings.

There are reasons to believe Webb and Roczen can keep those streaks alive.

Webb is the only multiple winner at Supercross’ current Houston stadium. His pair of wins came in 2019 and 2021, the same year he won his two 450 championships.

Clinton Fowler points out this week, that Webb has carried that strength into 2023. Webb had a late surge in Anaheim 1, advancing from fifth to second in the final six laps. In San Diego, he set his ninth fastest lap with two to go and his eighth fastest on the final lap. He posted his fastest lap of Anaheim 2 on Lap 12 while the rest of the field did so on Lap 6 on average.

By comparison, Tomac set his 14th fastest lap on the final circuit in route to winning the Main at San Diego while he was trying to keep Webb at bay.

With a sixth at San Diego, Dylan Ferrandis barely missed sweeping the top five in his first three races as did Tomac with a sixth last week at Anaheim 2.

This will be the 46th year Supercross has visited Houston and with 55 races the city is tied for the second-most with Detroit.

Jim Pomeroy won the first race in the Astrodome during the inaugural season of 1974 on a 250, which was the premiere class at the time. Houston was one of three races held that year along with events at Daytona International Speedway and the Los Angeles Coliseum. All three venues return in 2023 with the first SuperMotocross championship finale returning to the famed LA Coliseum in September.

Webb won most recently in 2021 in the final race of three held there that year as the series executed a strategy of racing in residencies to limit travel during height of the COVID-19 pandemic. Tomac and Justin Barcia also won in Houston in 2021.

Two privateers have started the season on a high note.

Joshua Cartwright and Joshua Varize have each made the last two Mains. Cartwright finished 18th in San Diego and 21st last week in Anaheim 2 – all while working fulltime as a Business Intelligence Analyst at the University of Texas, Dallas. Varize earned a top-15 (12th) in San Diego and was 21st in Anaheim 2 in his third season on a 450.

Michael Mosiman scored his first 250 win last year in San Diego. – Feld Motor Sports

The numbers show none of the active 250 Supercross East riders have won in Houston, so no matter who steps on top of the box, there is going to be a fresh face. That is not surprising since most of the top competitors have not raced at this venue yet.

Michael Mosiman has a pair of top-fives there, however. His best finish was a second in the second 2021 race. Garrett Marchbanks scored a top-10 in his rookie season of 2019 in Houston.

In the 250 East division, Hunter Lawrence is one of the favorites to win the title now that Christian Craig has moved to 450s. Last year he had four wins and nine podiums, but failed to set a fast lap in a race.

The other 250 riders with 2022 wins this week are Mosiman, who earned his first Supercross win last year in San Diego, and Nate Thrasher, who became the fifth new class winner at Daytona.

Jeremy Martin will attempt to extend a record this week in Houston. His division leading SuperMotocross podiums number 65. He has 26 wins in the combined sessions, which ranks fourth all time.

Last Five Houston Winners

450s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Cooper Webb
2021, Race 2: Eli Tomac
2021, Race 1: Justin Barcia
2020, no race
2019, Cooper Webb
2018, Jason Anderson

250s
2022, no race
2021, Race 3: Colt Nichols
2021, Race 2: Jett Lawrence
2021, Race 1: Christian Craig
2020, no race
2019, Dylan Ferrandis
2018, Aaron Plessinger

By the Numbers

Anaheim 2
San Diego

More SuperMotocross coverage

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Malcom Stewart out for “extended duration” after knee surgery
Haiden Deegan makes Supercross debut in Houston, Justin Cooper to 450s
Talon Hawkins set to relieve injured Jalek Swoll in Houston
Jalek Swoll out for an indefinite period with broken arm
Ken Roczen urgently needed a change
Chris Blose joins Pro Circuit Kawasaki in 250 East opener
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Injury sidelines Austin Forkner for remainder of 2023 SX
Chase Sexton wins Anaheim 2 in 450s; Levi Kitchen takes 250s
Results and points from Anaheim 2