MotorSportsTalk caught up with veteran motorcycle rider, champion and now FOX Sports analyst, Jeff Emig, ahead of this weekend’s Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas, a $1 million motocross showcase event now in its fifth season.
MST: What additional variable does the return of James Stewart give to the race?
Jeff Emig: “His time away from Supercross racing, especially under the circumstances, it’s my hope for him that it’s given him some perspective. He’s been wide open since he’s been a little kid. Funny how things work, when you sit out and are forced to take a break. You get some perspective, see it from the outside. I see him coming back rejuvenated, with a lot of motivation. I’d have something to prove to myself and the riders around me. As crazy as it may seem, this enforced suspension that he fulfilled, it may add some longevity to his career.
“When something’s taken away from you, I think it’s logical to think that should give you some more appreciation for what you have. It gives you perspective. He’s been racing his whole life and for 16 months, he wasn’t allowed to. So maybe now he can gauge the competition. Play some golf, have fun. Get rested and rejuvenated. Be ready to attack. Because of his ability throughout his whole career to be one if not the fastest rider, I’d say it makes him a dangerous competitor.”
MST: With Stewart suspended and Ryan Villopoto having retired earlier this year, how has it changed the dynamic in Supercross racing this year among the competitors?
JE: “The one thing I’ve learned in 30-plus years in Motocross and Supercross is that whenever someone is out of the picture, it opens it up for a new star to ignite and shine. That’s just given more riders for more riders to be on the podium, building confidence. Ryan Dungey has made a dramatic change for the good in his program, with how he holds himself, his leadership, speed and fitness in the last 12 months. He’s a different rider. But guys like Stewart, Ken Roczen will be a big challenge.”
MST: For Ryan Dungey, on the heels of his championship, how motivated is he to finally win his first Monster Energy Cup?
JE: “I would think he’s hugely motivated. He’s been second three times and fourth one time. Every event, he’s been all of the four he’s raced, he has been somebody that is a contender for the win. We did a thing on Supercross Live and MonsterEnergyCup.com where we had these exciting moments from first four years and Dungey was two of them! One was when he bent a shifter, air off the triple, and was shifting the bike with his left hand, that year he was fast enough to win the event. Then he missed the joker lane one year.
“It was such great television, to not only see his excitement by missing the joker lane, but then he goes to high five Villopoto and he’s like, ‘Hey dude, you missed the joker lane!’ We know what each rider said, and you see Dungey, and he’s like, ‘Oh, s***, I just missed the joker lane!’ That’s the type of thing that excitement that this format brings. It brings goosebumps just thinking about it. It allows riders to hang out, not worried about points, grip of cash especially of the first race. Three motos, if you lose the first one, the $1 million is out of play. It’s uber important to win the first race. Keep backing up. It starts with getting on-track for qualifying practice. Getting out of the gate strong is important. This sequence to the day is that a rider can earn $1 million if they’re perfect.”
MST: What do you like about the nature of the race format?
JE: “It’s way different in so many ways, which is the purpose of the Cup. It makes it a single event. No Supercross before it, or after it. It’s in the middle of testing, preparing the motorcycles for following year of Monster Energy Supercross. It’s kind of isolated, as an island of a race. You don’t think about anything else except this event.
“Now that the race has had four years under its belt, we’re on year five, I personally see an incredible drive and desire the riders and teams have to win the event. It’s not a one-time event. Now big names are started to get added. Monster Energy and FELD completely committed to making it a long-term event. Right now, there’s $1 million in play (for winning all three). My personal feeling, before the 10-year mark, it will be $1 million to win no matter what. The type of action the race has provided so far, will help build it into a major event on the calendar. Now we know this race isn’t going anywhere. It will be there annually.”
MST: What’s your take on the new track design and initial projections headed into the race?
JE: “I think, the team led by Ricky Carmichael, when it comes to track builders – in world of Supercross – he’s what Arnold Palmer and golf course builders are to golf. I think they’ve done a great job to make something new. One thing that has been … the builders, FELD, Monster Energy want to attract world riders.
“By eliminating the whoops section, it changes to make it from a stereotypical Motocross/Supercross race. That’s such a specific talent needed. This year, the track, to me, your cornering ability and bike setup and possibly even some flat, hard corners is kind of old school. I think there’s some of that built into the track. Good for some riders, and other riders. Obstacles, jumps, over-and-unders. But I think the race will be won and lost on flat turns. That’s my expert analysis.
“If there was a massive whoops section, James Stewart gets the nod. He’s a notch above everyone else. But we don’t have any of those.
“With my analysis at this point, if it had to do with flat turns, turning while leaning over, I’d give the nod to Ryan Dungey. We will wait and see if these factors play into the overall champion, or will someone in the middle technique wise find a way to get it done.
“I have some friends texting me, and I’m like, you want me to tell you on a Wednesday? I’m educated enough to know that I don’t have enough necessary information to give you an answer. A lot of guys can win. But pretty much every top guy is riding. This has the most talented field this year, compared to the four previous years.”
Monster Energy Cup Television Schedule
- October 17, FS2 & FOX Sports GO – live at 9:30pm ET / 6:30pm PT
- October 18, FOX Broadcast Channel
- 2:30pm-4:00pm ET / 11:30am-1:00pm PT (Pre-NFL)
- 4:30pm-6:00pm ET / 1:30pm-3:00pm PT (Post-NFL)
- October 20, FS1 – repeat airing at 8:00am ET / 5:00am PST