Photo: FELD/Monster Energy Cup

Q&A: Jeff Emig ahead of Monster Energy Cup

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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

Zach Veach splits with Andretti Autosport for rest of IndyCar season

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Zach Veach will be leaving his Andretti Autosport ride with three races remaining in the season, choosing to explore options after the decision was made he wouldn’t return for 2021.

In a Wednesday release, Andretti Autosport said a replacement driver for the No. 26 Dallara-Honda would be named in the coming days. The NTT IndyCar Series will race Oct. 2-3 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course and then conclude the season Oct. 25 on the streets of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Veach was ranked 11th in the points standings through 11 races of his third season with Andretti. Since a fourth in the June 6 season opener at Texas Motor Speedway, he hadn’t finished higher than 14th.

“The decision was made that I will not be returning in 2021 with Andretti Autosport in the No. 26 Gainbridge car,” Veach said in the Andretti release. “This, along with knowing that limited testing exists for teams due to COVID, have led me to the decision to step out of the car for the remainder of the 2020 IndyCar season. I am doing this to allow the team to have time with other drivers as they prepare for 2021, and so that I can also explore my own 2021 options.

“This is the hardest decision I have ever made, but to me, racing is about family, and it is my belief that you take care of your family. Andretti Autosport is my family and I feel this is what is best to help us all reach the next step. I will forever be grateful to Michael and the team for all of their support over the years. I would not be where I am today if it wasn’t for a relationship that started many years ago with Road to Indy. I will also be forever grateful to Dan Towriss for his friendship and for the opportunity he and Gainbridge have given me.

“My love for this sport and the people involved is unmeasurable, and I look forward to continuing to be amongst the racing world and fans in 2021.”

Said team owner Michael Andretti: “We first welcomed Zach to the Andretti team back in his USF2000 days and have enjoyed watching him grow and evolve as a racer, and a person. His decision to allow us to use the last few races to explore our 2021 options shows the measure of his character.

“Zach has always placed team and family first, and we’re very happy to have had him as part of ours for so many years. We wish him the best in whatever 2021 may bring and will always consider him a friend.”

Andretti fields five full-time cars for Veach, Alexander Rossi, Ryan Hunter-Reay, Marco Andretti and Colton Herta.

It also has fielded James Hinchcliffe in three races this season.