Recently Adam Cianciarulo has been likened to James Stewart, because of all the hype that surrounds him as he attempts to break out of the amateur ranks. In 2002, Stewart was in a similar position as the hype that followed him was unfathomable. However that hype does not always turn into titles; just ask Stewart. In the early years of his career, most presumed that he would acquire countless race wins and titles; but the latter has failed to materialise.
Although James Stewart has made many, many visits to the top of the podium; he has just three 450 championships to his name. However, the common consensus does seem to be that he should have won more. Undoubtedly, Stewart has not really lived up to the high expectations that fans have of him. James is now nearing the final few years of his professional career; whether or not he has it in him to win another title is unknown.
It has been four full years since James Stewart last clinched a championship; a winless streak such as this is considered quite long in this sport, unlike some other sports the riders are not around for forever. Obviously the reason behind James’ successive losses is that he is unable stay upright rather than because he is just not fast enough. In my opinion, it seems as though James’ competitors have learnt to harness their raw speed, whereas Stewart has not thus far.
Honestly, I would be surprised to see James Stewart win another title before he hangs up his boots. Although he will have many more chances, it is not like he has been close recently. Of course, he will have another shot at a number one plate when the Lucas Oil AMA Motocross series kicks off in a couple of weeks time. But he has not completed that series since he won it in 2008. In that year Stewart went undefeated. Now, most doubt his ability to win the title; so what has changed?
In that season his competition was not as tough as it is now; so he was able to ride alone out front with no pressure, which does seem to be how most of his wins play out. Interestingly, it seems all his rivals have the same theory: if you pressure him he will fall, eventually. Admittedly, what has transpired in past years does support this idea; however, it is not full proof. For instance at the Freestone National last year James won both motos whilst withstanding pressure from a formidable rival, Ryan Dungey. Clearly he can do it, whether he can do it over an entire year or not is debatable though.
Perhaps he struggles to concentrate whilst riding around alone out on-track? James Stewart does seem to crash at the strangest times; like his crash in the heat race in Minneapolis, for example. Stewart was alone out front in the heat race, and then fell on a routine double. At the time it seemed as though no one could really understand how it happened, there is still some confusion. Stewart drifted wide whilst crossing the start straight and then clipped the hay bales; surely he would have had enough time to correct himself, before hitting the take off? I believe that a rider of James’ calibre should not be crashing on simple jumps like that.
In order for James Stewart to challenge for a championship again, he is going to need to be one-hundred-percent healthy. At the moment he is dealing with a troublesome wrist and a torn ACL. Obviously this is going to make it difficult for him to challenge riders like Dungey, and Villopoto over the course of a physically demanding motocross season. Whilst Stewart continues to crash consistently he is only going to further aggravate these issues. There are just too many problems with his program for anyone to consider him the favourite for a title at the moment, in my opinion.
Personally I believe that James Stewart should get his knee fixed at the end of the supercross season. Of course this would mean that he would have to sit out the 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross campaign. However surely it would be beneficial for him to heal up and come out swinging next year? It is also more likely that he will aggravate the ACL problem outdoors on a deep, rutty track. At least in supercross he did not have to worry about get his knee caught in a rut.
James Stewart is still the fastest man on the planet at different points, however those times are becoming few and far between; it seems even his competition do not really consider him a threat for the title anymore. The 2013 Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross series could be crucial as he attempts to establish himself as a contender once again. However, there is a lot on the line this summer. If it ends up going bad, it will take a lot of strength (mental and physical) to rebound in the coming years.
Words by Lewis Phillips