James Stewart is one of the most dynamic and entertaining riders Supercross racing has ever seen. The 2007 and 2009 champion of the sport has won 44 main events over the course of his career, which spans back to 2005.
But since 2009, Stewart has struggled to find the same magic that provided his two Monster Energy AMA Supercross championships and double-digit event win seasons. Crashes, injuries and inconsistencies have plagued "the Tiger Woods of Supercross" and ended his run of dominance. He has failed to complete all the races on the schedule in three of the most recent five Supercross seasons.
Coming into the 2012 campaign, there were high hopes for Stewart as he joined forces with Joe Gibbs Racing and Yamaha. The deal was supposed to extend through 2014 and even offered the Bartow, Fla. native an opportunity to compete with that team's NASCAR effort on four wheels at some point in the future.
But less than a year into the new relationship things began to sour between Stewart and JGR. In particular, the bike itself was so inept, according to the rider, that he finally told the team that he believed he could not win with it. Those comments obviously did not sit well with the team and there were rumors that the internal chemistry had been severely damaged.
"It's not the team," Stewart said in an interview with B.J. Smith of ESPN.com. "It's the new Yamaha. This is different. When I say I can't win, it's not what the team's doing, it's how that motorcycle was particularly built. I've crashed a lot. In 2009, I won 11-of-17 races so it wasn't the brand, it's just how they built this new motorcycle that did not gel with me. I was uncomfortable on the motorcycle. It's not what the team did. The team tried their hardest but we knew going into it that we had to fix the motorcycle for me to perform and we didn't. I didn't on the L&M Team. We couldn't fix it there. I had the same issues. I don't know anybody that's doing really good on it. Davi (Millsaps, teammate) did awesome but he's 25 pounds heavier than I am. I think bigger and taller people can handle the bike where I can't."
In May of last year, it was announced that Stewart would ride for Yoshimura Suzuki when the Supercross schedule kick starts in Anaheim, Calif. Saturday, Jan. 5.
If Stewart is to recapture his form and have any chance of derailing the domination of two-time defending Supercross champion Ryan Villopoto, he will have to find a degree of consistency that he has lacked in recent seasons. He has shown the ability to step up and take control of an event on a given night, but he has not demonstrated the ability to produce good finishes on his less-than-spectacular evenings.
For example, Stewart won two of his 10 main-event starts in 2012, but he also had five finishes outside the top five.
2013 will provide a new opportunity with a new team on a new bike for James Stewart. Will the 27-year-old be able to retake the series trophy at the end of the season?