The Monster Energy Supercross Series made its second trip in three weeks to Anaheim, Calif. on Saturday night, and fans witnessed the return to the top step of the victory podium of a familiar face. Two-time and defending series champion Ryan Villopoto had won each of the last two season openers in Angel Stadium but failed on January 5 to score the three-peat. This time, however, the Kawasaki rider would not be denied.
This race had originally been scheduled for Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles but had to be moved as a result of renovations taking place at that venue.
The night got off to a bit of a surprising and sad note when longtime rider and winner of 18 Supercross main events Kevin Windham announced his retirement from the sport at the age of 34 just prior to race time.
Once the action got underway for the 450SX bikes, Justin Brayton scored the first win of the night when he took the checkered flag in an action-packed first heat.
In that first preliminary event, previous Anaheim winner and Monster Energy Supercross points leader Davi Millsaps dropped from the race after a crash on the initial start. Also, former series champion Ryan Dungey was briefly collected in an incident later on when Jake Weimer went down in the eight-lap qualifier. Both of those riders gathered themselves in time to salvage top-nine finishes and thus avoid having to run in the Last Chance Qualifier race.
Villopoto won a star-studded second heat over James Stewart and Chad Reed. Last week's main event winner in Phoenix, Justin Barcia, could only manage a 10th-place result after a hard fall in that race sent him to the LCQ along with Millsaps.
Significantly, it was revealed earlier in the week that Stewart, who had suffered what was originally called a "tweak" of his right knee during the first visit to Anaheim, actually has a torn ACL. He plans to continue racing in the remaining 15 events on the Supercross schedule.
Millsaps just beat out Barcia in the LCQ. Both of those riders advanced on to the feature race as a result of capturing the top two positions in that final qualifier.
At the drop of the gate for the 20-lap 450SX feature, it was Weimer who bolted out to the early lead ahead of Trey Canard, who had finished second here two weeks ago. But Weimer's lead would be short-lived, as Canard moved to the head of the pack on the race's second lap with Weimer, Barcia and Millsaps trailing behind.
In the early going, Villopoto fell as far back as seventh in the order, but he immediately began a charge toward the front. By lap six, he powered to the lead and would never relinquish it.
At the halfway point, Villopoto continued in the front with Canard just behind. Millsaps and Chad Reed commenced a heated battle for third which kept the crowd of just under 40,000 on their feet. Stewart went down just prior to halfway and dropped all the way back to 16th as a result of the miscue. He would move up to 12th by the finish.
At the finish, Villopoto won by seven seconds over Canard, Reed, Millsaps, Weimer and Dungey. The win made up for the disastrous 16th-place result Villopoto posted here two weeks earlier.
Millsaps' fourth-place finish was good enough to allow him to hold the Monster Energy Supercross points lead by three over Canard and seven over Reed. Villopoto ranks fourth in the standings, 11 points back as he seeks his third consecutive title.
"The season didn't start off like we wanted it to," the winner declared in his post-race interview. "I had a decent race in Phoenix (second place), and the team made good changes to the bike this week. We've finally got the ball rolling in the right direction and are digging ourselves out of the hole. Once I got into the lead, I was just trying to click off the laps and keep it consistent."
In the 250SX main event, Eli Tomac continued his winning ways as he picked up his third consecutive victory in that class by beating out Ken Roczen and Cole Seely.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association. Follow along with his Chase for the Sprint Cup series by clicking on the driver of your choice Kasey Kahne, Greg Biffle, Denny Hamlin, Clint Bowyer, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch.
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