2009 Super Supercross!

Stewart Vs. Reed In A Season To Remember

As spectacular as supercross is to watch, it's often painfully predictable. The 1990s were the Jeremy McGrath era. The new millennium ushered in the Ricky Carmichael era. Then came James "Bubba" Stewart, unfathomably faster than his fellow Floridian. When Carmichael retired after the '06 season to pursue a career in NASCAR, Stewart seemingly was left with no competition. Predictably he ran away with the '07 championship, kick-starting what looked to be the James Stewart era.

There was only one obstacle: Chad Reed. The Australian had already won one supercross title in '04, when Carmichael got hurt and sat out the season. In '06, Reed pushed Carmichael and Stewart to the final round. And when Stewart got hurt in '08, Reed won the title again.

Coming into the '09 season, both had points to prove. Stewart needed to stop being his own worst enemy, crashing out of races while running far out front. Reed needed to shake his reputation of being second-string, winning only when the "real" stars were sidelined.

Musical chairs added to the intrigue. During the off-season, Stewart left Kawasaki to ride Yamahas for the L&M; Racing San Manuel Band of Mission Indians-Reed's former team. Reed jumped ship to Suzuki-Carmichael's former team. If the two could adapt to their new bikes and stay healthy, it could be an epic season.

And it was. The fireworks started at the season opener in Anaheim, California, where Stewart missed a shift in a whoop section and got rear-ended by Reed, landing them both on the ground. Reed remounted to finish third, but Stewart couldn't get his bike re-fired and DNFed. That 20-point deficit would haunt him all season long.

Still, what became apparent as the season progressed was Reed had stepped up his game. Though Stewart won 11 races, Reed was always right there, pushing his rival, capitalizing on his mistakes and winning three races himself to keep the points chase tight.

The scoreboard in this photo from the Jacksonville, Florida, round is emblematic of the season's racing, as positions one and two are blank-presumably in the midst of yet another lead change. That round of the series saw the pair's rivalry escalate, as the two normally clean-racing riders resorted to Arenacross-style block passes and exchanged heated words after the race.

It all came down to the series finale at Las Vegas, Nevada. Stewart had a 6-point lead in the standings, so could finish third if Reed won and still wrap up the championship. As Kawasaki's Ryan Villopoto stormed to the second win of his rookie 450cc season, Reed stalked Stewart. When Stewart was balked by lappers, Reed easily could have swept by, but instead waited. A few laps later, entering the fast, dirt-track-style left-hander outside Sam Boyd Stadium, Reed blatantly punted Stewart off-track. Stewart bobbled but didn't fall, and shook his head in disbelief as the fans booed, rejoining the race to finish third and claim his second supercross title.

"I won baby!" Stewart shouted into the Speed TV cameras after the race. "I've always said I don't want to race like that. Man, he put me into the tough blocks, ran me off the track. But it was good. That's why I race."

"What could I do?" Reed said in his defense. "I needed to win the race and he needed to finish fourth, and the likeliness of that happening was pretty low. I just had to sit on him and hope that he was gonna make a mistake, but he rode a solid race. He was smart and did what I would have done. I put an aggressive pass on him, as he would have done to me. It's been a tough year, and tempers got high."

They certainly did. But it made for great racing-some said the best in supercross history.