Meet Me in St. Louis: The SX Chase Tightens Up

Last weekend was one of the best races we have witnessed all season long in the 2012 Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series. What's more? The excitement largely involved someone other than the Big Four. Anytime a big name rider gets hurt, the question always comes up, "Who will step in to take his place?" Last year that question was answered for Josh Grant's vacated factory Honda when Cole Seely stepped in for a few 450 rounds on the East Coast to try his hand at some big bore riding. Seely had some decent rides but nothing too impressive. When Trey Canard got hurt at the Los Angeles Supercross this year, the question came up once again. Again it was a factory Honda, and again the answer to the riddle was Cole Seely. But this time the Lucas Oil/TLD/Honda Lites rider had something more on his side: experience and maturity.

When the gate dropped for the Supercross Main Event in Atlanta, it wasn't James Stewart, Ryan Villopoto, or Ryan Dungey who jumped out to the lead. It was the number 34 of Seely. But that wasn't the impressive part.

Dungey had the next best jump and quickly gained on Seely. By the end of the first lap, it looked as though Seely's run at the front might be over before it had much of a chance to start. But then he countered on Dungey's move, and put down some blazing laps to not only remain in the lead, but open a gap on the former Supercross champion. Seely would go onto lead the next seven laps before Dungey ever had an opportunity to make a move. With his few laps of glory alone, Seely may have just secured a 450 ride for when he does finally make the full time jump up to the big bikes. Of course, he was later displaced by the likes of Villopoto, Stewart, Davi Millsaps, and Justin Brayton, but Cole was impressive and made his mark.

Dungey went on to take the win just ahead of Villopoto, and well ahead of Stewart who was the victim of a caution light that allowed the two lead riders to get away. Dungey's win was his second win of the season and KTM's second win ever in the premier class. Thanks to the orange win, Villopoto's lead has now shrunk to ten points over Dungey, but he remains 44 points ahead of Stewart. Stewart's biggest breakthrough of the day actually had to do with something that he did not accomplish: he didn't crash all day. The only other time James has been crash-free this year, he won in Oakland. At least this time around he landed on the podium. If he can keep it up, he could very well find himself in the championship chase by the time Las Vegas comes around.

In Lites racing, Justin Barcia once again trounced the competition. Maybe "trounced" is a strong word, but he undoubtedly won and was basically unchallenged for the entire race. Blake Baggett, meanwhile, recovered from his unfortunate first round for second place, and Justin Bogle took home a strong third (in what was only second professional Supercross race ever). Bogle is a name that you can expect to be hearing a lot of in the future as, although he is a rookie, he rides with the maturity of a seasoned pro with a new school style. Bogle is a natural, as he proved earlier in the evening by taking the first heat race win. Further back, Ken Roczen had the misfortune of getting stuck in the gate at the start and was forced to begin the race from dead, dead, dead last. The result for the hard charging German? Sixth place. If Roczen can get a good start, he will be challenging for the lead.

Next up is St. Louis. For one reason or another, call it fate, St. Louis has served up some very exciting and championship-changing rounds since the Show Me State began hosting races back in 1996. What happened that year? Only Jeff Emig putting an end to what almost became the only perfect season ever in Supercross. Whose perfect season would it have been? Come on. You know the answer: Jeremy McGrath's. It was only the second win in Emig's career, but it was enough to put an end to MC's incredible streak. Then there was 2006 when Ricky Carmichael's shock broke while he was in the points lead. The incident allowed Chad Reed to sneak into the lead while James Stewart inched within striking distance. But we all know what happened in the end. Please ... he's the GOAT! The guy never lost a title defense, and he was defending a title that year, so it's pretty straightforward. Then there was 2009 and the Travis Pastrana-designed mega track that had some of the weirdest and coolest bowl turns to ever appear on a Supercross course. It also made for some great racing and caused an upset in the championship when Stewart missed a shift going through some whoops and crashed while leading, handing the win and some very precious points over to Chad Reed.

More recently, St. Louis was the site of an epic Dungey vs. Villopoto battle that ended in an eventual title for one and disaster for the other. While fighting for the lead, the duo came into a tough rhythm section that was essentially do-or-die. Both "did," but Villopoto didn't quite "do" properly, and got ejected from his bike. The crash resulted in a season ending injury and Dungey went on to claim both the Supercross and AMA Pro Motocross championship in 2010.

So what will St. Louis bring this year? Guaranteed, a whole bunch of Budweiser (the brewery is right down the street). But racing-wise, one thing that St. Louis always has is great dirt. It provides just the right amount of traction that allows passes to be made unexpectedly in turns, but not too much where riders get tired too quickly. Dungey and Villopoto are, once again, locked in a battle for Supercross supremacy while Stewart, quite simply, needs to start winning races again. As history suggests, something unexpected could very well happen along the banks of the Mississippi River this Saturday night.