I find James Stewart’s story to be fascinating. I have written about him many times, his talent, his approach, and his potential. I find him interesting because when James Stewart is at the races it is a far more interesting place.
Stewart just brings a buzz and question marks because he drips raw potential. He is this prodigy that we all watch with intrigue, about
what he is going to do and ponder what he can do. Stewart and his decisions have made him perhaps one of the sport’s most polarizing stars. People seem to either hate him or love him, there is no middle ground. All these ingredients make him impossible not to follow.
In recent years, Stewart has had a rocky marriage with the Yamaha motorcycle. Since the new `revolutionary` Yamaha was introduced, Stewart has seen the ground more than the winners’ circle. He never publically criticized the bike, but throughout the Yamaha marriage made it clear the problem wasn’t just him either.
On Monday, another page in the story was written when Stewart announced he was leaving Joe Gibbs Racing Yamaha and moving to Yoshimura Suzuki. Back in November, Stewart was brought in to the JGR team with a lot of hype. It was a multi-year deal picked up by the world’s top media outlets. Stewart insisted he chose the bike, and the team to be part of. It was a deal that was also weighted at the back end with car racing support. It was all smiles and backslaps until A1. It was there that expectations missed the mark, and Stewart soldiered home to 6th.
The season, for all sides, can only be described as disappointing. Stewart, whose own expectations have been incredibly high from a very early age before his pro career ever started, has raced under the pressure of being expected to win. While everyone agrees 2012 was perhaps the deepest, most competitive field in the history of the sport, it was quietly expected that Stewart would be at the top of that field. Whether it was the weight of those expectations or the Yamaha union issues, the 2012 Supercross season has been a struggle for James Stewart.
The November celebrations are over! Stewart will line up at Hangtown on a Suzuki. He insists it wasn’t him, it wasn’t the bike, and it wasn’t the team. He and the bike did not agree with each other, and like a doomed marriage he is moving on.
The other partner in this, the JGR team, must feel exasperated. Stewart felt good on the bike in testing; the resources they pushed toward Stewart were more than they have ever invested in their motocross program with any rider. High on the wall of goals was for the JGR team to win. They thought and feel they did everything they could to make it work. Despite their efforts, it hasn’t and it didn’t.
What happens now? Will Stewart be on the bike he hand-picked? If results do not come, it will cause a lot of introspective reflection of the man still commonly referred to as the world’s fastest rider. He believes he is still the man; he was when he went 24-0. He still believes he has the ability to dominate the sport. He is betting on himself by leaving behind a hefty contract, car racing opportunities, and will be lining up in two weeks with the belief that he can be the best.
JGR will watch Stewart closely. As I said, they did all they could for Stewart. Perhaps no one in this scenario could be in a more awkward position. Holding Stewart to his contract and paying a large contract to a rider who obviously wants to leave is not the position any team wants to be in. Let him out of the contract. If he does well, people, and perhaps sponsors, will question the JGR Yamaha program. In the end, JGR made the best of a worse case and cut their losses with James.
If there is to be a winner in this breakdown, it is the US National Series. The Supercross series decimated many of the best racers in the world and handed the MX Sports team damaged goods. Reed, Villopoto, Canard, Windham, Morais are a few of the riders injured in supercross that are unable to line up at Hangtown. Stewart’s announcement was an injection of excitement and intrigue that had to be welcomed to the series.
Like most of Stewart’s career, he enters a race with lots of questions and excitement surrounding him. If Stewart meets his expectations or falls short, the fact remains that a race with James Stewart is better than one without him.