Ryan Villopoto won the season-opening supercross race Saturday night in Anaheim as two-time champion James Stewart couldn't overcome a poor start and finished third.
Villopoto captured the 20-lap main event on his Kawasaki by four seconds over reigning champion Ryan Dungey in the Monster Energy AMA Supercross Series opener in front of a sellout crowd of 45,050 at Angel Stadium.
Stewart, 25, entered the race as perhaps the most feared rider in big league supercross racing — when he's healthy, that is.
He won the series title in 2007 and 2009, but he also has a habit of crashing and sometimes getting injured. In fact, Stewart either has won — or crashed trying — in more than 90% of his races since joining the sport's top level in 2005, according to the series.
Neither happened Saturday night, but his aggressiveness cost him last year. After winning the opening Anaheim race, Stewart collided with rival Chad Reed at the next race in Phoenix, and a week later it was found Stewart had a broken bone in his right wrist, ending his season. Reed, too, had his season cut short with injuries from that race.
They're both now healed and "with all the new competition [back] in, it should be good," Stewart said before Saturday's race. "I'm excited to see where we're at."
In 2008, Stewart competed in only two races before he aggravated a knee injury in practice and was forced to sit out that season as well.
And Stewart, who's nicknamed Bubba, said he didn't plan to ease up on the throttle merely to survive the full 17-race season.
"I'm not going to change my riding style," he said before Saturday's race. "I'm going to be who I am. It's why people get excited to watch me race. I can't help that I give 100% every time I ride. If I crash because I'm actually trying, I can sleep better at night."
Stewart acknowledged that the wrist injury last year was "was tough."
"It was a long injury [to heal] and it was definitely new for me to have such a small injury be so bad," he said.