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WATCH LIVE: Will James Stewart reverse his fortunes as Motocross season’s second half starts at Budds Creek?

Jul 12, 2014, 12:05 PM EST

Photo credit: ProMotocross.com/Amy Schaaf Photo credit: ProMotocross.com/Amy Schaaf

The first half of the 2014 Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship is in the books, and the series is set up for some great second-half racing over the next six rounds, beginning today at Budds Creek.

Get set for a full afternoon of racing with the pre-race show airing exclusively online at 12:15 P.M. ET on ProMotocross.com and NBC Sports Live Extra. All four motos will then stream live from 1:00-5:00 P.M. ET, with NBCSN also televising live coverage of second motos in both classes at 3 P.M. ET. Click here to access the Live Extra stream.

Clearly this is Ken Roczen’s championship to lose right now in the 450 Class. The Red Bull KTM rider his finished on the podium in all 12 motos that have been run this season – an incredible display of consistency that has given him a 26-point cushion over teammate Ryan Dungey. Historically though, Roczen has been a much better rider in the first half of the season. When he was racing in the 250 Class last year, one crash at Round 9 was all it took to wipe out his points lead and hand the championship over to Eli Tomac. As long as Roczen can avoid those big mistakes, he will be the favorite to earn a title in his rookie season in the premier class.

Tomac battled with Roczen throughout the season last year in the 250 Class, and had Tomac been healthy entering this season, you have to think he may have added some extra intrigue to this 450 Class title race. Tomac is out of the championship running after missing the first four rounds with a broken collarbone, but since his return, there has been no adjustment period needed. The GEICO Honda rider has been a podium threat in every single moto he’s raced, battling with Ryan Dungey, who has been his usual consistent self this season, and Trey Canard, who has continuously improved throughout the year and could be on the verge of a moto win.

One of the biggest conundrums in the series right now is James Stewart. Just a few weeks ago, Stewart was being talked about as a legitimate title contender after sweeping both motos at High Point to move within striking distance of Roczen in the championship race. In the two rounds since then though, the Yoshimura Suzuki rider has been nowhere to be seen near the front of the field, repeatedly doomed by first-turn crashes which have forced him to work his way up from the back and just salvage as many points as he can. The slide has coincided with the news that Stewart was provisionally suspended by the FIM for a failed drug test during the Supercross season and could face even heavier sanctions pending the outcome of his case. Whether or not the controversy hanging over Stewart is affecting him mentally, the last two rounds have taken him out of the championship discussion for now.

Even if he can’t win a title, Stewart is still a competitor at heart and will be hungry to win races. He turned the fastest lap time in 450 Class practice this morning at Budds Creek, the first time this season he’s earned the distinction of being the top qualifier. Being the top qualifier will allow Stewart to choose any gate he wants for the start of the first moto, which could help propel him to a good start. If he can get a clean start and put himself near the front, maybe he can finally reverse his fortunes this afternoon.

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