Practice has wrapped up inside Houston’s NRG Stadium and some great dirt combined with a fast-yet-technical layout has set the tone for what will be a dramatic night of competition. While Ryan Villopoto sits well in control of his own destiny atop the 450SX Class standings, any mistake could have major consequences as several of his rivals can attest. The 250SX West Region is also back in action as Jason Anderson and Cole Seely prepare to resume their title fight.
FOX Sports 1 will air all the action from Houston live, beginning at 8:30 p.m. ET with Ralph Sheheen, Jeff Emig, Jeremy McGrath and Jenny Taft. Here are the storylines to watch out for when the gate drops.
• Ryan Villopoto sat atop the 450SX practice charts (48.213), but a mere four-thousandths of a second separated he and Ryan Dungey in second (48.217). Ken Roczen (48.377), Justin Barcia (48.521), and Josh Hill (48.539) rounded out the top five.
• James Stewart will be gunning for his fourth straight win and six victory of the season. He started the afternoon off with the fastest lap of the first practice session, but is apparently under the weather. He did not log a lap in final practice, dropping him to 10th overall (48.948).
• Justin Brayton will miss the action tonight, effectively ending his status as one of just two riders to finish in the top 10 at each race this season. Brayton suffered a broken foot and pinky last week in St. Louis and had crashes in practice that magnified each injury. He ended up with a fractured hand, which has forced him to the sidelines for at least this evening.
• With only four rounds remaining in the 2014 season, the attrition level in the 450SX Class seems to be growing. Of the top 10 riders in the standings, three are out for the season, while two more have now missed at least one race. Let’s hope this isn’t a trend that continues.
• Villopoto brings a 35-point lead into Houston, but he’ll need to keep it on two wheels in order to keep Dungey and Stewart from closing in. The champ’s closest championship rivals are two of the best at taking advantage of opportunities that are presented to them.
• Jason Anderson showed no rust despite the seven-week break in action for the West Region. He topped the practice charts (48.393) with a three-tenth advantage over Dean Wilson (48.664). They were the only two 250SX Class riders to break into the 48-second bracket. Malcolm Stewart (49.378), Justin Hill (49.460), and Zach Osborne (49.461) rounded out the top five. Where’s second-place rider Cole Seely? Seventh, nearly two seconds off the pace (50.021).
• One would think Wilson and Seely’s foray into the 450s during the break would work to their advantage, but Anderson is proving that his program is effective, despite sitting idle.
• As the most recent winner, Hill has to be a rider to watch tonight. Confidence has increased each week and his late surge in practice is proof that he’s still feeling good on his Kawasaki.
• Zach Osborne makes his return to action after suffering a broken collarbone before the break in February. He was a podium contender prior to the injury and given how well the GEICO Honda team has fared back East, he’ll be leaned on to carry the torch out West.
• Speaking of East Region success, the Pro Circuit squad was simply dominant and you’ve got to think there’s some good information being shared with Wilson and Hill that could work in their favor tonight.
A lot of riders had some get offs in practice as the rhythm lanes are big and fast, requiring the utmost precision as a result of some quick transition points. Additionally the whoops are extremely technical, starting close, separating in the middle, and closing in again at the end. Consistency has been tough to find through them. The ominous quad will be part of the discussion tonight as well, with a couple different sections opening up the opportunity to cover some major ground in a big way.