Welcome to our weekly web-exclusive column, Transmoto USA Insider Presented By Lucas Oil. Penned each week by our man on the ground, Transmoto's US Correspondent, Jason Weigandt, USA Insider presents the story-behind-the-stories of the AMA supercross and motocross scene.
It's funny how these things seem to work for Ryan Dungey, a rider who does everything you should do to earn respect from everyone, but yet never seems to get quite enough of it from anyone (well, 'cept last summer when he was a free agent. Teams were coming after him from all angles with big money deals). What's respect really worth? Somewhere north of $2 million per year U.S. from what I hear. You can have the respect, Dunge will be happy with the paycheck.
With James Stewart definitely coming back for this weekend's race at Red Bud, the Dungey challenge begins again. Some observers already want to attach an asterisk to Dungey's 2012 U.S. MX title run, because Stewart went out with injury, and defending champion Ryan Villopoto (and Chad Reed, for that matter) are out hurt. But such arguments really don't wash - there's a perception that Dungey just wins when others are out, but it's not reality.
In last year's motocross chase, Dungey gave Villopoto all he could handle in the title chase, and if not for two freakish mechanical problems, Dungey probably would have won the title (even Villopoto admitted as much after last year's final moto). This year, Dungey was giving Stewart all he could handle in the early motos. Yes, Stewart won the first four, but Dungey was right there sitting on his back tire waiting to pounce. Villopoto, Stewart (and Reed, for that matter) have not been able to prove they are at a level above Dungey. He's raced them all, he's hung with them, he's beaten them. Throw in his trademark consistency, and what's not to love?
Yet, the challenge remains this weekend. Dungey may still get his huge KTM cheque no matter what happens in a race with Stewart, and he may still win the title no matter what happens, too. But, if JS7 hangs a win streak on him, people will once again start talking about what could have been, and a little bit of respect will be chisled off of Dungey's record.
Does he care? He does, but the problem is that Dungey's robotic interviews never seem to show it. It seems like he's okay just going about his business, and doesn't want to get caught up in grudge matches, respect wars or mind games. But you don't become as good as Dungey has become without wanting it, and wanting it badly. Will he show that kind of desire this weekend? He may be headed to a championship, but other judgements still await. We'll see what happens.