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As injuries doom rivals, Villopoto nears Supercross title

by Nate Ryan [March 30, 2012]

As injuries doom rivals, Villopoto nears Supercross titleSaturday at Houston's Reliant Stadium, the Kawasaki rider likely will become the first since Ricky Carmichael (2005-06) to win consecutive Monster Energy Supercross crowns. Unfortunately for Villopoto, some might put an asterisk by his second title because all three of his three chief rivals (Ryan Dungey, Chad Reed and James Stewart) have been sidelined by injuries.

"It's a tough sport," said Villopoto, who won seven races in 2010 but missed his chance to challenge Dungey for a title after breaking his leg in a late-season crash. "The good thing was last year every single guy was there, and I ended up winning. It's Supercross, and injuries are a big part of it.

"Supercross would be way bigger and a lot better if they were guaranteed to have all the top guys never hurt, but it's not the way it is."

The season has changed significantly since the quartet of Villopoto, Dungey, Reed and Stewart each won during the first four races the second time that has happened and the first since 1976.

Reed (out for the season with knee, leg and rib injuries) and Dungey (collarbone) will miss Houston, and Stewart, who hurt his hand and knee at Indianapolis, tweeted Wednesday, "Not sure if I'm racing this weekend or not. But improving good."

With preseason contender Trey Canard (who won Houston last year) also out, Villopoto is a heavy favorite to win at Houston and also would clinch with a second place.

Though he said he had made more mistakes than he did last season (he had falls at Daytona and Dodger Stadium), Villopoto hasn't finished outside of the top five while notching six wins.

"It's hard to win just one title," said Villopoto, who considered Reed his stiffest competition this year. "I'll take them however I can get them."

Bristol changes:Bruton Smith, whose company owns Bristol Motor Speedway, said the 0.533-mile track will undergo changes after a week-long review of fan input about its quality of racing. The March 18 race drew 102,000, the smallest Sprint Cup crowd at the 160,000-capacity track in more than a decade. A track release said details would be revealed in an announcement in two weeks.

"The race fans have spoken," Smith said. "The majority we heard from said they wanted to see changes made."

NHRA in Vegas: Robert Hight will carry plenty of momentum as the NHRA Full Throttle Series hits The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway this weekend. The Funny Car driver has won the last two events (in Chandler, Ariz., and Gainesville, Fla.) and is the defending spring champ in Vegas.

"It is not that easy to get two wins in a season, so to get two in a row is huge," said Hight, whose teammate, 15-time champion John Force, won the other Funny Car event this year. "(But) we won three races in a row last year and didn't get the (series) title, so really it is too early to get too excited."

IndyCar to Houston: The Izod IndyCar Series has added a race in Houston for October 2013, to be run on a temporary street course in the parking lots near Reliant Stadium. Before it merged with IndyCar in 2008, Champ Car hosted a race there in 2006 and 2007. IndyCar CEO Randy Bernard said the circuit wanted to add up to three more races by next year (up from its 16-race schedule), all in U.S. cities.