Ryan Villopoto did just what he needed to do Saturday night to win his first AMA Supercross championship at Sam Boyd Stadium.
The 22-year-old from Seattle started the finale with a nine-point lead over Chad Reed and only had to finish in the top five to win the prestigious title.
Villopoto placed third in the 20-lap race before a sell-out crowd of about 39,506. Two-time champion Reed won his second race of the season and was runner-up for the championship for the sixth time in his career, this time by four points.
All week, Villopoto vowed to treat the race like any other. But it became obvious on the 12th lap the championship was all that mattered to him.
After leading taking the lead on lap seven and holding it for the next four, he yielded it to a hard-charging Reed on the 12th lap and quickly gave up second to Ryan Dungey.
"I wasn’t pulling away from Chad so I just let him by, and then Ryan was right there and I let him by. I just cruised from there.
"We’ll enjoy this one. It was a hard-fought battle."
Dungey, the reigning champion, finished second in the race that was marred by a crash between James Stewart and Kevin Windham on the sixth lap.
The incident, which left both riders limping off the track, happened right in front of Villopoto when Stewart was leading and Windham was second.
"I saw James and Kevin go down … we all had to use the same line," Villopoto said. "I was lucky to get around it."
It was billed as the best season ever in Supercross with four riders starting the night with a chance at the championship.
Villopoto, who won a series-best six races this year, missed most of the 2010 season when a serious crash midway through the season left him with a severely broken left leg.
"He just had a solid season," Reed said of Villopoto. "He has my respect for coming back after last season.
Reed finished four points behind Villopoto in the championship race. While Villopoto rallied from the injury that kept him off a bike for five months, Reed was without a team last October but was able to start one within two months.
"As crazy as it sounds, at no point did I feel we couldn’t pull it off," Reed said of creating his TwoTwo Motorsports team.
"People around me felt the pressure but as a good team owner, he puts all that weight on someone else. Right?
"I’m so thankful for everyone who has been behind me. We had a good time this year."
Contact reporter Jeff Wolf at email@example.com or 702-383-0247.AMA SUPERCROSS
Round 18 Finale
(Saturday Night’s Unofficial Results)
1. Chad Reed, 2. Ryan Dungey, 3. Ryan Villopoto, 4. Chris Blose, 5. Andrew Short, 6. Jake Weimer, 7. Austin Stroupe, 8. Nicholas Wey, 9. Kyle Regal, 10. Tye Simmonds, 11. Tyler Bowers, 12. Weston Peick, 13. David Millsaps, 14. Michael Byrne, 15. James Stewart, 16. Kevin Windham, 17. Thomas Hahn, 18. Mike Alesi, 19. Justin Brayton, 20. Robert Kiniry.