When the light haze of dust cleared after Ricky Carmichael crossed the finish line, he raised his arms in celebration, easing toward another first-place finish in what was billed as a showdown between Carmichael and James "Bubba" Stewart, two of motocross's most celebrated stars.
In front of 17,156 fans yesterday at Budds Creek Motocross Park in St. Mary's County, Stewart could not advance to first in either race against Carmichael, who won the AMA 250 Motocross Championship, his fourth straight to open the season's 12-stop schedule.
In the first of yesterday's two 250cc races, called motos, the results of which are combined to determine the winner, Carmichael and Stewart maintained first and second place, respectively, with Carmichael increasing his lead as the race progressed. In the second moto, Stewart, who was trailing Carmichael again, dropped to third by the ninth lap and finished third in the combined scores.
Chad Reed and Kevin Windham stayed close to Stewart and Carmichael. Reed, who finished third in the first moto, overtook Stewart in the second moto to finish second overall.
Carmichael received stitches in his right middle finger after a collision with Stewart in a morning practice run. "The win is all that matters; it doesn't matter how you win," the 25-year-old Carmichael said. "I've got a lot of heart, and I just work hard to get ahead in the races."
Stewart, 19, blazed into the motocross world in the amateurs and 125cc races, breaking records for number of victories. But in the 250cc classification, where the motorcycles are more powerful and the riders are better, Stewart is not dominating. In the season's first three events, Stewart finished 12th and second, and failed to finish the third.
"It's just a few mistakes on my part," said Stewart, who almost fell on a curve at the beginning of the second race. "Once I get going things will be different. It's just been a lot different in the last couple races. I think I progressed in the last few weeks."
The 125cc classification was a little more competitive. Overall winner Michael Brown won by 3.813 seconds in the first moto and finished third in the second. His combined score of 45 was enough to squeak ahead of Ivan Tedesco by one point.
"The day started out bad, I had to change the motor on my bike; [the motor] was better than I expected it to be, so I'm kinda happy with the win," Brown said.