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Monday, October 15, 2012
Updated: October 17, 5:06 AM ET
Big changes for big-money MEC

By BJ Smith
ESPN.com

Ryan Dungey, Ryan Villopoto
Ryan Villopoto capped a big 2011 with the Monster Energy Cup, but this year Ryan Dungey, left, has been the man to beat.

Even though Feld Motor Sports, promoters of Monster Energy Supercross, wrote a $1 million check to Ryan Villopoto one year ago they don't shirk the possibility of doing it twice. The largest purse in motorcycle racing history is available again Saturday night at the second annual Monster Energy Cup at Sam Boyd Stadium in Las Vegas. Last year Villopoto, coming off a career-best season, dominated all three 10-lap finals beating out a field that wasn't even in his league.

The road to the $1 million payout remains the same; simply sweep all three main events. The most noticeable change of 2012 will be a faster paced format that moves action along quicker and the track, which will include three eye-catching features; a split start, joker lane, and a 120-foot wide, 200-foot long banked sweeping turn that curves 50 feet above the floor into the stadium seating.

The Ricky Carmichael-designed course is taking bigger but more innovative risks this year with the football field length start that features two sets of 11-rider gates 220 feet apart. But it's the joker lane that will create the biggest diversion from a normal Supercross race. Fashioned after rallycross racing, the "joker" is a longer section of the course that each rider must take only once during each main event and it's available between laps one and 10. Director of Supercross Dave Prater said organizers have always kidded around about adding a pit stop in the regular Supercross season and since the MEC is a special event they don't hesitate to experiment.

"The idea started off as a traditional pit stop, but evolved into the Joker Lane," Prater said. "It acts as a rolling pit stop instead of having guys actually pull into a separate lane and stop. Do you take it early and get it out of the way or do you take it later and hope a good line has formed?"

GOAT Check
The 2012 Monster Energy track is designed by Ricky Carmichael and the Supercross legend has taken his duty seriously with several planning visits to Sam Boyd Stadium.

The other major overall change is shorter lap times. Mid-pack riders ran into the 1:45 range in 2011 on a course that spent a sizeable amount of time outside the stadium walls. The times were double that of a normal Supercross race. The 2012 course will still exit the stadium but the designers have lap times of 1:15 in mind. The inaugural Jeremy McGrath- and Carmichael-designed course was hyped as a Supercross/motocross combination but promoters are careful to not put a label on it this year.

"It is a hybrid track," Prater said. "And then it has a few things you won't see on any other type of track."

The 2012 Monster Energy Cup could also be called the Comeback Bowl. Headlining will be Villopoto who once again enters as the reigning Monster Energy Supercross champion. However, unlike one year ago, this is his first race since April when he had surgery to repair the ACL in his knee. Still, he said if he wasn't ready he wouldn't have confirmed.

"The plan is to go there and try to win," Villopoto said confidently.

It's also the first race back for two-time SX Champion Chad Reed who has not raced since his own knee surgery in February. Reed did not race here in 2011. The owner and main rider of TwoTwo Motorsports, Reed sees an opportunity to get the heavily updated 2013 Honda CRF 450R race ready for the '13 SX season. And the money is alluring.

"One million dollars would be better in my bank than anyone else's," Reed said. "Running a race team eats it up pretty fast."

Kevin Windham is the third big name to return from injury. Windham has not raced since late March when his Supercross main event start streak record was snapped at 102 in Houston because he dislocated his shoulder and injured his thumb, wrist and hip in a heat race crash.

Ryan Villopoto
Ryan Villopoto has a million reasons to smile after winning the 2011 Monster Energy Cup -- and a $1 million prize -- in Las Vegas.

Ryan Dungey, who was an 11th-hour entry in 2011 on his new KTM, comes into the 2012 race after a 10 consecutive wins during a title-taking season in the Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Championship. Mike Alessi and Jake Weimer, whom he shared the overall podium with, will also be on the line.

"The one thing that got you out of your element was the three 10 lappers," Dungey said of the trio of main events at MEC. "You get back and get your heart rate down and you're drinking something and you barely get your helmet off and they're saying 'let's go, we've got to load the gate.' It's back-to-back-to-back. That's the interesting part."

Absent from the 2012 MEC will be James Stewart of Yoshimura Suzuki who has been testing with his team in preparation for the 2013 Supercross season. A source said that Stewart had only one full day of practice before he began testing with Suzuki.

Blake Baggett, the 2012 250 Motocross champion will race his first Supercross aboard a 450 and he will be joined by other 250cc riders such as Ken Roczen, Eli Tomac and Justin Barcia who, along with Baggett, is moving to the Supercross class full time in 2013.

While the lineup is a bit stronger than last year and the chances of a sweep a little harder, Feld officials said they will still be ready with their now iconic clear case of green. "A lot of people said it couldn't be done last year and Ryan Villopoto went out and proved all of those people wrong," Prater said. "If Ryan is going to make it $1 million two years in a row, he's going to have to be at the very top of his game."