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Malcolm Stewart: Stacking chips on the way to a championship

Leigh Diffey joins Jason Weigandt and Daniel Blair to preview the Round 1 Supercross event in Anaheim and the top storylines entering the 2023 season.

ANAHEIM, California – Following a career season in the Monster Energy Supercross Series, Malcolm Stewart is more than willing to let the chips fall where they may. With just a little improvement, that could end in the 2023 championship.

The 2022 Supercross season was not only the most successful season of Stewart’s career, it was also his most consistent. Coming out of the starting gate strong, he scored a seventh-place finish in last year’s opener. Following that, he earned seven consecutive top-fives.

That made him a legitimate contender to grab the red plate.

“All of our goal is to will go out here and win race, but it’s the most consistent guy is who gets the end result and I’m always looking at the end game,” Stewart told NBC Sports as the riders prepared for the opening round of the first-ever SuperMotocross Championship. “You know, I don’t want to be a guy that misses a race or doesn’t get rest in the season in. That doesn’t do me good.

“So I always want to be more consistent. Consistency is what the teams want. They want wins, of course, but they want consistency. They want guys that are on the box consistently. You start doing that, you stack your chips, and you end up winning a championship.”

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A win did not materialize last year, but Stewart came close numerous times with three evenly spaced second-place finishes, (at Glendale in Round 5, Detroit in Round 10, and Denver in Round 16). Stewart swept the top 10 in all 17 rounds. Consistency.

But the season was not drama free. Multiple on-track incidents with Jason Anderson cost both riders the chance to challenge Eli Tomac for the championship. Stewart came out on top in his fair share of those run ins.

“As a racer, there’s always somebody that’s going to cross your line,” Stewart said. “You step in. You don’t want to make enemies, but it’s racing. You’re always going to make enemies. But I will say this: for the most part, you know, most of the guys that you make enemies, you try to squash it. We’re in a premier class. We know what we’re doing. We’ve all done the same thing.”

When the points were tallied at the end of the season and the chips were stacked neatly again, Stewart was in third place, 45 points out of first - almost two full races down. The distractions may have been more real than desired.

But Stewart showed strength. He rose as high as second in the NBC Supercross Power Rankings a third of the way into the season.

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“Every year I come in and just say: ‘Hey, let’s just take everything race by race’ because you know, when the highs are highs, the lows are low,” Stewart said. “It’s always a rollercoaster, so for me it’s the same thing. Going into this year is the same as last year started. You pick up where you left off. I got third in the Supercross season; didn’t get a chance to do a full outdoor season. But still pick up where you left off and just have fun with it.

“It’s just all about enjoying the moment while it’s here and living the moment. Because you don’t know. You don’t. You never know if you can make the next race. [Anaheim 1] is going be a fun one for me. I’m going to take everything race by race and then go from there.”

The 2023 season will be like none that came before. This year, the Monster Energy Supercross Series and Lucas Oil Pro Motocross Series has united. Both series will crown a champion, but points accumulate to seed the riders into a three-round playoff called the SuperMotocross World Championship. All three championships are prestigious, and Stewart’s attitude of taking one race at a time extends to the three series.

“We have 17 rounds of Supercross and it starts here,” Stewart said while standing in the Diamond Club of Angel Stadium. “We go from there; start with small term goals and just work every week and try to get better and better. We’ll see where the results are. That’s kind of what I did last year, and I ended up third. Overall, instead of looking at what are we going to do all the way in October - that doesn’t do me any good - just look at what’s going to be happening tomorrow and go from there.”