Ryan Villopoto has turned the most competitive Supercross season in decades into the biggest runaway ever.
Coming off a 2011 indoor-outdoor sweep and the first $1 million payday in motocross history, Villopoto has again left the competition in a trail of dirt clods.
With eight victories in 13 races, the 23-year-old from Poulsbo, Wash., has wrapped up the 2012 Supercross title with four races left, the earliest any rider has ever clinched in the 39-year history of the indoor version of motocross.
"It is kind of cool, having a new record like that," Villopoto said. "But there's four more races left and four more wins out there to get."
The Monster Energy Supercross tour visits Utah's Rice-Eccles Stadium on April 28.
Villopoto came back from a horrific crash that shattered his right leg in 2010 to win last year's Supercross title. He followed that by winning the outdoor motocross title and earned a cool $1 million at the Monster Energy Cup in Las Vegas.
He got the 2012 season off to a great start, winning at Angels Stadium in Anaheim, Calif., for the second straight year.
But Villopoto's season nearly got derailed after that.
At Chase Field in Phoenix, he crashed on the first lap of the main and went to the back of the field. A week later at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, he went off the track following a red flag and again was last.
Both times, though, Villopoto fought his way back, finishing third at Phoenix, fourth in Los Angeles. He didn't win, but those two rally-from-the-back races allowed him to stay in the championship hunt.
"Obviously, being able to get back toward the front in those two races allowed me to clinch (so early)," Villopoto said.
With Villopoto struggling early, Supercross had one of its most competitive starts ever, with four different winners to open the season, the first time that's happened in 35 years.
Then Villopoto raced away from the field.
After a third in Oakland, Calif., Villopoto reeled off three straight wins at the second Anaheim race, San Diego and Cowboys Stadium in Texas. He won again in St. Louis and, after a fifth at Daytona for his worst finish of the season, he peeled off three more wins, securing the title at Houston on March 31.
With his title, Villopoto became the fifth rider to win consecutive Supercross championships and first since Ricky Carmichael in 2005 and 2006. He also clinched the title earlier than anyone else, bumping Jeremy McGrath, who did it with three races left in 1996.
"I had two kind of bad races in a row, but after that I kind of got back to where I was before," he said. "I got a couple more wins and some seconds and thirds. Overall, the season has been pretty good and stable."
The early title-clinching has given Villopoto an added bonus: He's started working on his outdoor program to get ready for the motocross season that starts in May.
Certainly, Villopoto still wants to win every Supercross race he enters, starting with this weekend's race at the Superdome in New Orleans, but wrapping up the title so early allows him a chance to get ready for the next season while racing in the current one, a luxury few riders get.
"My short term focus is on Supercross," Villopoto said, "but my long term focus is outdoors, so we're making transitions through training and riding."