BILOXI, Miss. – The Built Ford Tough Series Battle at the Beau this weekend is the kickoff event toward the final stretch toward the Built Ford World Finals on Oct. 21-25 in Las Vegas.
Including the Battle at the Beau, there are eight regular-season events remaining to help determine which 35 riders will descend upon the Thomas & Mack Center and be eligible for their chance at winning the $250,000 prize that awaits the World Finals event winner.
There will also be a compelling race to crown the 22nd World Champion in PBR history, as well as the next World Champion Bull.
Today, PBR.com takes a look at four rider-based storylines to watch during the upcoming stretch run.
WHO CAN USURP JOAO RICARDO VIEIRA?
The immediate pressure during the stretch run will sit on the shoulders of Joao Ricardo Vieira seeing as the current world leader has a solid 1,052.5-point lead on No. 2 Matt Triplett.
However, Vieira and many others understand the world title race is far from over with the eight remaining events, especially when factoring in the Jack Daniel’s Music City Knockout – the last PBR Major of the season.
Vieira is currently sitting fifth in the Battle at the Beau following his 85-point ride on Drunk Chicken in Round 1.
In-arena announcer and PBR LIVE commentator Clint Adkins said it will be interesting to see how Vieira performs in Nashville and if he can sweep the three PBR Majors on the 2015 calendar.
“That 1,000 points is a big deal, but it is clearly not over by any stretch of the imagination,” Adkins said. “We are on the heels of the last Major event of the year and JRV has dominated the Majors. Can he continue to do that? We will see. I don’t have a crystal ball and I don’t know how this will shape up.”
CBS Sports Network color commentator J.W. Hart said you have to wonder if J.B. Mauney, currently fourth in Biloxi and ranked third in the world standings, can put together another run like he did in 2013 for his first world title.
“Joao, you have to watch him, but you have to keep an eye on J.B.,” Hart said. “Depending on which J.B. shows up to any event from here on out is intriguing. If the J.B. shows up it can turn into what it did the year he won it and if not it will be somebody else.”
Fans can catch Round 2 and Saturday night’s Built Ford Tough Championship Round on Sunday night at 6 p.m. ET on CBS Sports Network.
Adkins added that even the smallest mistake by any of the Top 10 riders in contention for a world title can prove costly.
“The pressure is great for all of these guys that a flinch, a mistake, where at the end of the day it can be the difference between these guys winning the World Championship title or not,” he said.
CAN ALVES COME FROM BEHIND?
Hart agreed with Director of Livestock Cody Lambert’s assessment last week that three-time World Champion Silvano Alves could become a factor for the World Championship when the World Finals rolls around.
Alves, who returned to competition last night from April surgery on his fractured left hip, is currently eighth in the world standings and trails Vieira by 1,886.67 points.
“He is the one guy that can come back from 1,800 points back,” Hart said. “I say that and he bucked off last night, but he is the one guy that can stay consistent enough and he has shown us he can do it. We know J.B. can do it, but we have seen him do it once out of seven years. Silvano has done it year after year after year. He may be too far back if Joao and J.B. stay consistent. If they stumble, Silvano is probably the guy.”
WILL PACHECO BECOME FIRST ROOKIE TO WIN GOLD?
Hart and Adkins were both in Guymon, Oklahoma, for this summer’s BlueDEF Velocity Tour event when Kaique Pacheco rode Bruiser for 94 points.
That ride left a lasting impression on both commentators and each believe the No. 4 bull rider has a chance at becoming the PBR’s first rookie to win the world title.
“He looked World Champion-esque,” Adkins said. “He looked fantastic. The guy is extremely, mentally in another zone right now. It is a zone that surprised me when look you at the group of Top 10 guys, he is the least experienced of them all and he looks like a veteran and a pro.”
Hart added that he believes Pacheco will be a stronger contender in 2016. He classified Pacheco as the top rider below the likes of Vieira, Mauney and Alves.
“What he can do is special,” Hart said. “He is that next tier guy. When we come on, a lot of people say, ‘Oh, he is the next great one.’
“You have to give him a year or two to see how (he) take the failures and the injuries and he has done it. I think next year will really be his year to make a dash at it.”
THE RACE AT THE BOTTOM
It is easy to forget about the race at the bottom of the world standings where various riders will be jockeying for the final spots to qualify for the World Finals.
Currently, there are only 202.5 points separating No. 32 Dave Mason, who is currently not competing because of a concussion, from No. 42 Sean Willingham.
Injuries, as well as L.J. Jenkins’ retirement this summer, will play a factor, but the bullseye for now sits on that No. 35 ranking, which is held by Alexandre Cardozo.
That spot will fluctuate between riders weekly and it will likely come down to the final regular season event, as well as potentially the BlueDEF Velocity Tour Finals on Oct. 9-10 in Louisville, Kentucky, to help determine the final draw for World Finals.
Mason, Cardozo, Michael Lane, Tyler Harr, Neil Holmes and Justin Paton are just a few of the riders looking to scratch and battle their way to their first Finals appearance, while Douglas Duncan – five consecutive Finals qualifications and Robson Palermo – the only three-time World Finals event winner – are in jeopardy of missing the PBR’s marque event.
Palermo earned the final qualification spot for World Finals last year as the No. 35 rider.
“There are a lot of guys not in this championship picture that are just fighting to get to the World Finals,” Adkins said. “It is compelling when you peel the layers back of the onion. We are so focused on the heart of the situation that you forget we have guys back there that if they don’t get to the Finals it is devastating.”
Hart added that the pressure at the bottom can be just as intense for some riders as it is for the riders at the top.
“If you are in that bottom five or that five outside, your hair is on fire,” he said.
Adkins says that fans will learn a lot about the determination and compete level of the riders at the bottom half of the standings during the stretch run.
“Tyler Harr getting another shot this weekend with Stetson Lawrence out. Can he deal with his issues?” Adkins asked. “Neil Holmes? What is Neil going to do? Douglas Duncan is sitting back in 36th. How is he going to handle it?
Follow Justin Felisko on Twitter @jfelisko
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