SACRAMENTO, Calif. ― And just like that five riders in this week’s Built Ford Tough Series draw – Pistol Robinson, 36; Jordan Hupp, 41; Austin Meier, 42; Zane Lambert, 54, and Brant Atwood, 57 – are guaranteed only two bulls to ride themselves into the Top 35 or become relegated to doing so at Touring Pro Division events.
Last year’s Top 35 qualifiers for the 2013 Built Ford Tough World Finals are given the first five events before the weekly BFTS draws are set based on the current world standings.
A trio of other riders – Kody Lostroh, 26; Emilio Resende, 39, and Ben Jones, 40 – are out this week with injuries and each will have one injury exemption regardless of where they’re ranked once they’re healthy.
Although this year’s Finals, which takes place in late October, is still months away, many riders are already facing a playoff-like atmosphere this weekend in which they’re trying to protect their opportunity at what they hoped, and still hope, would be a successful 2014 season.
“I feel like I’m making the right moves,” said Hupp, who was 2-for-4 last week in Oklahoma City.
“The feeling that you naturally feel is that you’re on the outside and that you need to make up points, but that’s the worst thing in the world that I need to feel. I just need to relax and ride bulls. That’s what I’m fighting—not worrying about points and just riding each bull. Take one bull at a time and ride him and let it take care of itself.”
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Hupp said he typically tries to relax and get away from the sport during the week.
However, leading up this week’s two-day event, in Sacramento, Calif., he planned to spend time alone visualizing himself successfully making the 8-second whistle.
Hupp, who is from Cheyenne, Wyo., and has since relocated to Stephenville, Texas, has been a mainstay on the BFTS since 2010, whereas, unfortunately, for Meier this is the second consecutive season in which he’s been in a similar situation.
“The season comes fast in those first five events,” Meier said. “It’s just one of those deals where you have to step up to the plate and get your work done, whether it’s making a good ride on a good bull and getting a good score or whether it’s just hanging on and getting the whistle.”
While Hupp and Meier admit that it’s difficult for riders in their position to keep from pressing for round wins and event wins, both know it’s still early enough in the season that simply making the whistle can have a dramatic impact on the world standings.
For instance, coming into this weekend, the difference between 50th and 25th is roughly 300 points.
“Round wins and events wins take care of themselves and comes with just riding your bulls,” Meier said. “The judges decide who wins the round, so, yeah, you just basically (have) to get your bulls rode.”
Robinson, Hupp, Meier, Lambert and Atwood aren’t the only ones keeping an eye on the overall standings, so too are those who are described as being on the bubble.
Harve Stewart, 32; David Scott Mason, 33; Brady Sims, 34, and Scottie Knapp, 35, are not in Sacramento and are not guaranteed a spot in next week’s event in Anaheim, Calif., especially with three possible injury exemptions to fill three of those four places. All they can do is only watch with bated breath in hopes that they’ve accomplished enough at TPD events.
Two riders who have are Kasey Hayes and Gage Gay.
Neither competed at the World Finals and yet both have ascended into the Top 25. More importantly, because of injuries to others both will be in Sacramento as well.
Hayes is currently ranked 18th, while Gay is 21st.
Hayes is a nine-year veteran and Gay, who is only 19 years old, is competing on the elite level for only the third time and hopes his near-Top 20 position secures him a place among the top riders for the duration of the season.
Because of exemptions and alternate positions for TPD event winners, only the Top 25 riders in the world standings are guaranteed a place from one week to the next.
No matter how any of them look at it, they have a lot of work to accomplish in a short amount of time.
“I don’t think there’s any other way to look at it,” he concluded.
Follow Keith Ryan Cartwright on Twitter @PBR_KRC.
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