LAS VEGAS – The Wrangler National Finals Rodeo will get a little interesting when Justin McDaniel is happy with his riding.
McDaniel, of Porum, Okla., has placed in five of six go-rounds, earned $36,672 and has the best cumulative score of 504 points. Yet, the 2008 world champion bareback rider just shakes his head as he leaves the arena at the Thomas & Mack Center, still itching to spur a bucking beast to the best of his ability.
“The truth is, I’m having a good week,” said McDaniel, 24. “But I know I can ride better, and if you want to win the world title, you’ve got to ride your best every time.”
A lot of people would take his performance and run with it. But McDaniel has a lot of expectations, something that comes from grinding through six months away from the rodeo arena while recovering from a back injury so bad that it required surgery. The hunger that developed in that time led him to a phenomenal four-month stretch that saw the Oklahoman earn $81,850, which led to his fourth straight qualification to ProRodeo’s championship event.
“It’s nice to look at the way things have lined out this week, but I’m not happy with my riding,” he said. “To win a gold buckle, I’ve got to do better than that.”
McDaniel owns the 10-round average record 859 total points, which happened two seasons ago when he left Las Vegas with that coveted gold buckle, the wearable trophy that goes to every world champion. He’s a little off the pace to surpass that mark, but with four rounds remaining on the toughest bucking horses in the business, he’ll have a good shot.
He’s also got an eight-and-a-half-point lead over the No. 2 man in the average, 2004 world champion Kelly Timberman of Mills, Wyo.
“This is a good starting point, so I’ll just go out there and let it roll,” McDaniel said. “I expect to win, and that’s the mindset I have every time I nod my head.”