LAS VEGAS – When Justin McDaniel arrived in Las Vegas days before the 2010 Wrangler National Finals Rodeo, he knew there a lot of work to do if he were to claim his second bareback riding world championship in three years.
He was No. 8 in the world standings with $80,850, and he would need to double his regular-season pay in just 10 days in order to catch world standings leader Ryan Gray.
McDaniel did his part, placing in eight go-rounds, including an eighth-round victory. More importantly, he had the best cumulative score of 836.5 points to win the NFR’s average championship. In all, McDaniel, 24, of Porum, Okla., left the Thomas & Mack Center with checks totaling $103,189 – he finished the season with $185,039, second only to four-time world champion Bobby Mote, who earned more than $115,000 in ProRodeo’s grand finale.
“I had a great finals, but so did Bobby,” said McDaniel, whose NFR average title is the second of his career – he owns the cumulative record with 859 points on 10 rides in 2008, the season in which he won the coveted gold buckle. “I came here expecting to win a world title, and I did everything I could to win it. I know I could’ve ridden better, especially earlier in the week.
“But I’m pretty tickled with the way it ended.”
Gray was knocked out of contention for the world championship when he suffered a lacerated liver on the second night of the competition. He is expected to miss a few months before returning to the arena. That left the race into the hands of Mote, McDaniel and Steven Dent, who entered the NFR No. 2 in the world standings.
But Dent struggled through the final rounds of the championship and finished the toughest 10 days in the sport with just $37,384. While that’s a pretty solid week and a half for most folks, it left Dent fourth in the standings with $173,736. Kelly Timberman, the 2004 world champion who placed third in the aggregate, moved up to third in the world standings with more than $183,000.
“It was a good competition,” said McDaniel, who suffered a sprained ankle and broken toe after his eight-round-winning ride. “It was a lot of fun, too. Bobby rides so good. There’s a reason why he’s won four world titles.”
McDaniel is in that same company. While winning the gold buckle is the most coveted title in ProRodeo, winning the NFR average title is a close No. 2. In addition to the kudos and celebration, McDaniel’s NFR payday includes the $44,910 prize for the aggregate championship.
“None of this is possible without my buddies and my sponsors, who stood by me and helped me this year,” said McDaniel, who spent half the season on the sidelines while recovering from back surgery. “James Hodge Ford of Muskogee helped me out while I wasn’t able to compete, and Jack Hodge was right there with me every mile I ran, every weight I lifted. I’m glad he was there with me in Las Vegas on Saturday night to see the final round and our work together get paid off.”