(AP) J.B. Mauney sticks out like a sore thumb when he strolls through the heart of NASCAR country wearing his cowboy hat.
Nearly everyone in Mauney's hometown of Mooresville can pick out local hero Dale Earnhardt Jr., or any other NASCAR driver. Very few recognize Mauney, one of the top professional bull riders in the world.
"I don't get recognized as much as a NASCAR guy would. More than most look at me kind of funny when I'm walking around with a cowboy hat on," Mauney said Tuesday. "There's only been one world champion from North Carolina, so people are always telling me to put North Carolina and the East Coast back on the map because you talk to a lot of people and they see your cowboy hat and they ask, 'Where you from? Texas?' You tell them North Carolina, and then they ask, 'Oh, they've got cowboys there?'"
Mauney gets his shot to put North Carolina back on the map this weekend at the 20th anniversary of the PBR World Finals, which begin Wednesday in Las Vegas. He enters the event ranked second, trailing two-time defending world champion Silvano Alves of Brazil by 538.5 points.
There are a maximum of 5,500 points available over the five-day event in which the champion receives a $1 million prize.
Mauney has gone on a nearly unprecedented streak to put himself in position to dethrone Alves. His victory in Hollywood, Fla., two weeks ago made Mauney the first since Chris Shivers in 2000 to win three consecutive PBR Built Ford Series events.
And, since returning from taking a month off in June, the 26-year-old has won five of nine events a run that includes an 8-second ride of Bushwacker, the record-setting bull that had 42 consecutive buckoffs dating to 2009 before Mauney rode the 1,700-pounder at Tulsa, Okla.
Mauney, who had been thrown off in eight previous attempts on the bull, is the first to ride Bushwacker in the Built Ford Tough Series.
"That was like a load lifted off my shoulders. He's hit me in the face before, slammed my chin open, stomped me, threw me way up in the air and made me look stupid quite a few times," Mauney said. "A lot of people said he would never be rode, and I couldn't ride him, and I didn't want to believe there wasn't a bull there that I couldn't ride.
"There ain't no better feeling than getting a little bit of revenge on a bull."
It wasn't an easy ride, though, "at one point, I thought he was going to knock all my teeth out," Mauney recalled, and climbing into the championship battle hasn't been easy, either.
Alves, the only back-to-back champion in PBR history, has been extremely consistent this season. Since the tour resumed in August, he's won at Oakland, finished second at Springfield and Nashville, fourth in Fayetteville and 12th in Tulsa and Biloxi.
He'd have easily had control of a third consecutive world title if not for Mauney's streak. Mauney credits his season to his wife, Lexie, who persuaded him to take June off to heal. Married in early 2012, she's influenced him to think big picture. With some broken ribs and a broken bone in his leg, Mauney stayed at home in Mooresville and skipped the "minor league" portion of the schedule.
"Before I got married, I never took a break. I rode bulls for a living and I dealt with pain because that was part of it," Mauney said. "After being married and wising up a little bit, she talked to me and told me I needed to heal up. I really didn't agree with her at first. But eventually I was just sore and hurting so bad, I basically said I'll take a month off and see what happens after that.
"I didn't think about bull riding, I didn't get on any bulls, I didn't look at any bulls, and that's the best thing I've ever done in my career. It's way more fun when nothing is hurting."