BILLINGS — In baseball, teams aim for a playoff berth, pennant and World Series title when the year winds down.

It’s essentially the same goal for the top bull riders in the world this time of the year. The cowboys on the Professional Bull Riders circuit are chasing a top-35 placing in the world standings to qualify for the World Finals Nov. 4-8, with six events to go before then.

The 25th consecutive year of the Billings PBR tour stop is this weekend at First Interstate Arena at MetraPark, with action beginning Friday at 7:45 p.m. The Unleash The Beast event also has a Saturday performance at 6:45 p.m. and championship Sunday begins at 1:45 p.m. The 15/15 Bucking Battle is set for Saturday.

Normally the Billings event is in April, but it was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic. In July, the new Billings dates were announced on a national television broadcast on CBS.

So while NASCAR, the NBA, and NHL are all in their playoffs, while not officially a “playoff” the Billings stop is key on this year’s PBR schedule.

Intriguing storylines to follow as the top 36 bull riders in the world dance with bovine athletes this weekend:

• How will Volborg’s Jess Lockwood, 22, do as he begins a comeback from a complete left hamstring tear that required surgery? The Billings stop will be Lockwood’s first competition since March 1 when he suffered the injury. Lockwood, the reigning PBR world champion who also won the world title in 2017, won the Billings PBR premier series stop in 2016.

• Will top-ranked Jose Vitor Leme of Brazil win his third straight elite series event? Leme, 24, has six victories this season.

• Will Browning cowboy Dakota Louis, ranked 38th in the world, be able to move up the standings in his quest to reach his first World Finals?

• Could J.B. Mauney, who won the Billings event in 2007 and 2017, capture a third title at the Metra?

• Will Montana legend and Billings resident Flint Rasmussen elicit 1,000 laughs while clowning around in his role as the PBR’s “exclusive arena entertainer”?

• Will Lockwood’s younger brother, Jake Lockwood, compete in Billings? Jake is an alternate, according to PBR officials. He is ranked No. 41 in the world, falling just outside of the qualifiers. However, he could end up competing if a cowboy is injured or unable to compete.

• Will there be any signs in the crowd wishing a speedy recovery to Columbia Falls’ bull rider Matt Triplett? Triplett, known as a “Montana boy” on the circuit, will not be competing, according to PBR officials. He is ranked 14th in the world, but is taking the week off after suffering an injury late last month in Salt Lake City, where he suffered a “left hip adductor muscle strain” and was out for Round 2, according to a tweet from the PBR’s Justin Felisko.

• Who will be crowned the champion of the Billings event Sunday afternoon? According to PBR officials, the format is all riders compete Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The riders' combined scores from those rounds will determine if they are in the championship round field of 15 later Sunday, where the best aggregate score determines the winner.

Email Gazette Deputy Sports Editor John Letasky at john.letasky@406mtsports.com or follow him on Twitter at @GazSportsJohnL

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