Rockstar Makita Suzuki’s Mat Mladin fought off the pain in his back – and the pain of having his competition all over his backside – to win the 73rd AMA Superbike race of his career in the newly named American Superbike final at Daytona International Speedway today.New Superstock-like rules, Dunlop spec tires… and a Mladin that wasn’t nearly at the top of his game because of a back injury that made it difficult for him to even put his boots on, made for a competitive American Superbike debut at Daytona, but in the end it was the same winner – Mladin.The Australian rode his Suzuki GSX-R1000 to a 1.028-second victory over a suddenly competitive Neil Hodgson on the Corona Honda CBR1000RR – and Hodgson was just .001 of a second ahead of Mladin’s teammate Tommy Hayden. In the end Mladin had to dig deep and fight through the pain, but he was able to pass a lapper in a critical spot and it ended with a victory in the series opener. Mladin suffered an injury to his back on the second lap of practice yesterday, though he wasn’t sure how it happened – except that it was in the chicane when the pain started.Mladin also won the Daytona Superbike last year, though he would ultimately lose the title to his teammate Ben Spies, the Texan now racing in the World Superbike Championship.Mladin may not have had Spies here to push him this year, but the others filled in admirably with Hodgson the closest he’s ever been to winning a dry AMA Superbike race (he won in the rain at Road America in 2005 on a Ducati). It should be noted, however, that both Mladin and Hayden were riding 2008 Suzuki GSX-R1000s that they only took delivery of some three weeks ago. Mladin hadn’t even thrown a leg over his until yesterday’s first practice session.Foremost Insurance Ducati’s Larry Pegram was also in the lead pack for a majority of the race, but the Ohioan faded with an electrical issue that forced him to turn off his traction control toward the end and finished some 10 seconds behind the lead trio. Still he was some six seconds clear of an equally thrilling race for fifth that ultimately fell to the third of the Rockstar Makita Suzukis – ridden by Blake Young in his debut for the team. Young bested Yamaha’s Ben Bostrom by .215 of a second with Michael Jordan Motorsports’ Aaron Yates a shadow seventh – only .150 of a second behind the factory Yamaha.Bostrom’s teammate Josh Hayes had an off-track excursion interrupt his race, but he recovered to finish eighth in his debut with the team. Ireland’s Michael Laverty and National Guard Suzuki’s Geoff May rounded out the top 10.Unfortunately, one of the most hotly contested Superbike races of late (at least in the terms of having four riders fight for the top spot) was watched by probably the smallest crowd of late. Though, in fairness, it was also the first time that the AMA’s premiere class was held on a Thursday afternoon.There may not have been many fans, but the ones that were here were treated to a good one as Mladin led from the start, tried to make a break for it, and realized that he couldn’t. he would lead the first two laps across the stripe, but then Pegram took a turn at the front. That would last until the sixth lap – and at that point it was Hodgson’s turn to lead across the start/finish line. Meanwhile, Hayden was fighting through from a poor start to latch on to the top three.Mladin took the lead again on the seventh lap with a pass on Hodgson in turn one. From there he would put his head down again in an attempt to pull away, and this time it worked – though his lead was never comfortable. He would lead the rest of the laps, crossing the line on the 15th go-around just a fraction over a second of the photo-finish between Hodgson and Hayden. It was Mladin’s seventh Superbike victory at Daytona. Hodgson, meanwhile, admitted later that Hayden should have finished second, but the was badly balked in the chicane and that allowed the Brit to catch back up on the final lap and run to the flag.Pegram got dropped from the lead trio on the 11th lap and would cruise in to finish a comfortable fourth.
American Superbike Final1. Mat Mladin (Suzuki)2. Neil Hodgson (Honda)3. Tommy Hayden (Suzuki)4. Larry Pegram (Ducati)5. Blake Young (Suzuki)6. Ben Bostrom (Yamaha)7. Aaron Yates (Suzuki)8. Josh Hayes (Yamaha)9. Michael Laverty (Suzuki)10. Geoff May (Suzuki)