The champion had been crowned before the final round.The point of running the race was lost on many. Of the two final combatants, the Yamaha rider had more titles and three more wins on the season. He also carried a lead equal to about a third of the points up for grabs. Overcoming it was asking too much.Nicky Hayden won the 2006 MotoGP World Championship against extraordinary odds, and the greatest rider in the history of road racing. Valentino Rossi had come into the race with an eight point lead at a track where he’d won two of the past three years. And yet when the day was over Hayden was weeping with joy and Rossi was left to ponder the end of a remarkable streak of five world championships in a row.Nicky’s lesson isn’t lost on his older brother Tommy. Tommy Hayden (Rockstar Makita Suzuki) goes into this weekend’s final round of the AMA Pro Road Racing American SuperBike championship trailing Josh Hayes (Team Graves Yamaha) by 22 points. Hayes can ride conservatively at Barber Motorsports Park to take the title or collect most of the available points on Saturday and ride Sunday as the new champion. What gives Hayden hope is that this is racing and anything can happen.”Definitely, that one hit closer to home than the other ones coming down to the last race,” Tommy said of Nicky’s unexpected 2006 title. “Obviously, I’m not the favorite at this point to win the championship, but I do definitely think there’s a lot of points up for grabs and I’m going to try to put as much pressure on until the last checkered flag as I can to make sure that Josh (Hayes) has to ride as hard as he needs to. Won’t make it easy for him and hope for a little luck and that’s all I can do.”Hayden started strongly with a pair of seconds to Jake Zemke (National Guard Jordan Suzuki) at Daytona International Speedway. Then came an off Saturday at Fontana, from which he rebounded with his first ever Superbike win in the second race.He was consistently on the podium for the rest of the year, though there were too many thirds in a season in which Hayes wasn’t worse than second from the second race at Road Atlanta (round 6) onward.What Hayden can take comfort in is knowing it’s a track where he’s ready to race. He was last at the track in mid-June, when he arrived fresh off his win in race two at Road America. Riding that momentum, he was the fastest rider in all four sessions over the course of the two-day test.”I’ve always liked Barber, so did pretty well. The test went pretty smooth,” he said. “The times came pretty easy on both days and it seems like I was right there on pace. I’m confident of what I can do down there and for sure be competitive. There’s no doubt about that.”Asked what Hayden liked about the track, he said, “nothing particular.” Like most riders, he wished it was a bigger track: “It’s a little tight on the Superbike, you only use a couple gears,” he said, “but it’s kind of a flowing track.”It’s a track that we go to that I naturally, that I get up to speed real quickly. It’s kind of a fun little track with the elevation. Some tracks you go to, just naturally seems like you get up to speed a little bit easier. Some tracks you really got to work hard and you have to just have everything perfect to get up to speed.”Hayden will need to get up to speed quickly if he’s to put any pressure on Hayes. He might have had some help from Ben Bostrom, but the Pat Clark Motorsports Yamaha racer is sitting out the final round with broken ribs. And it would certainly have been suggested to him that finishing in front of his fellow Yamaha rider wasn’t a very clever idea.”I mean, I’m not in the position I want to be in, but not a lot of strategy on my side or nothing,” Hayden said. “Really, I’ve got to win the races and hope for a little luck.The ramifications of the Saturday’s points take isn’t something he’s given much thought to. “I mean, at least I got to just get every point I can. The earliest Saturday night is when I can even think about anything.”Like I said, there’s no real strategy there.”
Hayden Needs Points, Luck in Final Round
Henny Ray Abrams | Contributing Editor
Abrams is the longest-serving contributor at Cycle News. Over the course of his 35-some years of writing and shooting photos, he’s covered events from MotoGP to the Motocross World Championship - and everything in between.