This was found when cleaning some stuff off an old computer. Hard to believe that it was nearly 11 years ago when Nicky Hayden almost won the Daytona 200. Here’s a column that was written after that race.Nicky Hayden walked into a restaurant on Sunday night after barely missing out on winning the Daytona 200. He strolled in not with a gaggle of teenaged groupies, but with his older brother, Tommy, and both parents. A family dinner just hours after the 18-year-old had shown the world what many of us have seen for several years – that he’s a champion in the making. And a real nice kid, with a real nice family. Maybe the two go hand-in-hand.Yoshimura Suzuki’s Mat Mladin won Sunday’s race because he is arguably the toughest man in AMA Superbike racing to beat. His Suzuki never missed a beat. And it was fast. So was Mladin. And he rightfully should be the story when people think back to the 2000 running of the Daytona 200. But perhaps they won’t.Looking back on my notes from Sunday’s race, I found a notation from my lap charts that reads: “2:02 p.m. – Nicky Hayden takes the lead of the Daytona 200 for the first time ever.” It was almost a surreal moment.I knew Nicky Hayden was good, but I didn’t think he’d lead the Daytona 200 this year. I figured he’d take his time, learn what he needed to learn, and comeback in 2001 and win the AMA Superbike Championship. That’s no longer the case. Nicky Hayden has arrived, and everybody had better take notice now because I don’t think he’s going to be here very long. He very well could win this championship this year – and perhaps he should. It may be his only chance.You see, Hayden will be the next American who will leave AMA racing and go overseas. It may not happen next year, but it’ll happen.But first things first. What of this year’s AMA Superbike Championship? So far so good. Daytona did little to ruin anybody’s chances, though Troy Bayliss will have his hands full playing catch-up and he is now forced into hoping that all the other top guys have a hiccup in their season.Mladin has established that he’s the man to beat, but we already knew that. Ditto for Doug Chandler and Miguel DuHamel, both of whom had steady Daytona 200s and came away with gobs of points. Bayliss will win races and will challenge for the title and it should be a four-man fight to the finish. Did I say four men? Scratch that. Make it five men. Nicky Hayden will also be there throughout and I’m no longer convinced that he’ll make many rookie mistakes along the way. This is a veteran in a rookie’s body. He knows how to race. He knows how to win.It’s also a good bet that he’ll end up being on the best motorcycle in the field. Mladin said the GSX-R750 had a bit of top-end on the RC51 on Daytona’s high bankings, but that the Honda had a bit more punch off the corners. Guess what? Grunt off the corners is what’s going to win races from here on out. And imagine if the Honda gets any better when things start coming west from the World Superbike Championship.Anyway, kudos to Mladin for getting that Daytona 200 win. He says now that Daytona doesn’t mean that much to him, but one day it certainly will. And kudos as well to Nicky Hayden.I watched Hayden sit in his pit after crashing in the horrific 600cc Supersport accident that brought down four riders. He sat there for several minutes, on pit wall, with his helmet on and his faceshield down, hoping that his motorcycle would return in one piece and that he’d be able to continue. Finally, his helmet came off and it suddenly hit him what he’d just been through – crashing with three other riders at over 100 mph on the high banks of Daytona. It also hit him that there would be no more racing for him on this day, his bike too mangled to continue. He also realized that he wouldn’t win the 600cc Supersport race at Daytona, and that his championship hopes had suffered an early setback. He wanted to win his first race with the number-one plate on his Honda and now he wasn’t going to be able to. But he didn’t throw a temper tantrum. Instead he sat there and cried, consoled only by his family. Just the way it should be.I don’t think there is anybody in motorcycling who doesn’t wish the best for the Hayden family. As a parent, I can imagine how proud they must be of their three racing sons. And as a parent, I also know they must be proud for reasons other than how those three boys perform on the racetrack.They’ve raised three quality motorcycle racers, but they’ve also raised three really good kids.
Ten Years Ago…
Paul Carruthers | Editor
Paul Carruthers took over as the editor of Cycle News in 1993 after serving as associate editor since starting his career at the publication in 1985. Carruthers has covered every facet of the sport in his near-28-year tenure at America's Daily Motorcycle News Source.