Some day Nicky Hayden will stop smiling, but it could be a while.The 2006 MotoGP World Champion finished a season best fifth place on the Marlboro Ducati in the first of his two home GP's at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. And, though he knows that fifth isn't a win, it's a lot better than the 12th place finishes he's recorded far too often this season.Riding a Desmosedici GP09 in the colors of this Nicky Hayden Replica Ducati 848, Hayden nearly got away with the leader, instead battling with San Carlo Honda Gresini's Toni Elias. Once he broke free, Hayden was too far back to chase down the lead quartet.  And late in the race Elias would come back at him, forcing him to find another gear on the final lap.When the day ended he was fifth, but only 22 seconds behind race winner Dani Pedrosa (Repsol Honda). And just nine seconds behind his ailing teammate, Casey Stoner. In his previous best finish, eighth last week in Assen, Hayden was nearly 40 secs. behind race winner Valentino Rossi."I mean, I said earlier I mean I won here twice, so I don't want to sound like a fool being happy with fifth place, but I'm actually pretty happy. this weekend," Hayden said. "I was 14th on Friday and the thought of that just running around here my home race in the back not even competitive, literally had me sick in my stomach Friday night. And man I was just sick, because the way things have been going. But we made some big changes Saturday morning, mainly to the electronics, and just made it where it would run better and start coming off the corners a lot better and just from there moved up every session. and in the race was able to get a decent start."I really wish I could've got by Toni (Elias) and get in that front group. I think I could've kept ‘em in sight a little bit. I mean they weren't just a lot faster than me, especially Stoner from midway on. And, ifs and buts, but by far again my best qualifying, my best race. I'm happy. I feel like we're really slowly making some progress and feeling good on the bike and feel like I've found a direction with the guys on some different settings and electronics and I just hope we can really keep going from here."The race was also notable for Hayden's pace. With the leaders lapping consistently quicker than they had in qualifying, he had to do the same to keep up. And he also had the added worry of possibly running out of fuel."I mean, my pace is what I did," he said. "I really hadn't did but five or six 22's all week and I had no choice. Toni was on me and would not let me get away and I mean, I basically ran what I qualified at for 32 laps around here. I was about on my limit."And I had the fuel con, they call it, light came on from like maybe lap nine or something that tells you you need to slow down. and I've only ever had it come on a little bit, but it was staying on, staying on and I was thinking, ‘If it stays on, eventually it means you're not going to finish if you don't slow down' and I couldn't slow down, so I just kept pushing," he said. "Finally with like seven or eight laps it went off. And so was able to hang in there. Get a top five and pretty happy with it."

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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.

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