Ducati Marlboro's Nicky Hayden continued his recent progress with his finest qualifying effort of the year for the first of his two home races, the Red Bull U.S. Grand Prix at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca.On a track that Hayden knows well, Hayden qualified a season best eighth, four spots higher than his previous best and within .832 of a second of fast qualifier Jorge Lorenzo (Fiat Yamaha), also a season best. The improvement was partly down to electronics and party down to old fashioned work. Either way, he was on the third row and hopeful of being a factor in the race."You know straight away this morning we made quite a lot of progress. We changed around a lot the traction control and stuff and just got the bike where it would run off the corners," he said. The most noticeable speed improvement came onto the front straight. "Yesterday, I mean the bike was working okay, but I just had no straightaway speed. Straight away this morning I was half a second faster and respectable and a little progress and then I crashed at the end of the session; it didn't help."Hayden crashed during one of his long morning runs, when temperatures were much cooler than in the sun-drenched afternoon. He said he'd been complaining about the front end pushing in turn seven."We didn't really fix it and then it finally got me. I had about five or six warnings in the session, but just kept pushing."In qualifying Hayden was up to sixth place early on and wishing they'd throw the checkered flag, "but even eighth is by far the best I qualified this year. And at least give myself a shot to get a respectable finish. I had one big slide on the qualifier, definitely cost me a couple tenths. I had definitely a little better lap going. But I didn't have much left. That was about as fast as I could go around here. I was on the edge."Now comes the challenge of improving on his eighth place finish in last weekend's Dutch TT. He was unintentionally helped by crashes from his teammate and Lorenzo late in the session. Casey Stoner was able to walk away after an acrobatic highside. Lorenzo wasn't as lucky. The Majorcan separated his right shoulder and will test it in the morning warm-up."I'm looking forward to the race," he said. "I'm a lot closer today than I was yesterday. If I can sweeten it up a little bit and get a good start. I'm not saying I'm going to the front, but hopefully get a good solid result. Maybe get a good start be the main thing. Try to get in there and hang in, ride as hard as I can as long as I can and see. Yeah, looking forward to 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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