LEEDS, AL, SEPT 25 - Rockstar Makita Suzuki's Tommy Hayden slightly closed the championship gap on Team Graves Yamaha's Josh Hayes by winning Saturday's American SuperBike race on a 97 degree day at Barber Motorsports Park, but Hayes still holds a commanding 18 point lead going into Sunday's season finale.The race was between the title rivals from the start and Hayes dominated. Hayes gated cleanly and Hayden went with him after quickly dispatching with teammate Blake Young, the pole-sitter.Hayes opened the gap to nearly 1.3 secs. in the early going before Hayden began to chip away. By the time the halfway flags were shown, and Hayes had the laps led point, Hayden had the gap to under half a second.On the 15th of 21 laps Hayden made the first pass, driving out of turn four and passing cleanly on the inside into turn six, the top of the roller coaster. Two corners later Hayes dove inside of Hayden in the left hand turn eight.Hayden's next attack came in the same corner two laps later and this time he made it stick. Hayes was always in his shadow and made one last run in the final sequence of corners when Hayden said he rode too cautiously. Hayes was briefly in front, but his gearing was slightly off and he spun in third gear coming onto the front straight.The margin of victory for Hayden's fifth race win was .052 sec."Overall I’m really happy with how today went," Hayden said. "For me, it went as good as it could have.  I wanted to win the race and I wanted him to have to ride hard the whole entire race.  I felt like both of those happened.  There’s really not much else I can do.  Try to do it again tomorrow.  Like I said, if I get a lucky break, maybe I can end up with a championship but if not, I’m just going to go out trying hard.”Hayes leads Hayden 452 to 434, which means Hayden can only prevail with a bit of luck, which he's admitted on several occasions.“I think today I didn’t think about it too much, I wanted to win the race," Hayes answered when asked if he was thinking of the big picture. "I felt like it was safer to keep my focus and do what we do week in and week out.  I’ve ridden what, nineteen races or something like this  this year.  Why change the plan now, you know?  So, I think tomorrow we’ll try to race, and win the race.  I can’t think of a better way to win the championship than to try to win the race.”Today Hayden didn't get any help from teammate Blake Young. Young was a distant fourth to M4 Monster Energy Suzuki's John Hopkins, who finished nearly 11 seconds behind Hayes to take the final podium spot. It was Hopkins' second podium in a row, as he finishes the season strongly."I saw Tommy get by Blake and I knew I had to get by Blake as soon as I could because I knew Tommy would be gunning for Josh and I wanted to hang on to his coattails," Hopkins said.  "I got around Blake and then just tried to hang with Tommy as long as I could, he was just pushing.  I didn’t have anything for him today. Once the tires started going off a little bit I started sliding around a bunch and my laptimes dropped dramatically.  There are some things that we maybe want to try tomorrow to improve the grip while the tire is used, but I’m still happy with the result."

Young was fourth, followed by RidersDiscount.com's Taylor Knapp, who inherited fifth on the final lap. Until that point it had belonged to Jordan Suzuki's Brett McCormick, but he and Cycle World Attack Performance Yoshimura Suzuki's Eric Bostrom came together on the final lap with both going down. McCormick ended up tenth, Bostrom 12th.Geoff May finished sixth, equaling his best finish on the Buell 1125RR, with Jake Holden finishing  seventh in place of Ben Bostrom on the Pat Clark Motorsports Yamaha.AMA Pro Barber Saturday Superbike Results:

1. Tommy Hayden (Suzuki)

2. Josh Hayes (Yamaha)

3. John Hopkins (Suzuki)

4. Blake Young (Suzuki)

5. Taylor Knapp (Suzuki)

6. Geoff May (Buell)

7. Jake Holden (Yamaha)

8. Jeff Wood (Suzuki)

9. Shane Narbonne (Suzuki)

10. Brett McCormick (Suzuki)

AMA Pro Racing Headlines

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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