Waged in tricky damp-but-drying conditions, Sunday's GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing race at the M1 PowerSports-promoted Triumph Big Kahuna Miami presented by Dunlop Tire and LeoVince was all about tire selection.
The Monster Energy Graves Yamaha ace outfoxed his opposition even if it didn't appear that way in the early going. He fell back with the pack in the race's early stages while a number of other competitors who selected different tire combinations stole the spotlight.
KTM/HMC's Chris Fillmore was an early leader but also an early fader, holding the lead momentarily before plunging down through the pack. The stays at the front of Team Amsoil/Hero EBR's Geoff May and National Guard Jordan Suzuki's Roger Hayden were longer lived but just as destined to come to an unhappy end as the track continued to dry.
Saturday winner Hayden fell off the chase by lap 10 of 23, while May found himself swallowed up by Jordan Suzuki's Ben Bostrom on lap 13.
However, all the while Hayes continued to charge, catching Bostrom and the rest by a clip of two seconds per lap or more. He sailed past the #23 machine on his #1 YZF-R1 on lap 15, and, once in the lead, proved simply unstoppable yet again, winning by nearly five seconds.
Sunday's win served as redemption for Saturday's uncharacteristic mistake and adds to Hayes' staggering list of achievements. His accumulation of 14 victories this season stands as the all-time record, to go with his record of 10 consecutive victories that was halted Saturday, along with his streak of 11 straight pole positions, which tied the previous series' best (Mat Mladin).
But perhaps the most monumental achievement that Hayes has accomplished this season is the collection of a third AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike title, tying him for second most ever with legends Reg Pridmore, Fred Merkel, Doug Chandler, and Ben Spies.
"It's been a pretty incredible year." Hayes said. "Especially after last year, the way things have gone this year... this is the way you'd hope I could push things to. I don't feel at a loss for motivation or anything; I want to win races. Championships are pretty cool and sometimes when you get a gap like we have it feels somewhat anticlimactic, but I still live for the individual victories. Every single race win feels so good. And if you get those the way that you want to, the championship kind of takes care of itself. Fortunately, I've been able to do that and we're going to continue doing it for as long as we can into the future."
Technically, Hayes captured the title after completing the first lap as championship rival Blake Young (along with Saturday runner-up Danny Eslick and Aaron Yates) chose not to participate in the drying-track conditions.
Second-place went to Attack Performance's Steve Rapp on the black #15 Kawasaki ZX-10R. Rapp pulled off a charge similar to that of Hayes, tracking down Bostrom and displacing him for second with two laps remaining. The podium was Rapp's first of the season.
Despite being dropped from first to third, Bostrom still had plenty of reason to celebrate. His third-place finish, combined with Saturday's fifth, was good enough for the Californian to be named the weekend's 'Big Kahuna' and take home the coveted custom surfboard.
"It was semi-epic, I'll be honest," Bostrom said. "It was like a Supercross track out there with lanes... The first couple of guys were so fast in the first couple of laps I thought it was race over. But my combination of tires was quite friendly in the beginning so I could gain some confidence. And then it became quite unfriendly and I kept my confidence. I got mowed down by Josh and Rapper. There's not much to say, I mean. It was epic. It was really fun. I've never had to slide a front tire like that -- probably consistently 10 times a lap -- and not crash. I think I might have actually learned something and became a better rider for it."
Hayes' Monster Energy Graves Yamaha teammate, Josh Herrin, raced his way forward to fourth place in the end, one spot ahead of May who held it together well enough to complete the top five.
Team Venezuela's Robertino Pietri finished sixth with Pietro Performance's Bruno Silva scoring an underdog seventh. M4 Suzuki's Chris Ulrich scored a second top-10 results in as many days despite crashing and remounting, finishing in eighth position.
Vicious Cycle Racing's Sean Dwyer took ninth, while Hayden rounded out the top 10 after making a pit stop to change tires.
Jake Gagne of the RoadRace Factory/Red Bull team won the AMA Pro GoPro Daytona SportBike race at Homestead-Miami Speedway on Sunday, a surprise win for the class rookie. Gagne showed fine form in a wet race to take his first AMA Pro victory. He topped Dane Westby of the M4 Suzuki team and Cameron Beaubier (Y.E.S./Graves/Yamaha) in a race delayed by weather issues. Martin Cardenas clinched the championship for M4 Suzuki in the race as he became a two-time class champion.
Westby earned the lead on the start and Gagne harried him for 10 laps until he made the pass for the lead. The young rider eventually fomented a lead of over seven seconds as he dominated the second half of race.
"Right away, I knew how fast we'd go. I got in behind Dane, and we took off. I saw we had a couple of seconds. I tried to get by Dane and see what I could do and did a couple of laps to pull a gap. I was able to pull it home. I was hoping for a podium, but a win is even crazier. I can't wait to get to NOLA and try it again."
"I tried to be conservative and was a little more conservative than necessary. I had some tire left at the end," said Westby. "That's all there was to it.
"To tell the truth, I was riding a little tense and nervous," said Beaubier.
Cardenas finished fourth, enough to ensure he'd win the 2012 title. The Colombian, who is the 2010 champ, earned seven wins on the way to clinching the crown this season.
"The championship was great for us. We took advantage of the points we had," said Cardenas. "We came here to Miami with the mission to win the championship. I focused on trying to clinch it, and I'm very happy."
David Gaviria (Kneedraggers.com Yamaha) earned his best GoPro Daytona SportBike finish yet in fifth, as did Kris Turner (Turner's Cycle Racing). Huntley Nash (LTD Racing) equaled his best class finish in seventh.
Kenny Riedmann of Belfountain, Ont. placed 16th on the Sturgess Cycle Triumph.
James Rispoli (Celtic Racing/Orient Express) won Sunday's AMA Pro Motorcycle-Superstore.com SuperSport race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, backing up his Saturday victory with his eighth win of the year. Tomas Puerta (RoadRace Factory/Red Bull) was second, followed by Dustin Dominguez (Latus Motors Racing Triumph) in a race that was stopped with seven laps remaining before being declared official with the results taken from the previous complete lap.
The race was stopped after Matt Schrag crashed, bringing out the red flag. Lightning in the area forced a further delay, and the race was called official in order to prevent the riders and teams from waiting though a lengthy delay.
Title contender Kyle Wyman was an unfortunate scratch from Sunday's AMA Pro Vance & Hines XR1200 Series contest after suffering a concussion in a Saturday crash. However, he was well-represented on the podium at Homestead-Miami Speedway as his KLR Group/Spyke's/Vesrah teammate, Michael Barnes, was victorious and his brother, Travis, finished in third.
Barnes scored the popular home track-win following an intense multi-rider scrap from the green light to the checkered flag.
Barnes overhauled rival Tyler O'Hara on the final lap and held strong to the stripe to claim the win and the championship lead heading into the NOLA finale.
O'Hara is still right there, however, minimizing the damage of Barnes' win by claiming the bonus points for pole and for leading the most laps.
Suburban Harley-Davidson's Benny Carlson, who brought the points lead into the race, was in the mix throughout as well, finishing a close fourth. He now sits in third.
The stage is now set for a thrilling conclusion to the XR Showdown at NOLA Motorsports Park as Barney leads with 1090 points, with O'Hara is just two points back at 1088 and Carlson a close third with 1082.
The GEICO Motorcycle AMA Pro Road Racing season will come to a close with the 2012 season finale in New Orleans, La. for the Triumph Big Kahuna New Orleans at NOLA Motorsports Park on Oct. 5-7.
- From AMA Pro Racing