The title changed hands nearly a dozen times -- twice on the final lap alone -- before again being bestowed upon Monster Energy Graves Yamaha's defending champion, Josh Hayes.
MILLVILLE, NJ (September 4, 2011) - In one of the most incredible AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike battles on record, the 2011 championship came down to an epic 23-lap contest that saw the crown change hands nearly a dozen times -- twice on the final lap alone -- before again being bestowed upon Monster Energy Graves Yamaha's defending champion, Josh Hayes. Far from a one-on-one contest, Hayes and Rockstar Makita Suzuki challenger Blake Young faced off not only against each other but against a handful of other riders fast enough to change the fortunes of all.
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With an eleven-point lead over Young heading into the final race of the season, Hayes was well aware that math, as well as motorcycles, would play a big part in today's contest. Should Young win the race and collect a point for most laps led, Hayes needed to cross the line third or better to defend his title.
Off the line, Hayes immediately laid claim to Tommy Hayden's holeshot while the rest of today's major players declared themselves almost as quickly, Roger Hayden (National Guard Jordan Suzuki), Ben Bostrom (Jordan Suzuki), Steve Rapp (Cycle World Attack Performance Kawasaki), and Young joining a lead pack that railed through corners in seven- and eight-rider iterations. With the race barely underway, the first of several game-changers was delivered via a red flag (following a crash by Canadian Brett McCormick) that mandated a full restart.
When the flag dropped on the second start, it was a whole new race for a suddenly resurgent Young, who charged into second behind Tommy Hayden while Hayes was left to claw his way up from fifth. Hayes proceeded to do just that, dispatching Bostrom and Rapp before pulling three-wide on the front straight with Young and Tommy and putting a pass on the duo that carried him into the lead with Young right behind. When Young took over the frontrunner position with thirteen laps to go, it kicked off a furious sprint to the finish that had race watchers adding and subtracting points as Hayes and Young -- along with both Haydens, Bostrom, Rapp, and others -- slammed through corners in a constant state of flux.
When the white flag flew, Young -- who'd lost a vital buffer when Tommy Hayden crashed out with seven to go -- was again back in business, Roger Hayden and Bostrom having gotten past Hayes just before the penultimate lap. But when Bostrom ran off-track with only corners to go, Hayes jumped forward to sail past Roger Hayden and drag race Young to the line. Young took the race victory by .005 of a second, but the title went to Hayes by 5 precious points.
"I got myself into second and got set for a run up to flag," said Hayes, "and it was a heck of a run, but I didn't have enough to get by him. Man, what an exhale [I let out] once we crossed the line and it was over and done with -- Blake made me race my tail off for that last one, and it was great. He rode like a champ this year; he's won seven races and I've only won three, but my bad days weren't as bad as his. He's still learning and he's young, and I'm sure next year's going to be the same thing all over again. He rode a fantastic year, and what a final day. He really pulled it together, and man, rode like a SuperBIke racer."
"It was tough, tough weekend for me, for sure," said a disappointed Young. "Today, I don't think it was skill or anything but mainly just heart. I just wanted to show what my team was capable of and what they've been doing all year long. I wanted to end the season like that, and I did; I wanted to bring the win home for them because they deserve it. I definitely was confident today to let it all hang out -- I didn't really worry where Josh was, I just wanted to win. I'm happy I've had the season that I've had, but I'm kind of sad that it's over -- I'd like to go at it a little bit more. I have go back and try harder; I didn't get it done this year. But you'll see me back next year, a little bit stronger."
"With ten to go," said Roger Hayden, "I figured I had to make a push. It was a crazy race -- people crashing, guys all over the place -- but I got lucky a few times and on the last lap I closed up on Blake ... and tried to get up the inside of him a little bit. But he was able to block me, like you're supposed to do on the last lap, so I ended up third. It was a pretty good race for me and a good way to end the season strong for me and the team -- give us something to build on. Hopefully [next year] I can challenge these guys again."
Today's AMA Pro National Guard SuperBike race airs tonight at 10 p.m. ET on SPEED. Josh Hayes -- along with the series' other 2011 champions - will collect his #1 plate at tomorrow's AMA Pro Road Racing Awards Banquet in Atlantic City.