Josh Hayes Wins a Thrilling AMA Superbike Title| Final Jeopardy

Sometimes a racer fights bare-knuckled to win a championship. Sometimes, the championship just falls into his lap. When Monster Graves Yamaha rider Josh Hayes won the 2011 AMA Superbike Championship during the most dramatic final round in recent memory, both those scenarios played a part.

First, there was a fight. Hayes, the defending Superbike champion, entered the final double-header at New Jersey Motorsports Park in second place, trailing Rockstar Makita Suzuki rider Blake Young by just five points. Hayes wasted no time making up the deficit. Qualifying first—his eighth of nine poles this season—earned him one bonus point. He collected another bonus point for leading the most laps on his way to winning Saturday’s race, only his third win of the season, by 2.034 seconds over Jordan Suzuki’s Ben Bostrom.

Young, meanwhile, was against the ropes. He handed Hayes a huge advantage when he finished fifth, losing a three-way battle for third with teammate Tommy Hayden and National Guard Jordan Suzuki’s Roger Lee Hayden. Hayes’ 5-point deficit was now an 11-point lead. Young’s only hope for his first Superbike Championship was to win Sunday’s round outright and pray for Hayes to finish fourth or worse. If Hayes finished on the podium—no matter where Young ended up—the 2011 title was his. And Hayes had only missed the podium twice all year.

NJMP’s 2.25-mile “Lightning” race course is flat, flowing and easy to master, making Sunday’s race a 23-lap dogfight between Hayes, Young, Bostrom and the Hayden brothers. Tommy Hayden got the holeshot, but Hayes was leading by the end of the first lap and looked ready to dominate again. Young was mired in sixth with another disappointment looming, until a red flag on lap three changed everything.

The restart gave Young a second chance, and he seized it. Tommy Hayden got another holeshot but this time it was Young on his tail, with Hayes left back in fifth. There was nothing pretty about Young’s fast-and-loose riding. He followed a different line every lap, maintaining position as much with good blocking as with blistering pace. Bostrom and both Haydens matched his bravery inch-for-inch, swapping positions almost constantly, while the veteran Hayes lurked close behind, watching riders with less to lose duke it out. Tommy Hayden’s win-it-or-bin-it riding caught him out with six laps to go, as he low-sided trying to pass Young for the lead entering turn one. This moved Hayes into fourth, one spot away from the championship title. So much for team orders.

The white flag lap began with Young leading and Hayes still in fourth. Had the race ended there, Young would be crowned champion—but other riders had different ideas. Roger Lee Hayden, in second and desperate to win his first race in four years, attempted to sneak under Young entering turn six. Young saw him coming and turned in early to shut the door. Hayden was forced to check up, which caused Bostrom, who was right on his tail, to run wide and off the track—dropping third place, and the 2011 championship, into Hayes’ lap.

Hayes also got around Roger Lee Hayden, just for good measure, and drag-raced Young to the line. He lost the race by .055 seconds, but won the championship by 5 points—the same number of points he trailed Young by coming into the weekend.

“What an exhale!” Hayes said after the win. “I feel like a wet rag that’s been rung out. That race took two years off my life!”

Blake Young (79) looked back just before the finish and saw his worst nightmare: Josh Hayes (1), less than a half-second off his tail, with Roger Lee Hayden (54) in third.