But the damage was done to him on Saturday, when the howling winds blowing in from the mountains forced a postponement of all racing activities until late on Saturday afternoon. When the race was finally gridded, the winds had died down to about 30 mph, but even that was too much for Hayden. "The wind, I struggled with it," he admits, after being very fast in practice and qualifying. "I mean, compared to everyone else I was slower, if you compared the times to what I'd been doing all week and what everyone else was doing all week. What I did in the first race, I don't really know why, it just seemed like it was affecting me more." The lateral winds affected him most; his bike was wheelie-prone, and he had a hard time staying in the throttle and driving off the corners.
Pegram won Saturday's race, denying Zemke his third win in a row by a scant .094 seconds. Yates and Hayes were less than a second behind, with Hayden's teammate Young about six seconds back after some mistakes dropped him from the lead pack. Hayden finished more than 12 seconds behind the winner, his worst finish in ages.
"I just wasn't happy with the whole race Saturday," he said. "I was sleeping on the line...got a bad start. Let some guys ride around me in Turn One, and then just kinda rode poorly the whole race. I wasn't happy with my performance. I knew I should've done better than that."
Hayden and his crew chief...
Hayden and his crew chief Daisuke "Dice K" Hashimoto communicate well, helping them get the Yoshimura superbike more dialed in to Hayden's liking.
Overnight he and the team turned the bike upside down, completely changing the Öhlins front fork internals, as well as the geometry and engine mapping. "We definitely made some changes in different areas on [the engine management] side and it did seem to help a little bit. But I think it was just a combination of things. The forks, we changed the geometry a little bit. We changed quite a bit. Nick always jokes with me; he said, 'Y'all changed more stuff than I do, and you ride a Superstock bike.' It seems like this bike is kind of finicky. We kind of saw that last year. It takes a little bit of changing to get it work at each track."
Hayden and crew chief Daisuke "Dice-K" Hashimoto communicate well and Hayden is getting more of the benefit of Peter Doyle, Mladin's former crew chief who now handles Young (while also serving as the team manager). But one of the biggest additions to Hayden's team is his electronics technician, Toshimitsu Baba, who came from Suzuki's World Superbike team. Baba immediately opened up a whole new world for Hayden, who's been quick to embrace it. Hayden learned how versatile the engine management could be in mapping back end control for corner entry, spin control, wheelie control. "Not so much turning it on and off or up and down-more like in depth. What kind of percentages and different things and the great detail of different areas of the track, and different graphs and stuff for us to be able to communicate on how to make the adjustments." Every part of every corner and every gear can be mapped to make maximum use of the limited power afforded by the restrictive technical rules.
Hayden stalks Graves Yamaha's...
Hayden stalks Graves Yamaha's Josh Hayes (4) in the second race at Fontana before taking the lead and pulling away for his first superbike victory after 13 years of trying.
Hayden immediately felt better in Fontana's Sunday morning warm-up, setting his fastest time of the weekend. He was always within striking distance of the leaders during the race, and when Pegram crashed out of the lead group with nine laps to go, it became a two-horse race. On the 18th of 21 laps, Hayden passed Hayes and pulled away, the margin of victory of .485 seconds-ironically the largest of the year, and quicker than Saturday's race by 14 seconds.
"It's a bit of weight off my shoulders to get that out of the way," said Hayden about his maiden Superbike victory. "Especially after [Saturday]. I was pretty discouraged [that] night. Hats off to the team for making the changes. I made some changes myself and did a lot better. Josh gave me all I could handle and I think letting him set the pace, I was able to conserve my tire a little bit. I made my move and tried to make it happen and it worked out. It feels really good. It's been a long time coming for me. We got this first one out of the way and hopefully they'll get easier. We'll see."
Hayden has been racing long enough to know it won't get any easier. But is this Hayden's best shot to win the title? "I think so," he says candidly. "I don't see why it wouldn't be. I feel like I'm in a great position at this point." Hayden was consistent early in the season and he thinks "that's what it's going to take. I just have to keep those up. If I can keep winning some races...consistency, I mean, that hasn't been a problem in the past. If I can keep that part of what I have and incorporate a few more wins, I'll be in there."