It took about all of three turns for the AMA Superbike race on Saturday to be decided. Yoshimura Suzuki’s Martin Cardenas got the holeshot and managed to lead the pack heading down into Road America’s Turn 3 before reigning AMA champion Josh Hayes swept past into a lead he would never relinquish. The Monster Energy Graves Yamaha rider quickly began to build a lead that looked easy, but the Mississippi native revealed actually wasn’t.
"Today's race, in the helmet, felt a lot different than I think it looked on the track,” said Hayes. “I was pretty nervous coming into the race and wasn't feeling real good. It's been a long time since we've been racing and everything was going great last time and didn't end that well. So I had a lot of nerves.
"I felt I was riding pretty good, and the guys showed me I think a little bit of a false gap, and I relaxed a little bit. I came around, and that gap shrank considerably, and I panicked a little bit. I had to change my rhythm twice and that's pretty tough—once you back down to go back to putting in hard laps again. At that point, it was just trying to maintain or open the gap and just give myself some breathing room. Martin (Cardenas) was riding pretty good behind me because I was trying pretty hard and he was maintaining a good pace. I'm sure tomorrow will be a different story; if he can get away in the first few laps with me I'm sure it's going to be a race-long battle. I'm looking forward to it—it should be a lot of fun."
Cardenas was disappointed not to be able to close the gap to Hayes in the race, but his second-place finish did put him into an early-season championship lead after Hayes’ DNF misfortune at Daytona, and his teammate (and former championship leader) Josh Herrin ran off the track while running third.
"It was a good race for me," Cardenas remarked. "Of course, I wanted to finish one step higher, but this time, it was impossible. Josh was very fast on the first few laps, and he gapped us, and I couldn't catch up. But I tried to keep the pressure the whole way, and I had a good rhythm, and the bike was working really good."
Herrin had settled into a lonely third position in the race until he went off track in Turn 1 on lap 9. By the time he managed to get back onto the track, Herrin had dropped to eighth place, but he regrouped and clawed his way back up to sixth at the end.
Herrin's mistake elevated the on-going battle between National Guard Jordan Suzuki's Roger Hayden and Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing Yamaha's Larry Pegram into a race for the podium. After some back-and-forth position swaps, Hayden managed to open a big enough gap on the final lap to prevent Pegram from getting a sniff of his draft on the uphill run to Road America’s finish line. The Kentucky native wasn’t exactly overjoyed with his podium finish, though.
"In the beginning, I made a made a lot of mistakes, and these guys got a gap on me,” said a disappointed Hayden. “They just slowly pulled away. I made another big mistake, and then Larry was on me. The last few laps, I was just holding him off. Herrin ran off the track—it's a pretty disappointing third place, to be honest. I was so far back and didn't really ride very good, and should have got fourth today. We'll take it, but we have to do a lot better job tomorrow."
AMA Superbike Road America Saturday race results:
1. Josh Hayes (Yamaha)
2. Martin Cardenas (Suzuki)
3. Roger Lee Hayden (Suzuki)
4. Larry Pegram (Yamaha)
5. Danny Eslick (Suzuki)
6. Josh Herrin (Yamaha)
7. Geoff May (EBR)
8. David Anthony (Suzuki)
9. Chris Fillmore (KTM)
10. Cory West (EBR)