Mladin wins, Spies fights up to second Saturday's AMA Superbike final ended in a rather familiar fashion -- Rockstar Makita Yoshimura Suzuki's Mat Mladin crossed the line first with several seconds in hand over runner-up Ben Spies, with another...
Mladin wins, Spies fights up to second
Saturday's AMA Superbike final ended in a rather familiar fashion -- Rockstar Makita Yoshimura Suzuki's Mat Mladin crossed the line first with several seconds in hand over runner-up Ben Spies, with another gap back to Tommy Hayden, who completed the factory Suzuki sweep.
However, that late snapshot doesn't come close to telling the full story on this day.
For Mladin, it was the seventh consecutive race that he claimed the checkered flag first, which would equal Spies' all-time record if only his VIR race wins weren't taken away from him following a post-race teardown (and subsequent off-track drama).
And Spies' runner-up was far from the usual lonely ride to second. Starting from pole, the Texan waved his hand frantically moments before the green light, indicating a problem. While doing so, he rolled out of the starting box, and then left the line late as the field charged down into the first corner.
He came around the opening lap in eighth position, a position made worse when he was shown the meatball flag for technically jumping the start. After coming in for his ride-through penalty on lap 3, he reentered the fray down in 12th, some 16 seconds behind the leader.
Mladin cruised at the front, continually building his advantage to the fight for second, comprised of Yamaha USA's Eric Bostrom, Hayden, second Yamaha rider Jason DiSalvo, Monster Energy Kawasaki's Jamie Hacking, and Jordan Suzuki's Aaron Yates.
Meanwhile, Spies ripped off fast lap after fast lap, regularly powering into the low '24s as he tore chunks out of his deficient and diced his way up the order.
By lap 14, he was slithering through the fight for third, and on lap 17, he relegated that battle to one for third.
He continued to eat away at Mladin's lead, finally reducing it to 5.483 seconds at the checkered flag, promising an exciting dogfight for the win on Sunday if the two can get away together cleanly at the front.
With the outcome of Mladin's appeal yet to be decided, today's result will have historic implications either way the decision ultimately falls. As mentioned above, if Mladin is successful in his appeal, he'll have tied Spies' all-time record for consecutive AMA Superbike wins. Meanwhile, if he's denied, Spies will have locked up his third straight AMA Superbike crown, making him the 'provisional champion' at the moment.
After claiming his 12th Road Atlanta win (including nine of the last ten) Mladin commented, "It was fairly uneventful, obviously, when Ben got the meatball and I had fairly large gap, so just put it on cruise control, conserved some energy for tomorrow, and look forward to probably a better race tomorrow -- a close one."
Spies said, "It was a pretty eventful one for us. I had some sort of problem on the start and kind of panicked a little bit and couldn't get it going. I threw my hand up and I had my hand on the gas when everybody went. I was kind of surprised... I know I kind of rolled but I didn't think they were going to give me a meatball flag because I was more or less trying not to get hit.
"I came around and saw it was up. I don't even know where we were. I tried to pick off a couple people. I think you've got two or three laps to do it before you come in. And then we came in and went back out and just rode as hard as I could. I took it lap by lap and I think everybody's timers went out, I don't know what happened. I didn't have any judgment with that -- usually you ride off your timer. I didn't know exactly what I was doing but I saw the guys in front of me and kept clicking off times. It came and we got there. It was a harder race than I expected, but it came through in the end so I was happy.
"It's definitely the hardest I've ever ridden to finish second for sure. It's what we had to do and there was nothing I could have done different. I couldn't have rode any easier to get second. That's just how it goes."
Hayden finally escaped from the multi-rider battle to ultimately claim a clear third, his seventh podium result of the season.
Afterwards, Hayden said, "I again started out well. My starts have been really dialed-in lately. From there, Mat came by and I tried to latch on to him a little bit. I tried to stay close, but he pulled away from everyone. Eric came along and I held it for a little while but I made a little mistake and he was able to get by. From there, I just tried to keep my head down. I saw my gap close up one time and was kind of surprised, but obviously it was Ben catching me up. Besides that, it was an all right race. I didn't have much gap really the whole race.
Yates took fourth after giving Spies' the most spirited challenge he faced while working up through the pack, while Bostrom and DiSalvo finished fifth and sixth, respectively.
Hacking crashed out of the contest at the end of lap 11, getting off line in Turn 12 as Yates ducked up the inside of him on the brakes.
American Honda's Miguel DuHamel took a distant seventh (DuHamel's teammate, Neil Hodgson was out of the race early with an apparent mechanical problem), while Yates' teammate, Geoff May, Millennium Technologies Suzuki's Ben Thompson, and Corona Honda's Matt Lynn (who suffered a problem of his own on the final lap) rounded out the top ten.