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Hayden Aiming For Four-In-A-Row At Willow Springs PICKERINGTON, Ohio -- The hottest rider in the latter stages of the AMA Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championships has been Honda factory rider Nicky Hayden. The 20-year-old rider from Owensboro,...

Hayden Aiming For Four-In-A-Row At Willow Springs

PICKERINGTON, Ohio -- The hottest rider in the latter stages of the AMA Chevy Trucks U.S. Superbike Championships has been Honda factory rider Nicky Hayden. The 20-year-old rider from Owensboro, Ky., is riding a three-race winning streak coming into this weekend's event Sept. 14-16, at Willow Springs International Raceway in Rosamond, Calif.

Hayden is ranked third behind two-time defending AMA Superbike champ Mat Mladin, of Australia, and Temecula, Calif,. rider Eric Bostrom. With just two rounds remaining in the championship four riders still have a shot at the title. Mladin, Bostrom, Hayden and three-time AMA Superbike champ Doug Chandler, from Salinas, Calif.

Hayden, a former AMA/Speedvison Athlete of the Year, was expected to be one of the riders to give Mladin a serious challenge in this year's title race. Unfortunately for Hayden, the early part of his season was plagued by hard luck. A crash at Road Atlanta dropped him down in the series standings. He worked his way back up in the points chase only to crash again at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca and fall to seventh in the standings. Since Laguna, Hayden has gone on a tear winning three of the four races and getting himself back in the title hunt.

"The championship still looks like a long shot," said Hayden, who is 56 points down to Mladin. "I'm just going to concentrate on keeping my momentum going. I gained a lot of confidence after winning the pole and the race at Pikes Peak, a track that normally hasn't favored my Honda RC51. I know the bike goes well at Willow. All I need to do is put in a good ride and I feel I have a really good shot at winning there again." While Hayden's recent surge has brought him all the way back to third in the series, the real battle for the championship is between Mladin and Bostrom.

Mladin is attempting to become the first rider to win three AMA Superbike championships in a row since Fred Merkel pulled off the feat in 1986. Mladin's 15-point lead over Bostrom doesn't make him comfortable by any means. Mladin had a huge points lead cut in half after crashing out of the race at Brainerd, Minn., in July. It was only the second time in his six-year AMA Superbike racing career that he'd crashed out of a race. Bostrom, whose won two races to Mladin's four this year, feels he still has a fighting chance at catching Mladin in the championship. "It's real simply for me right now -- I have to win the last two races," said Bostrom.

Surprisingly Willow Springs has not been a very good track for either Mladin or Bostrom. Mladin finished eighth there last year, protecting a points lead. Before that he was fourth in 1999 and third in 1998. Bostrom's record at the high-desert circuit is even worse -- a fifth last year and ninth in 1999. Kawasaki has not won a Superbike race at Willow Springs since 1983 when Wayne Rainey was victorious on a green machine. It's been 1985, with Kevin Schwantz, since Suzuki has won there. Both riders hope to improve on their record at Willow this Sunday.

The Ducati Superbike could be a factor at Willow. Larry Pegram took his only Superbike victory at the track in 1999 and Steve Rapp won the pole last year, setting a track record in the process.

Besides Superbike, Bostrom will also have the Pro Honda Oils 600 SuperSport Championship on his mind. It was at Willow Springs where Bostrom lost the title to Kurtis Roberts in heartbreaking fashion. Since that race Bostrom has been a man on a mission in the 600 class, often dominating races in a class that normally produces the closest finishes of any series. Bostrom could forget all about his disastrous 600 race last year by winning this year and securing the 2001 title.

Old rivals Jimmy Filice and Rich Oliver have breathed new life into the MBNA 250 Grand Prix Series with their great battle this year. Filice holds a narrow 14-point lead over Oliver, who is the all-time wins leader in the class and the defending winner at Willow. If Oliver wins this weekend the championship will go to the final race of the year in Alton, Va., at the end of this month.

The Lockhart Phillips Formula Xtreme Series is all knotted up with John Hopkins and Damon Buckmaster tied coming into this race. Buckmaster may have a slight advantage over "Hopper," he won the 750 SuperSport race at Willow last year.

Jimmy Moore is likely to wrap up the Genuine Suzuki Accessories 750 SuperSport Championship at Willow. The Eugene, Ore., rider needs only an eighth-place finish on his Corona Extra Suzuki to earn his first AMA national title.

Finally, the roar of the Buell Pro Thunder bikes will be in full song at Willow Springs. Berkeley, California's Thomas Montano has the series lead over fellow Ducati rider and defending champ Jeff Nash. The Buells of Dave Estok and Mike Ciccotto have the power to win on the high-speed circuit, but the question is do the bike have the endurance to run at near top speeds in the desert heat.


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Series AMA
Drivers Larry Pegram , Kevin Schwantz , Kurtis Roberts , Steve Rapp , Nicky Hayden , Doug Chandler , Eric Bostrom , Damon Buckmaster , Wayne Rainey , Thomas Montano , Fred Merkel