Estimated read time: 6-7 minutes
by Chris Martin
Sunday's AMA Superbike final at Miller Motorsports Park was a dramatic affair with major championship implication shifts by the lap. At the conclusion of the once-stopped final, Yoshimura Suzuki's Ben Spies stood atop the podium for the third time in two days, completing a clean sweep of runaway victories from pole at the Tooele, Utah venue this weekend.
While the defending class champion continued his stunning mid-season surge, taking another key step towards a repeat crown, it was teammate Mat Mladin who had the wildest day, ultimately escaping disaster and keeping his title hopes very much alive with a heroic effort.
The Australian powered into the lead on the opening lap and built up a small advantage while Spies worked his way around American Honda's Jake Zemke into second. Mladin boasted an early 1.667-second gap but the Texan was whittling away at that lead, decreasing it to 1.295 seconds to open lap 6. Moments later it evaporated completely as Mladin suffered a horrific-looking Turn 1 highside. The six-time champ hit the ground hard and it initially appeared as if may have been seriously injured.
When the red flag brought the proceedings to a halt, Mladin slowly got back up to his feet and made his way back to pitlane in to prepare for the restart. Forced to start from the back of the field on the machine that he had just crashed (which was frantically repaired by his crack crew), the Aussie stormed all the way into ninth on the restart's opening corner.
Spies took full advantage of his rival's predicament and spent the time Mladin would need to cut a path through the field building up an insurmountable advantage which he would hold to the checkered flag.
"We did what we had to do this weekend," double-winner Spies remarked. "We came here and got the pole and won both races and that's as much as I can do.
"(Mat's) riding really good right now and to come back from dead last after a crash like that and finish fourth is pretty good. And it's not making my life easy."
He continued, "This is pretty much the best weekend we've had…You know my team did what I asked them to do. I told them that they need to step it up in their department and I need to step it up in mine and everything worked out really good. Whether that can happen all year, I don't know, but we've just got to keep going with it."
'06 MMP winner Zemke did the best he could to keep pace, but technical problems with his CBR1000RR prevented the Californian from shooting for another Utah win. Still, he was able to escape what would develop into a spirited battle for third once Yoshimura Suzuki's Tommy Hayden faded back into the clutches of Monster Energy Kawasaki's Roger Hayden, Zemke's teammate Miguel DuHamel, and eventually the charging Mladin who made his way into third on lap 11 of 21.
Runner-up Zemke said, "It was good. I've got to thank Mat for falling off, that made our job a little easier today. I'm glad to see he's all right. I was out there in second and I started having a little bit of problems with the motorcycle and it took me a few laps to figure out how to ride the bike, ride around the problem, and while I was doing that, that battle for third was catching up to me quick. I was pretty surprised when I saw the ‘66' on my board. ‘Wow, Mat is all the way up to third.' Luckily I was able to figure out how to ride around the problem and hang on and those guys were busy battling with themselves."
Asked to describe his problem in more detail, the Honda ace said, "I had a little bit of an issue with the clutch. Going into the corners the thing would just freewheel whether I downshifted or not. I basically had no control over when the clutch was going to engage or disengage. I was going in the corners and the thing would be freewheeling and then just slam in. It about got me in Turn 3 where Eric crashed yesterday. The clutch locked up and it just came all the way around and I was back to doing ‘51s. I had to kind of figure out how to ride it which is a little bit difficult. It's definitely something we need to look at, it's not something that's happened before. We should be able to figure it out."
DuHamel leapt from sixth to fourth in one fell swoop as the Canadian and the Hayden brothers dove in three-wide on the brakes and then set his sights on his old nemesis Mladin.
The two traded the spot back and forth on a couple of occasions before DuHamel pulled yet another last-lap rabbit out of his hat to steal the final podium position away from Mladin, who impressed just by finishing fourth considering his roller coaster of a race.
Mladin spoke of the crash, stating, "It happened pretty quick. But we got lucky today, there's no other way to look at it. We got lucky that we had the chance to get up and get fourth. And you know that's it. Very, very lucky that we had a chance to fix the bike and get back out there almost on the podium.
"The first five laps the adrenaline was still running and I felt pretty good. And I felt myself tightening up just before I got back on the bike to head back out again. I'm like, ‘jeez, let's quick get out there'. And with eight or nine to go I just completely had no gas left in the tank and I just couldn't hang on any more. I'm just looking at the back of Miguel and I'm like ‘come on, let's go, push, push, push'. I really couldn't get it together properly. You know, he got back past me and everything, but again running ‘51.0, ‘50.9. I was hurting a bit. As soon as I got off the bikes I just had the shakes and I couldn't stand up and it all sort of hit me. But that was all right."
Roger Hayden finished just behind in fifth in yet another encouraging race for the Kawasaki Superbike squad (Hacking was running strong in fourth before being penalized when officials judged that he had jumped the start).
Tommy Hayden took sixth, followed by Yamaha USA's Jason DiSalvo who moved past Jordan Suzuki's Aaron Yates late to claim seventh.
Hacking came back to pick up ninth with FBF MV Agusta's Luca Scassa completing the top ten.
Spies will carry a 382-364 advantage over Mladin into the combined MotoGP/AMA Superbike weekend at Laguna Seca when the series picks back up on July 20-22.