The characteristics of Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course often result in tight match-ups, creating something of an expectation of a close dogfight for victory today. Instead, Hayes leveraged his relentless and consistent pace to shake a pack of rivals by half-distance. And once clear, it was smooth sailing once again for the Monster Energy Graves Yamaha ace who scooped up his fifth-consecutive race premier-class victory.Career win number 38 marked the completion of Hayes’ season-long goal to dig out of his deep Daytona hole. Combined with a third-place result on the part of Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing’s Martin Cardenas, Hayes’ triumph saw him claim a single-point advantage in the developing championship picture just five races removed from his double disaster to open the 2013 season.“I’m still really surprised at how quickly it happened,” Hayes admitted, who erased the deficit on the strength of five maximum points outings. “I didn’t count very much for races wins in the series paying off as well as they do. When you’re in a points lead, you don’t notice points accumulating in quite the same way, I don’t think. The fact that I’ve caught up as quickly as I have has been a big surprise, especially considering none of these guys have been on the ground in a race. I kind of thought I was going to have to have a couple of zero-point weekends from them to get me back into this. Martin has only had one fourth-place finish, and the rest of the time he’s been on the podium. I’m quite surprised I’ve gotten back so quickly.”While Hayes ultimately broke the pursuit of his challengers, the contest saw its fair share of jockeying over its opening half. Hayes’ Monster Energy Graves Yamaha teammate, Josh Herrin, slammed up in the inside to lead on the race’s first circulation. While Hayes fought his way by before they hit the stripe for the first time, Herrin hung tough and actually re-passed the champ on lap 4 of 21.Cardenas worked past National Guard Jordan Suzuki’s Roger Hayden on the second lap and then closed down on the Yamaha duo as a four-man group at the front took shape — with Jordan Suzuki’s Danny Eslick just clinging on in fifth.Hayes dove past Herrin on lap 6 on the brakes at the end of the back straight and then applied the pressure from the front. Herrin made a couple minor mistakes in his attempt to stay in contention, which also slowed up Colombian Cardenas, who struggled to find a way through into second. A few laps later, Hayes had eked open what would prove to be an unassailable gap while Cardenas and Herrin settled in for a battle to decide second over the remainder of the race.Cardenas sliced ahead of Herrin entering Turn 1 to open lap 13 and would remain in that position until the final lap. At that point, Cardenas was forced onto the grass momentarily while attempting to negotiate a lapper through a narrow opening that surprisingly evaporated, which provided Herrin with a free pass to storm ahead and claim the runner-up spot.Herrin said, “I got a good start and got up there. It was a good race. I’m proud I was able to get up there and lead a couple laps. As soon as (Hayes) got back out front, I tried my hardest to keep up, but I just wasn’t able to. Martin came up and got by me. I was comfortable running his pace so I figured I’d watch his lines and try and outsmart him in the end, but he got up with the lapper in the end. But that’s racing. That’s how it goes, and I’ll take the points and come back tomorrow and hopefully having something more for these guys.”The last-lap off-track excursion proved especially costly for Cardenas. Had Martin been able to fend off Herrin and lock down second, he would have held onto the championship lead, at least for one more day.Cardenas said, “Tough race today. Actually, I’m happy with the result. Yesterday, it wasn’t looking very good. I wasn’t very comfortable, and I crashed in the first practice. Things weren’t looking very good and this has been a tough track for me — I’m not saying I’m bad here, but there’s always something missing. Me and my team worked pretty hard to be able to be comfortable today and we had a good pace in the race.“Unfortunately, on the last lap, I got caught up with a lapper, and I lost second position. But it’s okay — it can happen to anybody. We’ll try tomorrow to be a little bit better.”Hayden, meanwhile, suffered through a disastrous outing. Showing the ability to run the lead pace early, he started a slow fade, which compounded into a rapid decline, as the Kentuckian struggled with his equipment.After fighting for victory at Mid-Ohio last season, and twice last time out at Barber Motorsports Park, Hayden ultimately plummeted to eighth position, finishing more than 45 seconds behind race-winner Hayes. The National Guard Jordan Suzuki pilot could yet prove a contender this weekend, with an overnight opportunity to correct what went wrong in today’s race.Eslick was the primary beneficiary of Hayden’s misfortune, driving past en route to a lonely fourth.Team Hero EBR’s Geoff May came out on top of a three-way fight for fifth, which also included teammate Aaron Yates on Team AMSOIL/Hero EBR 1190RS and KTM/HMC Racing’s Chris Fillmore.Home track favorite Larry Pegram finished ninth on the Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing Yamaha YZF-R1 while Cory West (Motosport.com/EBR II) completed the Saturday top 10.