Hayes’ task at the Kawasaki Devil’s Showdown is relatively simple – avoid disaster and he will reclaim his rightful position atop the AMA Pro SuperBike hierarchy.
Should the Monster Energy Graves Yamaha star scoop up a weekend tally equivalent to two 11th place finishes or better, he’ll move into sole possession of second on the career title list, trailing only seven-time king Mat Mladin.
The coronation could come as early as Saturday, as he only needs to finish on the box to remove the pressure and allow himself to race freely for the win in Sunday’s final race of the season.
While anything can happen – and Hayes understands as well as anyone in the paddock – he’s finished in the top two in all but one race this season, including the last seven in succession to put himself in such a commanding position in advance of the New Jersey season-ender.
Hayes has already assured himself the title of winningest rider this year, boasting six of a possible nine victories, upping his career tally to a remarkable 47 in the process.
The year has turned out to be a return to form for Hayes who lost the title in 2013 after winning three straight. Hayes was undone as a result of an uncharacteristically sloppy campaign, in which his superior form could not overcome a bevy of mistakes and misfortune.
The 2014 season started off in similar fashion. A third Daytona DNF in four attempts, combined with the shockingly rapid pace of Graves Monster Energy Yamaha newcomer Cameron Beaubier, forced the paddock to question whether the Hayes dynasty might finally be in decline.
The 39-year-old answered that question in resounding fashion, regrouping with pace and consistency. Meanwhile, Beaubier balanced his brilliance with bouts where he looked like a rookie.
However, even if the 21-year-old falls short of taking the title in his first attempt, his three-win campaign ranks among the best first-year efforts in series history. That’s especially true when considering how he proved capable of taking the fight directly to his decorated teammate with impressive regularity.
Their most recent showdown stands as a sterling example, the two trading last-lap victories at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course with the promise of more to come in the days ahead.
Hayes and Beaubier have monopolized the top step of the podium in 2014. The Kawasaki Devil’s Showdown stands as a last chance for the remainder of the field to get in the win column this season.
Especially motivated to do so will be Yoshimura Suzuki Factory Racing teammates Roger Hayden and Martin Cardenas.
Kentuckian Hayden has enjoyed a solid opening campaign with the front-running squad, racking up six podium results and establishing himself clearly third in points. However, his aim is to win races, and following a spectacular double runner-up debut, he’s been desperately attempting to find a way to defeat the dominant Yamaha duo.
Meanwhile, Colombian Cardenas has struggled. He ranks just sixth in the points one year removed from his two-win, title-contending 2013 season. Cardenas’ confidence has taken a hit but he still has the skills to battle for victory.
ADR Motorsports/Sic/Motul Fly Racing’s David Anthony and third Yoshimura entry Chris Clark come into New Jersey locked in a fight for fourth in the championship.
An end-of-the-year ranking in the top five would represent a breakthrough result for either man. Clark’s previous best championship finish is eighth while Australian Anthony has never finished in the single digits. The two rivals have already broken new ground in 2014 by finishing on the premier class podium and now they’ll go head-to-head to see how the final points standings shake out.
KTM/HMC Racing’s Chris Fillmore has a shot at edging Cardenas for sixth, while Team AMSOIL Hero EBR’s Cory West and Proto-Tech Spain’s Bernat Martinez come into NJMP ranked eighth and ninth, respectively.
Foremost Insurance Pegram Racing EBR’s Larry Pegram and GEICO Motorcycle Racing Honda’s Chris Ulrich are all locked up with 71 points apiece in their clash to secure a place in the championship top ten.
The weekend will get underway Saturday, Sept. 13. The SuperBike stars will put in their first qualifying laps at 9:25 a.m. local time (6:25 a.m. PT) with Qualifying 2 and Qualifying 3 to follow in the afternoon. Hayes will have his first shot at locking up the 2014 title that same day in a 23-lap contest that’ll kick off at 4 p.m. (1 p.m. PT).
How to Watch
FansChoice.tv is the official home for live streaming coverage of AMA Pro Road Racing and AMA Pro Flat Track events in 2014. The site also provides coverage of IMSA’s development and single-make series, and NASCAR’s touring and weekly series.