By Tim Tuttle
For the Banner Graphic
INDIANAPOLIS--The Kentucky Kid delivered his finest performance of the MotoGP season before the home folks Sunday, riding his Ducati to third place in the Red Bull Indianapolis GP.
"It's great to be on the podium," Nicky Hayden said. "I'm really happy. Everyone knows what a hard season it's been, the biggest challenge of my career. It's not a win, but it feels really good being up there and spraying the bubbly. I'm just going to try to enjoy it."
Hayden was born and raised in Owensboro, Ky., and it's still the only place he permanently resides. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway's 2.621-mile is a three-hour drive from Owensboro.
"It's certainly my part of the world and it's great to have such a good day here," Hayden said. "I had a lot of friends and family come here and sometimes it's too much. You can try hard and crack with all the pressure, but this year, I was able to raise up and find a little something extra. Also, big thanks to my team and all my sponsors, all my supporters, everybody sticking by me a couple of bad races.
"It's easy for people to give up on you. Certainly (thanks) to my mom, dad, my sisters, my brothers, everybody here. Yeah, we're pretty happy."
Spain's Jorge Lorenzo, riding a Yamaha, won the second MotoGP at Indianapolis by 9.435 seconds over Honda rider Alex de Angelis in the 28-lap race. Hayden finished 12.947 seconds back and Yamaha rider Colin Edwards of Houston, the second American in the world's premier motorcycle road racing championship, finished fifth.
Hayden has typically excelled in his home-country Grand Prix. He finished second in last year's inaugural running at Indianapolis and has two of his three MotoGP victories in the event at Laguna Seca Raceway in Monterey, Calif. Hayden's previous best finish this season had been fifth at Laguna Seca.
The 28-year-old was the 2006 MotoGP World Champion riding for Honda, but closed out a 10-year relationship with the Japanese manufacturer last season. Hayden's first season with Italian manufacturer Ducati had a terrible start, with Hayden riding injured in the opening two races of the season, but he's had six top-10 finishes in the past seven races.
"We've slowly made some progress," Hayden said. "And yesterday, a journalist asked me, 'Do you think the top six is possible like qualifying?' I didn't want to open my mouth, but I had a chance at the podium today. I knew it had to be, like Lorenzo said, the pace at the front is so high that something will happen and I needed to be there to capitalize. I knew it would be tough, but we were able to do it and I certainly hope we can build on this."
Hayden qualified sixth for the standing start, lining up on the outside of the second row. He passed Edwards for one position and inherited the other two when Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi crashed.
Polesitter Pedrosa, on a Honda, was leading when he crashed on the fourth lap. The Spaniard recovered to finish 10th.
"I was pushing very hard at the start of the race and perhaps I pushed too much," Pedrosa said. "There was some cloud cover today and maybe the front tire was a little cooler than before, but whatever the reason, I made a mistake and lost the front."
Rossi, MotoGP's superstar with a record 76 victories and six championships, moved into the lead, but was passed by teammate Lorenzo on the ninth lap. The Italian went down on the next lap and retired from the race two laps later.
"I got a good start and was able to stay in touch with Pedrosa," Rossi said. "Once he fell, I knew it would be between Jorge (Lorenzo) and I. Of course, it would have been better to have finished second than not to finish at all. Unfortunately, I ran wide on a dirty part of the track at Turn One and I lost the front."
Lorenzo believes the intensity of the competition contributed to Pedrosa and Rossi crashing.
"It's nice to ride like this because I remember the times when Kevin (Schwantz) and Wayne (Rainey) and Eddie (Lawson) were fighting always at the limit and sometimes they crash," Lorenzo said. "Now, I think we are coming to these (level of competition) times. I'm happy to be a part of this, no?"
Schwantz, Rainey and Lawson are all former American World Champions at the top level of motorcycle road racing.
Lorenzo was comfortably in front the rest of the way.
"It was difficult to keep my concentration for 20 laps because I was a little bit bored," Lorenzo admitted. "But I couldn't relax because maybe if you think of another thing, you can crash. So, you know, it's OK. I have fun on the last lap and it's nice."
Lorenzo did a long wheelie on the front straight and took the checkered flag on only the rear wheel. He celebrated like Indy 500 winner Helio Castroneves and Brickyard 400 winner Tony Stewart by climbing the fence.
"It was nice, the sensation to be on the wheelie like this," Lorenzo said. "Also, I wanted to celebrate the victory with the fans like Spiderman."
Lorenzo arrived to Indianapolis 50 points behind Rossi in the championship. He cut it in half to 25 with five races remaining.
Hayden moved up two positions to 12th with 73. He's only sixth behind 10th-place Marco Melandri of Italy. Edwards remains in fifth with 123.
"It wasn't as much fun as I thought it would be, to be honest with you," Edwards said. "I had hopes of a better result at my home race. I struggled with some grip issues. I couldn't put any load on the rear. All I could do was watch Nicky and (fourth finisher) Andrea Dovizioso walk away from me and I took some bit risks on the brakes."
Sunday's crowd was announced at 75,130 and the three-day total was 146,680. One year remains on the contract between IMS and Dorna Sports, MotoGP's organizing body.