'Kentucky Kid' gets acquainted with new ride at Valencia test session

Updated: October 29, 2008, 4:43 PM ET

AP Photo/Alberto Saiz

MotoGP fans swarm American rider Nicky Hayden, far right, before the Valencia Moto Grand Prix.

MotoGP: Hayden already in 2009 mode

Less than 24 hours after the conclusion of the 2008 MotoGP season, Nicky Hayden was full speed ahead toward 2009.

"The Kentucky Kid" turned his first laps on a Ducati Desmosedici GP9 on Monday in a test at Valencia, Spain, site of Sunday's series finale. Most of next year's field participated in the test, and the most intriguing sight was Hayden, off the Honda he took to the 2006 championship and onto the notoriously tough Italian bike.

"When I got in the first time I told my brother [AMA Superbike rider Tommy] that I'm not sure what they pay Casey [Stoner, his new teammate], but it's not enough," Hayden said. "They need to double it, because the bike is a bit of an animal."

Hayden was not only getting used to the new ride but also to new tires, running Bridgestone for the first time after years on Michelins. Hayden landed with Ducati in part due to tire drama in the Repsol Honda camp, when Dani Pedrosa switched to Bridgestones midway through the season. For next year, Bridgestone will be the sole supplier in MotoGP.

I can see that the potential is huge. I know it's going to be a lot of hard work, but I felt pretty comfortable with the bike, the team and everything.

-- Nicky Hayden

Hayden and the rest of the American representation in MotoGP are eager to move on from 2008, the first year since 2002 in which the U.S. was shut out of the top five spots in points. Of course, the leading man then was the same as this season -- Italy's Valentino Rossi. "The Doctor" clinched his sixth championship on his Fiat Yamaha well before Sunday's finale on the strength of nine wins in the middle 12 races of the season, including five consecutive starting with Laguna Seca (Calif.) and ending at Twin Ring Motegi, Japan.

Also within that streak was the inaugural Red Bull Indianapolis Grand Prix at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, a likely fixture on the MotoGP calendar for years to come. Race day was a rainy, windy mess, but the entire weekend drew 174,052 fans, a promising start for motorcycles' return to IMS for the first time in a century.

Rossi won the weather-shortened race and Hayden was second in his return after a two-race absence following a crash in X Games competition. It was his best finish in a sixth-place season.

Colin Edwards of Houston finished one spot behind Hayden in the standings, in seventh. He didn't come too close to his first MotoGP win, notching two thirds at Le Mans and Assen, The Netherlands, but closed the season on an upswing with a sixth-place finish at Valencia for Tech 3 Yamaha.

"It has been a while since I finished in the top 6, and for this result to help the team finish fourth in the Team World Championship makes it extra rewarding," said Edwards, whose team sat out this week's Valencia test. "We had a couple of races where we gave a lot of points away, but for an independent team we have done a fantastic job together."

The third full-time American rider, John Hopkins, struggled mightily with his Kawasaki Racing Team, finishing 15th in points after fourth in 2007. The Californian's best finish was a fifth early in the season at Portugal.

"We have to start finding solutions to our problems so we can be competitive right from the word 'go' next year," Hopkins said.

That's certainly what Hayden is hoping for in 2009, armed with a new bike, a new team and a new outlook.

"I can see that the potential is huge," Hayden said after Monday's test. "I know it's going to be a lot of hard work, but I felt pretty comfortable with the bike, the team and everything. It has been a very intense day and full of many things to test and to understand, but it was exactly as I expected it to be."

John Schwarb is a freelance journalist covering motorsports and a contributor to ESPN.com. He can be reached at johnschwarb@yahoo.com.


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Race of Champions: Edwards, Pestrana for USA

Carl Edwards

Edwards

Another NASCAR star will pair with Travis Pestrana to try to reclaim the Race of Champions Nations Cup for Team USA at London's Wembley Stadium in December.

Carl Edwards confirmed participation in the event this week, which pits drivers one-on-one in a series of match races in identically prepared cars of various types from rally to sports car to dune buggy. Others expected to participate include retired Formula One champion Michael Schumacher, current F1 drivers Jenson Button, Sebastian Vettel and Mark Webber, and World Superbike champion Troy Bayliss.

"I've never been to Europe and expect it will be spectacular," Edwards said. "To race with the top drivers in the world is the opportunity of a lifetime."

Pastrana, a rally and motocross champion, is in the ROC for the third consecutive year. Last year he teamed with two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Colin Edwards won Team USA's last Nations Cup in 2002.

Late Models: NHRA's Capps sixth in cameo

Ron Capps has no plans to trade in his NHRA Funny Car for a Late Model stock car, but he showed quite a bit of ability Saturday in taking the wheel for 100 laps in a NASCAR Whelen All American Series race at All American Speedway in Roseville, Calif.

Capps finished sixth after starting 15th in the 25-car field, avoiding trouble on the one-third-mile oval and bringing home the Bill McAnally-owned car in almost the same condition as it began the race, save one tire-mark doughnut on the side.

"It was incredible," Capps said. "Obviously, finally getting out with some of the other cars in traffic and having a spotter talking to you at the same time was something I had to really get used to.

"I knew by starting 15th [after Friday qualifying] it was going to be a matter of just staying clean and trying to bring the car back in one piece. We just kept moving up the ladder and passing cars, missing wrecks. It wasn't until a couple of laps were left that crew chief Chris Nelle told me I was in sixth place."

Capps isn't a complete stranger to Late Models, having raced in Tony Stewart's annual Prelude to the Dream race on the dirt at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.

"There are many things you can take with you from one form of racing to another," said Capps, who drives for Don Schumacher Racing in the NHRA. "And I think that's why you see the better race car drivers in the world racing in different series. I think it really helps them."

The race was a companion event to the NASCAR Camping World Series championship finale, won by McAnally driver Eric Holmes.

ARCA: Nice guys do finish first

If on-track performance were the only criteria, Scott Speed would get the nod for Rookie of the Year over Matt Carter. Speed had more wins (four to one), more top-5s (10 to eight) and top-10s (17 to 14). Carter's only edge was in points, as he had 25 more to finish third overall to Speed's fifth.

That, plus the fact Carter wasn't parked in the season finale for aggressive driving.

Many racing series claim to take conduct into account along with results when determining rookie of the year awards, but rarely are there incidents that force its inclusion. Odds are that Speed's deliberate crashing of fellow title contender Ricky Stenhouse Jr. at Toledo on Oct. 12 -- which he owned up to afterward and hasn't showed remorse for since ("I did my best to make sure he didn't win it," Speed said) -- won't be ignored when ARCA awards are handed out next month.

"Over the long term, we have considered the Sun Trust Rookie of the Year title to be much more than an on-track, performance-based award," ARCA president Ron Drager said. "The criteria include the candidate's demeanor, conduct and character which represents the best interests of the series."

Weekend spotlight on: World of Outlaws

Barring any unforeseen problems that he hasn't had all season, Donny Schatz is on the way to a three-peat coronation at the WoO World Finals at The Dirt Track at Lowe's Motor Speedway in Charlotte, N.C.

The Tony Stewart Racing driver won last weekend at Heartland Park Topeka in Kansas for the second consecutive year, giving him 17 A-feature wins on the season and increasing his points lead to triple digits again over Jason Meyers. Meyers finished 12th at Topeka to fall from 97 to 123 points back.

Two full-points-paying events will be contested at Lowe's on Friday and Saturday night to conclude the season.