NICKY HAYDEN/Ducati sat down with American journos after Qualifying for a down home chat as only The Kentucky Kid can do. He’s sporting a newer version of his mohawk, this one with a new insignia on the sides, “special for this weekend.”

Hayden said he’s not going fast enough. “I probably went backwards in the morning session. I went faster in the afternoon, but so did everyone else. We changed the transmission and some electronics in the morning, but it didn’t improve the speed. I’m braking through the Corkscrew. The track is bumpier this year”

Hayden admitted to finding Turn One uncharacteristically problematical. “It’s a big issue for me. I’m losing a lot of time there. Normally it’s a spot I like.”

Hayden said his bike is better this year. “Stoner said his bike is good enough to win. For me, it’s better for me. There’s better communication this year. The engineers are talking with each other. All the Ducati engineers on five motorcycles are working together. My former crew chief now handles that and he looks at a big chart on the wall, comparing the bikes.”

Hayden couldn’t say enough good things about the Bridgestone asymmetrical tires, which he called ‘duals.’ “We could have used them last year here at Laguna. They’re a must here. The riders requested it.”

TOM TREMAYNE, Bridgestone MotoGP Press officer, said Bridgestone listened to the riders. Last year the duals were used at six tracks including Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but not Laguna. This year they will be run at 12 races including both American rounds.

When asked if he was considering quitting all this (MotoGP) and going dirt trackin’ Hayden said “Not even close.”

Hayden’s younger brother, ROGER LEE, is substituting this weekend for injured rider, RANDY DE PUNIET for LCR Honda. Nicky Hayden said “They spent time between the two Saturday sessions watching video, and we’ve talked some about the track, but we haven’t talked since qualifying – Roger Lee “almost crashed in front of me on his out lap.”

Dad Hayden spends a lot of time going between the two pits, “but he can handle it. You should see him running around the house, doing all kinds of things. And you’ll have to ask him how old he is. I’m not going there.”

Hayden thinks the weather has been perfect. The wind wasn’t an issue. Saturday’s morning session was a little cold, almost borderline misty. He said Sunday morning’s warmup will be 15 minutes earlier than today’s practice session, so it could be interesting.

Hayden agreed with journos that other riders were following him in the morning session, “like I’m the Laguna Seca expert.”

Hayden has spent a lot of time signing autographs, maybe more than any other rider.