The US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca was arguably a make or break moment for home star Nicky Hayden, who came into the event with a best finish of eighth from his first seven races as a factory Ducati rider.
After six years at Honda, Hayden - like Marco Melandri and Loris Capirossi before him - has struggled to harness the Desmosedici, a machine that has achieved stunning success in the hands of Casey Stoner but little in the hands of anyone else.
The Australian has won 18 races since the start of 2007, including the first 800cc world championship, while all other Ducati riders have a combined total of one victory, by Capirossi in a wet/dry race at Motegi.
Hayden has won the US GP twice since 2005 and another weekend without real reward, at a track he knows so well, would have been a major blow - and he began to fear the worst after a disappointing 14th in Friday practice.
"The thought of not doing well at my home track literally had me sick to my stomach Friday," he confessed.
But the Kentuckian rebounded in style with eighth in Saturday's qualifying session, which marked the best qualifying performance by Stoner's team-mate since Capirossi was eighth on the grid for the final race of 2007.
Hayden then gained one place on the opening lap, which became sixth when his Repsol Honda replacement Andrea Dovizioso crashed out. But Hayden was boxed in behind Gresini Honda's Toni Elias, while the race leaders pulled away. The 69 finally got past Elias for fifth place on lap eight.
"I wish I could have got by Toni [Elias] sooner and got in that front group. I think I could have moved up," he said.
With the leaders out of touch, Hayden spent the rest of the race battling to keep Elias at bay, and ignoring warning lights from the dash of his Ducati.
"I basically ran what I qualified in for 32 laps I wasn't going to slow down and kept pushing and finally it [the instrumentation warning] gave up and went off," he revealed. "Riding this bike for 32 laps is a lot different than the Honda I had before. I was at my limit for the 45 minutes of the race.
"I don't really have a home track advantage any more. These guys aren't beginners."
A clearly relieved Hayden took the chequered flag as the top American rider, and just one place behind Stoner, whose physical condition saw him drop out of the podium fight during the second half of the race.