After struggling to extract performance from his Repsol Honda for much of the 2008 MotoGP season, Nicky Hayden took his second podium finish in three starts with his best ride of the season so far at Phillip Island on Sunday.

The American got a great start from third on the grid, blasting past Jorge Lorenzo and almost got the better of Casey Stoner, before slotting in behind his 2009 Ducati team-mate.

"I got a really good start and I thought was going to lead," said Hayden. "Things felt pretty good early on, I went a lot faster in the race than I went all weekend. The bike and everything was working pretty good, and I was able to stay with Casey for a while, I felt comfortable there."

As at Indianapolis, where Hayden finished second in a storm-shortened race, Nicky went against the advice of his Michelin technicians by opting for a softer tyre compound than they suggested.

"Nicky chose a medium tyre, not the harder tyre we had suggested," confirmed Jean-Philippe Weber, Michelin's director of motorcycle racing. "He did this because he felt more confident with the medium tyre which gave him more grip early on."

As at Indy, the tactic allowed Hayden to set a scorching early pace. Hayden recorded the fastest lap of the grand prix on lap 3 of 27 and hounded Stoner until lap 10, when the Australian began to edge away.

By that stage, Hayden had built a 6.6secs lead over third placed James Toseland, but his soft rear tyre was starting to get "a little loose". "Once [Stoner] started to pull away I had some issues, I just couldn't keep the corner speed I had early on," he said.

During the final few laps Hayden came under pressure from newly crowned world champion Valentino Rossi, who was charging forwards from twelfth on the grid. Rossi snatched second place from Hayden at the start of the very last lap. Hayden then tried to counter attack at Honda hairpin but ran wide and had to settle for third.

"It was a good battle at the end, Valentino started coming for me, I tried to ride a little harder but I ended up going a little slower," he admitted. "So I tried to stay wheels in line as best I could and hold him off. But I didn't get off the last corner great going into the last lap.

"Then coming down the start-finish I saw him on the big TV screen out of the corner of my eye!" smiled Nicky. "He was in my draft so I knew it was going to be tough, there wasn't much I could do and I didn't have much tyre left."

Fittingly for the fastest racetrack on the MotoGP calendar, the last three world champions climbed the podium: Stoner, Rossi and Hayden - Hayden delighting the assembled fans by throwing his boots into the crowd.

"It's cool to be on the podium," said the #69. "I enjoyed the race, it was a lot of fun - riding this track at the limit for 27 laps is quite intense, you really don't realise how fast you're going around here."

The result moved Hayden up two places in the world championship standings to sixth overall with two rounds remaining. Hayden is now just 14 points behind his 2009 replacement Andrea Dovizioso with 50 points up for grabs.

"Nicky did a great job today, congratulations to him and the team for the podium result," said team manager Kazuhiko Yamano. "The race was pretty tough, with a very fast pace, but the rider, his machine and the Michelin tyres worked well at Phillip Island today. I would like to thank Nicky and the team for this result."

Hayden's Bridgestone-shod team-mate Dani Pedrosa crashed out of third place at turn two on the opening lap.