What was an otherwise run-of-the-mill Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen on Sunday turned both fascinating and frustrating with a frantic final lap for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Two cars – Joe Nemechek and Bobby Labonte – each had mechanical issues in the final five laps, and it appeared smoke was emanating out the back of Labonte's car. Regardless of who's it was, oil then lined most of the 2.45-mile road course and caught the leaders out.
Kyle Busch had the advantage over Brad Keselowski and Marcos Ambrose, although Busch was first to hit a patch in Turn 1. That sent him a bit wide, opened a door for Keselowski on the run up to Turn 2, where through the corner after Keselowski also hit the oil, he sent Busch into a spin.
Ambrose and Keselowski made it through unscathed, although the two would then embark on several swaps of position for the lead. Keselowski put the bumper to Ambrose at the left-handed Turn 6, sending the Australian wide on exit, although Ambrose had enough speed and momentum to carry the ultimate final pass back at the right-handed Turn 7 for the win.
Ambrose crossed the line with his second straight Watkins Glen victory, this time on Sunday after last year's rain-delayed race.
“It feels so good to be back in victory lane,” sighed Ambrose. “Last year was relief, and this is pure joy. I slipped in the oil, and had let Brad passed. But it was bad luck to both Kyle and Brad. They were the two best guys to race with. That's the way racing should be.”
Keselowski, far from angry with the runner-up finish, was gracious and classy in defeat after the knockdown, drag-out fight where he was beating and banging with Ambrose. Incidentally, he was second a year ago at Watkins Glen as well.
“Somebody was leaking fluids,” he said. “The track had no grip at all. When I caught him, he leaked bad into one, and Kyle slipped in his own oil. We all slipped in it. I spun him, and I feel so bad about that because there was literally nothing I could do. Then I ran the whole lap like that against Marcos. Then he got in the oil, and slipped up. It was really good, hard racing. That's the way racing should be.”
Busch, who was ultimately classified seventh, declined comment and left the track. A win would have been his second of the season and vaulted him into a wild card position with four more races until the Chase for the Cup begins.
Busch had taken the lead on the final restart with 16 laps to go in an ambitious three-wide passing maneuver into Turn 1, but made it stick past both Keselowski and Ambrose.
Jimmie Johnson, who took over the points lead, finished third ahead of Clint Bowyer and Sam Hornish Jr. Hornish posted his best result since taking over the No. 22 Shell/Pennzoil Penske Racing Dodge five races ago.
Busch caught the short end of the stick with his last lap ending, while Tony Stewart, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jeff Gordon also falling from top-10 positions in the later stages. Stewart spun from second into the guardrail by pit entrance to set up the final restart. Gordon had a similar spin on the last lap; the two ended 19th and 21st, respectively. Earnhardt spun out of the inner loop in the final 10 laps and dropped to 28th.
There were a number of mechanical retirements, and it was again a rough day for the two Chip Ganassi Racing entries. Jamie McMurray crashed into the outside guardrail coming up the hill past Turn 4 with a left front tire blowout, while polesitter Juan Pablo Montoya broke something on his left front exiting the inner loop.
Ryan Newman moved ahead of Gordon for the second wild card position, behind Kasey Kahne (two wins), as highest in points outside the top ten with one win.
The series resumes in Michigan next week, where Earnhardt ended a 140-plus race winless drought in June.
Results - 90 laps:
Pos Driver Team/Car Time/Gap
1. Marcos Ambrose Petty Ford 2h14m48.000s
2. Brad Keselowski Penske Dodge + 0.571s
3. Jimmie Johnson Hendrick Chevrolet + 9.218s
4. Clint Bowyer Waltrip Toyota + 9.269s
5. Sam Hornish Jr Penske Dodge + 9.493s
6. Greg Biffle Roush Fenway Ford + 10.289s
7. Kyle Busch Joe Gibbs Toyota + 10.489s
8. Matt Kenseth Roush Fenway Ford + 11.124s
9. Regan Smith Furniture Row Chevrolet + 11.555s
10. Martin Truex Jr Waltrip Toyota + 12.631s
11. Ryan Newman Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 12.940s
12. Paul Menard Childress Chevrolet + 12.999s
13. Kasey Kahne Hendrick Chevrolet + 13.076s
14. Carl Edwards Roush Fenway Ford + 13.584s
15. Kevin Harvick Childress Chevrolet + 16.460s
16. Casey Mears Germain Ford + 16.934s
17. Scott Speed Leavine Ford + 16.976s
18. Aric Almirola Petty Ford + 17.050s
19. Tony Stewart Stewart-Haas Chevrolet + 23.560s
20. David Gilliland Front Row Ford + 23.721s
21. Jeff Gordon Hendrick Chevrolet + 24.430s
22. David Ragan Front Row Ford + 26.547s
23. Landon Cassill BK Toyota + 37.988s
24. Travis Kvapil BK Toyota + 38.259s
25. Boris Said FAS Lane Ford + 1m13.902s
26. Stephen Leicht Circle Sport Chevrolet + 1m20.259s
27. Bobby Labonte JTG Daugherty Toyota + 1m28.469s
28. Dale Earnhardt Jr Hendrick Chevrolet + 1 lap
29. Joe Nemechek NEMCO Toyota + 2 laps
30. Jeff Burton Childress Chevrolet + 6 laps
31. Kurt Busch Phoenix Chevrolet + 9 laps
32. Joey Logano Joe Gibbs Toyota + 19 laps
Juan Pablo Montoya Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 63 laps
Denny Hamlin Joe Gibbs Toyota 57 laps
Jason Leffler Robinson-Blakeney Toyota 42 laps
Dave Blaney Baldwin Chevrolet 41 laps
Michael McDowell Parsons Ford 30 laps
Josh Wise Front Row Ford 25 laps
Jamie McMurray Earnhardt Ganassi Chevrolet 24 laps
JJ Yeley Baldwin Chevrolet 15 laps
Chris Cook Humphrey Smith Toyota 5 laps
Patrick Long Inception Toyota 2 laps
Brian Vickers Waltrip Toyota 0 laps