Marcos Ambrose leads Jimmie Johnson through the uphill esses. [Joe Jennings Photo]
Ambrose Wins At Watkins Glen
by Joe Jennings
Watkins Glen, N. Y. - Marcos Ambrose pulled off a dazzling last lap pass to win the Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen International, to garner his second consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory on the historic road course.
Marcos Ambrose, Richard Petty, Miss Sprint Cup and the RPM team hoist a victory cheer. [Joe Jennings Photo]
For Ambrose, he won his second Sprint Cup race in 141 races and at Watkins Glen, he has chalked up his fifth top-10 finish in five races.
The winner drove the Stanley Ford fielded by the Richard Petty Motorsports. For Ford, the win was the manufacturer's third of the season and the 609th in the all-time Sprint Cup races. Also, this marks the second time in 2012 that Ford has swept a Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series weekend.
"It was absolute chaos at the end, and the three cars were evenly matched," Ambrose said. "I thought I had burned off my tires, as I was sliding around. (Oil from another car caused the problem.) At the time, I wasn't sure whether it was my oil or someone else's. I then saw the No. 18 (Kyle Busch) back-up, and it was just crazy at the end. And it is a thrill to be in victory lane, and it was a big day for our team. We earned it, and we were up their today with the big boys. We didn't luck into this one; we deserved to win."
Said Richard Petty about the thriller, "This win was kind of unexpected. We had a good car and I think Marcos was pretty exciting, as he seemed to be the only one passing anybody. At the end, everyone was slipping and sliding, and none of us knew what was going on. We are thankful we got back to the front, and Marcos stayed with it all day. Everything fell our way, except for the last caution flag that we didn't need."
Crew chief Brad Parrott couldn't hold back on his delight. "It was pretty crazy," he said. "Sitting in the pit box, it looked we had a good car all day and at the end, the No. 18 car without the last caution was going to get out on us. When everyone started slipping and sliding, I knew there was oil all over the place. Marcos and Brad put on a great show, and it was exciting and I am proud of this guy. At the end, we were in position and when you put yourself into position, you are going to win races."
Ambrose, Busch and Brad Keselowski were the three heavyweight contenders as the race wound down, and they swapped positions heading toward the finish line. On a restart, Busch powered into the lead with Keselowski second and Ambrose third, and that's when the fun started. The threesome was running in a blanket formation, slipping and sliding in oil put down by another car.
Going into the first turn of the final go-around, Busch slipped to the outside but retained the lead as the field headed for the uphill portion of the course. At that point, Busch slipped a bit and Keselowski got into him, spinning Busch into the grass. Ambrose and Keselowski also slid into the grass with Ambrose coming out ahead as the race neared the finish. Keselowski gamely tried to catch the fleet Ambrose in the final corner but came up short by a mere .571 seconds.
Driving the Miller Lite Dodge, Keselowski ended up second after leading 37 laps. A day ago, he also finished second in the Nationwide Series race.
Said Keselowski about the finish, "Kyle Busch was leaking oil something fierce and had no grip at all. When I caught him, it leaked really bad going into turn 1, and then he missed the corner. I got under him and we all hit the oil. There was literally nothing I could do, and I feel bad about it (hitting him). Then it came down to running a whole lap against Marcos. He'd get by me and I'd get by him. Just really good, hard racing; some beating and banging. I think that's the way racing should be."
He complimented Ambrose for his clean driving and for not wrecking his challengers. "Marcos is a class act, and that's the way racing should be," he stated.
Jimmie Johnson gained four positions in the final 15 circuits to finish third in the Lowe's Cortez Silver Chevrolet.
"The first segment we were pretty far off," the former champion said. "We came in our first stop, made some adjustments, and really got the car in the condition I needed it in. I ran third all day, and I am so happy to finish where we did."
Johnson was among the many who complained about the patches of oil on the track. "There wasn't a large visible patch (of oil) to dodge, but you could feel it on your tires. It was chaos, but I'm glad we got back to the finish line."
Fourth went to Clint Bowyer (Toyota) with Sam Hornish Jr., Keselowski's teammate, in fifth place.
Sixth through 10th were Greg Biffle, hard-luck driver Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Regan Smith and Martin Truex Jr.
Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. had dismal finishes, spinning out as the race wound down. Earnhardt said he lost control on his own but Gordon, who lost a top-10 finish on the last lap, blamed the build-up of oil on the track.
They were scored 21st and 28th, respectively.
Busch, who led 43 laps, looked like the winner until the final circuit when he slid through oil and momentarily slipped off the course. He left the track without talking with anyone, but crew chief Dave Rogers said Busch's car was not leaking oil; instead, Bobby Labonte's car was the one leaking oil. He added, "We were fast, but we didn't get the job done today."
With Earnhardt's poor finish and Johnson's strong outcome, the former champion moved into the point lead, gaining three positions. Greg Biffle and Matt Kenseth moved into second and third while Earnhardt slipped to fourth. Johnson leads with 777 points; Biffle has 776 and Kenseth 775 while Earnhardt trails the leader by 17.