Marcos Ambrose entered Sunday’s Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen as one of a number of drivers who could be considered a favorite to win, and despite his rather ho-hum season up to this point the Australian headed to victory lane ahead of Brad Keselowski following a white flag lap full of slipping, sliding, beating and banging. Jimmie Johnson, Clint Bowyer and Sam Hornish, Jr. rounded out the top 5. Greg Biffle finished sixth while Kyle Busch, who led 43 laps on the day and took the white flag as the leader finished seventh. Matt Kenseth, Regan Smith–who scored his career-best road course finish–and Martin Truex, Jr. rounded out the top 10.
The last lap craziness all started when Bobby Labonte dumped a bunch of oil on track with two laps to go. Rather than pull off, Labonte continued on in order to finish (27th, the last car on the lead lap). The track quickly became a skating rink where everyone struggled for grip. Busch was held up by the oil and the lapped car of Dale Earnhardt, Jr., which allowed Keselowski and Ambrose to catch up. On the final lap, all three drivers slid into the runoff at Turn 1, but recovered with Busch still out front until he turned across the nose of the No. 2 Miller Lite Dodge and spun, leaving Keselowski and Ambrose to duke it out for the win.
The duo slid through the entire Inner Loop and ran across the grass on exit before hitting oil in turn 9 and slipping all over the track. They spent the remainder of the final lap beating and banging on each other all while swapping the lead before Ambrose took the lead and the win.
After the race, Ambrose was honest about the final lap.
“It was absolute chaos at the end. [After Kyle spun, I was] like ‘Man, there’s one, I’ve got one more to go.’ [Then,] I went up over the hill. Thought I was going to hit the fence. I slid through [the oil] in the Carousel, and [Brad] slid through it afterward,” Ambrose explained. “I got some momentum and gave him a shot to clear him away. Sailed off into [Turn 10]. All I wanted was to be offline…because I felt like [the oil] was on the racing groove. I turned in, slid, [and] thought I had blown my chance in [Turn 10]. I went over the curb, shot back to the inside of Brad [Keselowski], put him in the oil and snuck through for the win.”
Though Keselowski would have liked to have added a fourth victory to his resume, he was all smiles when he pulled onto pit road.
“I’m proud of the last two days I’ve had. I feel like Jimmie Johnson with the cars I’ve had on road courses as of late,” Keselowski said. “Obviously would have liked to have one more position in both of them. We were, very very close. To run this competitively on road courses is something I’m very proud of.”
“I think that’s the way racing should be. It’s great to race against guys like Marcos that you can run on, lean on and don’t lose their cool and intentionally wreck you,” Keselowski continued, a bit out of breath. “That’s what racing is supposed to be right there: a little bit of bumping and rubbing but none of that intentional wrecking bs.”
Juan Pablo Montoya, who started from the pole, suffered a broken control arm in the left front suspension, that resulted in an extended stay in the garage for repairs. The driver of the No. 42 Target Chevrolet eventually rejoined the race but later exited; he was credited with a 33rd-place finish.
“Everybody on this Target Chevy has been doing an amazing job. I thought we had a car that could win today,” Montoya said. “The car started getting really tight and all of a sudden I hit a curb and car went completely left on me. We made the repairs and got back out to score a little bit of points.”
Before Montoya’s incident, teammate Jamie McMurray brought out the first caution after suffering a flat left front and slamming hard enough into the guardrail to leave an imprint on the driver’s side of the No. 1 Chevrolet. Under that same caution, Kurt Busch suffered an axle / hub failure that resulted in the left rear wheel coming off and the No. 51 spinning out in Turn 10 while wheel spacers also flew off the car. After a stay in the garage, Kurt Busch returned to the race nine laps down and finished 31st.
“We are still trying to understand [what happened]. The axle shucked out; it’s on the track,” Busch said from the garage. “It felt like a broken track bar again like we had at Sonoma but it’s not. They are just working hard to find out what it is and I want to get back on track just to make sure that we diagnose this problem the best we can.”
The Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen was slowed by just four cautions for 13 laps. Five different drivers combined for ten different lead changes with Kyle Busch leading a race-high 43 circuits. Brad Keselowski (37), Marcos Ambrose (8), Juan Pablo Montoya and Carl Edwards (one lap apiece) were the other lap leaders.
Next week, the Sprint Cup Series returns to Michigan International Speedway for the Pure Michigan 400. Coverage starts at 12:00 PM ET on ESPN with actual race coverage starting at 1:00 PM ET.
Point Standings: Johnson Assumes Control Due to Earnhardt, Jr.’s Spin
The last ten laps of the Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen really managed to shake up the standings significantly. Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s spin with seven laps to go, and his subsequent pit stop to change flat-spotted tires dropped him to a 28th-place finish, one lap down. As a result, he drops all the way to fourth in the points.
Jimmie Johnson, who slipped and slid through the oil to finish third, gained three places to take over the points lead. Just one point behind Johnson is Greg Biffle, who led the points early in the season. One point behind Biffle is Matt Kenseth, who had a quiet day on Sunday. He was never in the hunt for a good finish until after the last pit stop put him in the top 10 where he finished a solid eighth.
Behind Earnhardt, Jr. is runner-up Brad Keselowski in fifth. His run boosted him into the top-5 for the first time in the “regular season.” Martin Truex, Jr., despite finishing tenth, is down one place to sixth. However, he is only five points behind Keselowski. Clint Bowyer used another top-5 finish to move up three places from the Chase bubble to seventh.
Tony Stewart’s crash and subsequent 19th-place finish dropped him to eighth in the standings. However, even after the crash, Stewart still appeared to have a lot of speed in his Office Depot Chevrolet. Kevin Harvick maintained the ninth spot in points with a 15th-place finish, but he was likely not all that happy with the run. Denny Hamlin has now fallen onto the bubble as a result of his blown engine and fire.
Hamlin still has a healthy gap of 40 points between himself and Kasey Kahne in 11th. Kahne, with two victories, is currently the No. 1 Wild Card for the Chase. Ryan Newman, who is 13th, holds the second wild card following a last lap spin by Jeff Gordon. Marcos Ambrose’s win Sunday has inserted him into the discussion, however, he is 44 points behind Newman in 17th with four races remaining until the Chase cutoff, putting him in position to need another trip to victory lane for a realistic shot of making the Chase.
Standings: 1) Jimmie Johnson 777, 2) Greg Biffle -1, 3) Matt Kenseth -2, 4) Dale Earnhardt, Jr. -17, 5) Brad Keselowski -44, 6) Martin Truex, Jr. -49, 7) Clint Bowyer -58, 8) Tony Stewart -61, 9) Kevin Harvick -67, 10) Denny Hamlin -84
Wild Cards: Kasey Kahne, 2 wins, 11th in points; Ryan Newman, 1 win, 13th in points
Race Winners: Matt Kenseth (Daytona 500), Denny Hamlin (Phoenix, Kansas), Tony Stewart (Las Vegas, Fontana, Daytona (July)), Brad Keselowski (Bristol, Talladega, Kentucky), Ryan Newman (Martinsville), Greg Biffle (Texas), Kyle Busch (Richmond), Jimmie Johnson (Darlington, Dover, Indianapolis), Kasey Kahne (Charlotte, New Hampshire), Joey Logano (Pocono (June)), Dale Earnhardt, Jr. (Michigan), Clint Bowyer (Sonoma), Jeff Gordon (Pocono (August)), Marcos Ambrose (Watkins Glen).
Tracking the Top 35: The Gap Narrows Just Slightly
At Watkins Glen on Sunday, the No. 33 Chevrolet driven by Stephen Leicht ran the whole race after failing to qualify in Pocono. Leicht, who was two laps down at one point in the race, took advantage of the lucky dog during the third and fourth cautions to a 26th-place lead lap finish. The best run amongst teams not locked into the race was the run put together by Scott Speed and the Leavine Family Racing team. Speed qualified the car in 21st, fell back early, charged to the top 15 prior to the final pit stops and ultimately settled for a 17th-place finish.
Meanwhile, other teams near the cutoff had issues. Dave Blaney had a track bar fail on his No. 36 Chevrolet and was forced to retire after 41 laps. The 36th-place finish cut the point differential between the Nos. 33 and 36 teams was whittled down to a still substantial 82 points with 14 races to go.