Marcos Ambrose passed Brad Keselowski on the first lap of a green-white-checkered-flag finish at Watkins Glen and won Monday’s rain-delayed Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen under caution when a violent multicar wreck exploded behind him on the final circuit.
Ambrose, who charged through the bus stop (inner loop) and powered past Keselowski to the inside, became the fifth first-time winner in NASCAR’s Sprint Cup Series this year.
Keselowski was second when the yellow flag froze the field. Kyle Busch, who lost the lead on the final restart on Lap 91 of 92, came home third, followed by Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano.
Kevin Harvick, Juan Pablo Montoya, AJ Allmendinger, Jeff Burton and Jimmie Johnson completed the top 10.
“I’ve fought so much to get here, to finally win and be here in victory lane is a dream come true,” said Ambrose, who made the most of his vaunted road-racing skills on Monday. “I flew the kids home (Sunday, when the race was postponed)—it was their first day of school—and this kind of makes up for it.
“To win in the Cup series is an incredible feeling, and I’m very, very proud.”
Ambrose, 34, who moved his family from Australia to pursue a career in NASCAR, was making his 105th Cup start. He has three wins in 74 Nationwide starts, all at Watkins Glen.
The victory also was Richard Petty Motorsports’ first since Kasey Kahne won on the road course of Infineon Raceway in 2009. It was Ford’s first win at the Glen since 1996 (Geoffrey Bodine).
Ambrose became the third qualifier for the Sprint Summer Showdown, joining Keselowski and Paul Menard. Those three drivers, plus the winners from upcoming races at Michigan and Bristol, will compete for an aggregate $3 million bonus, should one of the eligible drivers win Sept. 4 at Atlanta.
After restarting fourth on Lap 70, Ambrose dispatched Truex for third place on Lap 73 and outbraked Keselowski into Turn 1 for the second spot on Lap 76. From that point Ambrose trimmed Busch’s lead from more than two seconds to two car-lengths before Menards’s fiery wreck on Lap 86 caused the fourth caution of the race.
“I was trying to pass the 18 (Busch) before the caution came out and really used my stuff up,” Ambrose said. “I didn’t want to start on the outside (on the final restart), so I actually gave up the start trying to get to the inside, but when I realized that wasn’t going to work, I just turned up into Turn 1 and tried to make something happen.
“I spoke to Brad Keselowski last night. We had a chat for about a half-hour, just shooting the breeze and talking about how hard it is to get to victory lane—and there I was racing him for the win. I’m pleased we did it clean, but I was going to get to victory lane. I wasn’t going to let that 2 (Keselowski) beat me to the checkered flag.”
Kurt Busch, who entered the race fourth in the Cup standings, had a rough afternoon. After spinning in the inner loop on Lap 4 and losing a lap, Busch knocked Allmendinger out of the lead and off the racetrack on Lap 9.
Busch’s frustrating day came to an end on Lap 49, when a brake failure sent him hard into the tire barrier in Turn 5.
“I had a big problem getting into the braking zones today—just rear brakes locking up,” Busch said after the crash. I had to crank eight rounds of front brake into our (car) just to survive. All that does is generate brake heat, and I blew out the left-front tire.
“It was a bummer of a day and not anything that we expected. It must have been something with the brake package. Whatever Keselowski found at Road Atlanta (during his Aug. 3 testing accident), I had a problem with today.”
As hard as Busch’s wreck was, it paled in comparison to the hit Denny Hamlin took in Turn 1 when his brakes failed on Lap 65. Hamlin rocketed into the wall, destroying the front of his No. 11 Toyota.
“Something blew out in the left front,” Hamlin said after being released from the infield care center. “When it did, it must have cut a brake line, so I had no brakes. I was trying to do everything I could to weave or anything I could to get the speed down in the car.
“There was just nothing you could do. The front tires locked up, and you can’t steer.”
Hamlin finished 36th and fell to 12th in the standings, 33 points behind 10th-place Tony Stewart, who lost a spot to Dale Earnhardt Jr. (15th Monday). Clint Bowyer finished 11th and moved past Hamlin into 11th, 25 points behind Stewart