On a track too greasy to provide traction, Marcos Ambrose surged from third to first on the final lap of Sunday’s Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen International and won the race in a slugfest with runner-up Brad Keselowski.
Keselowski had grabbed the lead in Turn 2 of the final circuit at the 2.45-mile road course, after he knocked Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota for a loop, with both cars sliding through a patch of oil on the asphalt.
Ambrose, who scored the second win of his Sprint Cup Series career and his second in a row at the Glen, caught Keselowski moments later, and the two drivers battled side-by-side through the grass at the inner loop and through Turn 5 and beyond.
Ambrose’s No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford finally cleared Keselowski’s No. 2 Dodge in the last corner as Keselowski slipped in oil to the outside. Ambrose got to the finish line .571 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.
Jimmie Johnson finished third and took over the series lead by one point over Greg Biffle, who wound up sixth. Clint Bowyer was fourth, followed by Sam Hornish Jr., Biffle and Busch.
“It was just absolutely crazy at the end,” Ambrose said. “I shot back up on the inside of Brad [in Turn 7] and put him on the oil, and we snapped through for the win.
“A big shout-out to NASCAR. A lot of guys are going to say, ‘Should they have thrown a caution, or should they not?’ but no one wants to see these races end under caution or bunched back up in these two-by-twos [double-file restarts], making a random finish. We had the three fastest cars duking it out for the win. That’s the way it should be, and I think they did the right call.”
Solidly in the Chase for the Sprint Cup with three victories and the fifth-place spot in the Cup standings, Keselowski enjoyed the quality of racing over the final lap, even though he came out on the short end.
“It just came down to who was going to slip up last, and I did, and he got by me and won the race,” Keselowski said. “But a good show — good beating and banging, and that’s the way racing’s supposed to be.
“Just real proud of that race, proud that there is a class-act guy like Marcos that can race that way without losing his cool and intentionally wrecking somebody. That’s really cool.”
Opinion was divided on whether the race should have continued with oil on the track, a condition several drivers attributed to the No. 47 Toyota of Bobby Labonte. The oil was particularly insidious because it was difficult to see.
“Those last two laps were just out of control with the oil down,” Johnson said. “You’re studying the road, trying to see if you can see an oil trail, and there really wasn’t a large visible one to dodge. But you could feel the oil on your tires, and slipping and sliding, and then guys are spinning all over.
“It was chaos, but I’m glad we got back to the finish line.”
Tony Stewart finished 19th, on the bottom end of a roller-coaster day. Starting from the rear of the field for dragging a gas can from his pits under caution on Lap 27, Stewart charged toward the front and was running second to Keselowski when he spun in Turn 7 on Lap 72 and backed his No. 14 Chevy into the guardrail.
That left Keselowski and Ambrose to restart 1-2 on Lap 75 in the 90-lap race, but before the two front-row cars cleared the first corner, Busch took them three-wide to the inside and grabbed the lead. After a protracted battle with Keselowski, Ambrose took over the second position on Lap 81 but couldn’t gain ground on the race winner.
Keselowski retook the second position in Turn 5 on Lap 89 — and then the fireworks started.
Johnson leads Biffle by one point and eighth-place finisher Matt Kenseth by two.
A late spin dropped Dale Earnhardt Jr. to 28th at the finish and cost him the points lead. He’s now fourth, 17 points behind Johnson.
Jeff Gordon spun in oil on the final lap and came home 21st, surrendering the second provisional Chase wild card spot to Ryan Newman, who ran 11th.