While Marcos Ambrose started in pole position at the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen – having earned the position by shattering the Sprint Cup qualifier track record in his Ford Fusion on Saturday – it was Kyle Busch who took the checkered flag for the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen on Sunday. Ambrose took the lead in 51 of the race’s first 62 laps, but following the caution flag on lap 60 resulting from teammate Aric Almirola’s crash, Ambrose dropped to 14th place with Busch taking the lead. Ambrose worked his way to twelfth position, but with six laps to go was bumped from behind by Max Papi and careened into a wall, demolishing any hope of claiming a third consecutive win at Watkins Glen.
Busch was in a good position for a win after the lap 60 caution, but still had to fight his way through a series of restarts in the race’s final fifteen laps to eventually take first place, followed closely by Brad Keselowski, with (in order) Martin Truex Jr, Carl Edwards, Juan Pablo Montoya, Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and AJ Allmendinger taking the top ten spots.
The Watkins Glen International race course, located near Watkins Glen, New York, has been hosting nearly every class of auto racing since 1948. Initially incorporating public roads, a dedicated circuit was built in 1956, with the track hosting the United States Grand Prix from 1961 to 1980. Although the track was the venue for a variety of events, it couldn’t survive financially without the Grand Prix and closed in 1981. In 1983, the track was bought by International Speedway Corporation, partnered with Corning, and renovated. In 1986, NASCAR Sprint Cup returned to Watkins Glen. Changes have been made to the track over the years, primarily for safety reasons, and Watkins Glen International remains one of the premier venues for a number of different types of auto racing.
With oil, reportedly from Bobby Labonte’s No. 47, turning the track into a slip ‘n slide, it was a close match between Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski at the end of the Finger Lakes 355 Sprint Cup race, with Ambrose taking the checkered flag for the second year in a row at Watkins Glen International Raceway. In a post-race interview Ambrose noted that it was ‘chaos at the end’ with the oil on the track. Nonetheless, he managed to pass Keselowski and clinch the win. Owner of Ambrose’s No. 9 Ford, Richard Petty, also commented on the slippery state of the track while commending Ambrose for staying with it through the race.
Crew chief of Kyle Busch’s No. 18 Toyota, Dave Rogers, commented on No. 47 leaving oil on the track noting that Busch hitting the oil gave Keselowski the opportunity to move ahead – a sentiment many may agree with. Busch hit the oil and skidded sideways as he came out of the first turn on the final lap. In his No. 2 Dodge Keselowski connected briefly with Busch before heading uphill with Ambrose close behind. Ambrose and Keselowski remained side-by-side nearly all the way around the 2.45-mile, 11-turn layout, even racing together over the grass in the inner loop of the top of the S-curves (commonly referred to as the bus-stop) in a nail-biting battle to the finish.
Jimmie Johnson finished the race in third placeputting him in the points lead over Greg Biffle by one point. Fourth place went to Clint Bowyer, with Sam Hornish Jr. in fifth and Greg Biffle in sixth.
The current Sprint Cup standings top ten are:
1. Jimmie Johnson – #48 Chevrolet – 777 points
2. Greg Biffle – #16 Ford – 776 points
3. Matt Kenseth – #17 Ford – 775 points
4. Dale Earnhardt Jr. – #88 Chevrolet – 760 points
5. Brad Keselowski – #2 Dodge – 733 points
6. Martin Truex Jr. – #56 Toyota – 728 points
7. Clint Bowyer – #15 Toyota – 719 points
8. Tony Stewart – #14 Chevrolet – 716 points
9. Kevin Harvick – #29 Chevrolet – 710 points
10. Denny Hamlin – #11 Toyota – 693 points
Saturday the 20th of August 2011 was a big day for Marcos Ambrose as he took on the NAPA Auto Parts 200, which forms part of the NASCAR Nationwide Series and was held at the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal. In Ambrose’s case it is fifth time lucky, as he put the failures of his past tries behind him to race to victory, which did not come easy at all. But it was none-the-less a moment Ambrose will never forget, as seeing the checkered flag was the moment he had been waiting for, for a very long time at this course.
Getting to the race was a rush for Ambrose, as he left Michigan International Speedway, where the NASCAR Sprint Cup was hosted, hopped on a jet, took a helicopter ride to St Hubert, and then jumped into a speedboat to cross the Olympic Basin to make the race on time. Not only was it rush to get to the racecourse, but Ambrose also had to survive a collision with Jacques Villeneuve, before he could focus on his winning performance and secure the victory.
Because Ambrose and drivers Carl Edwards and Trevor Bayne were needed to participate in Cup practice, they had to use reserve drivers to do their qualifiers for them, placing all three drivers at the back of the field. The course was filled with a field of forty-three cars. Twice Ambrose had to fight his way through the field, even though he was able to pass a staggering sixteen cars on the first lap and managed to get into the top twenty before the sixth lap, when he pitted for the first time. It was an accident filled race, with no less than six caution flags (yellow flags) making their appearance. The race had everyone, pit crews and spectators, on the edges of their seats as the action packed race unfolded before them.
But it was Marcos Ambrose who managed to take the victory, followed across the finish line by Alex Tagliani in second place, and Michael McDowell in third place. Ambrose commented after the race that he was never able to close the deal before, but he remained patient and calm throughout the race, which enabled him and his team to convert his efforts into a winning performance and that it felt really good to finally win the race that had eluded him for so long.