Marcos Ambrose Wins, Kyle Busch Disappointed in Instant Classic at Watkins Glen
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Marcos Ambrose pulled off the unthinkable in Sunday's Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen International.
Ambrose claimed victory at the 2.45-mile road course for the second year in a row after appearing to be all but out of contention in the race's closing laps.
Ambrose was fading in the final moments of the race as Kyle Busch, the event's dominant driver who led a race-high 43 of the 90 laps, appeared destined for a critical victory in his bid for the Chase.
Busch earned the lead for the final time after making a daring three-wide pass for the lead on Ambrose and last year's runner-up Brad Keselowski on the race's final restart with 16 laps to go.
But things changed just before the white flag waved and, as fate would have it, the three drivers who challenged for the victory a year ago would battle it out for the checkers again.
Unbeknownst to spectators until the race was finished, Bobby Labonte's car began spilling oil on the track with two laps remaining and Busch, being the race leader, was the first driver to hit the oil and saw his lead quickly shrink from two seconds to just a few car lengths in a matter of moments.
As the white flag waved, all three drivers converged on each other for a few moments of madness.
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When the leaders hit the "esses" portion of the track, Busch got sideways and left second-place Keselowski with nowhere to go. Keselowski punted Busch, who would finish seventh, to a roaring ovation from the fans.
Then it was mano-a-mano between Keselowski, arguably the best driver in NASCAR's top level these days, and Ambrose, arguably the best road racer in the world.
The two stars battled it out for two miles on an oil-drenched track. Both drivers slid off course in the "bus stop" portion of the track. Ambrose booted Keselowski to take the lead off Turn 5. Keselowski returned the favor in Turn 6.
The two drivers then raced door-to-door through the final corner, with Ambrose claiming the advantage and hanging on for the victory. He led just eight laps, but he led the last one.
"I was relieved last year. This year it's just pure joy," Ambrose told reporters after the win.
Keselowski, despite coming up short, was seen high-fiving Ambrose's crew members after the race and claimed, "That's the way racing should be."
Some drivers were less than pleased with the finish, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., who spun on his own prior to the oil being dropped and lost the points lead, as well as Jeff Gordon, who spun off the final turn and fell out of the second and final Wild Card spot.
Kyle Busch was so disgusted after the race that he declined interview.
The final lap shook up the points standings quite a bit as well.
With a win, Busch would have grabbed sole possession of the second Wild Card spot from Gordon and would be one of only two drivers outside the top 10 with multiple wins.
Instead, Busch trails Ryan Newman by six points for the final spot, while Gordon trails Newman by 10 points.
Meanwhile, Ambrose has climbed into the Chase conversation with his win at Watkins Glen. And while he may be a long-shot to make the playoffs at 44 points back, another trip to Victory Lane for the No. 9 car could make things very interesting.
But for now, we'll continue to soak in this thriller.
Much will be made about whether NASCAR should have thrown a caution with the oil on the track; the result of which would have been either a green-white-checkered finish or a finish under caution.
Either scenario would have deprived us of what we saw today.
Perhaps NASCAR did the right thing by letting the finish play out, or perhaps they didn't.
Regardless, the race we got to witness today undoubtedly goes down as an instant classic.
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