WATKINS GLEN – Brad Keselowski wouldn’t stop talking about it. He thought it was “good, hard racing,” “beating and banging,” “bumping and rubbing.”
And he was the guy that got bumped – and beaten – on the last turn of the last lap.
In what had to be the most exciting final lap in Sprint Cup history at Watkins Glen International, Marcos Ambrose survived a zany, crazy ride Sunday to capture the Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen, his second straight NASCAR Sprint Cup win at the road course.
The Tasmanian with the road-racing background survived a battle with arguably the sport’s best two young drivers after a 90th lap that featured Ambrose, Keselowski and Kyle Busch all in the lead at one point. The racing was so wild, it looked at times that it was being done on an oil slick. That’s because it was.
“It was absolute chaos at the end,” Ambrose said.
With oil down on the track – but not enough for drivers, officials or 90,000 enthralled fans to see – Kyle Busch went from first, to second, to ultimately seventh. Keselowski went from second to first and then traded the lead twice with Ambrose, who made a fantastic recovery at the finish to earn himself and his banged-up No. 9 Ford a trip to victory lane.
It was the wildest last lap I’ve seen in watching about 15 years of races here. If it wasn’t the craziest, someone needs to show me some VCR tapes of what went down in the '80s.
The strongest performers on what was an otherwise placid afternoon high above the southern tip of Seneca Lake were the three who battled to the finish. Busch led three times for 43 laps, Keselowski led three times for 37, and when one of them was in front, Ambrose (eight laps led) was usually right behind.
Ambrose and Busch, both well out of postseason spots to start the day, were desperate for a win. On Saturday Busch said “it’s win or bust.” He ended up with a busted car, but he looked like had a sure win late in the race.
Busch made a fantastic move on the final restart, with 15 laps to go. Keselowski had the lead over Ambrose and Busch. While Ambrose – lined up on the outside on the double-file restart – went to the outside of always treacherous downhill Turn One, Busch went to the inside and seized the lead. Ambrose took second after a battle with Keselowski, which left Busch seemingly on his way to a tremendous win with an uneventful finish, as he had built a more than two-second lead right up until there were two laps to go.
“Give the guy props, he did exactly what he needed to do, took us three-wide into [Turn] One,” Ambrose said. “I knew I was toast, I knew I was in trouble.”
As the cars approached the white flag, they started to strangely bunch up. Keselowski had gained the second spot back from Ambrose, and both of them were suddenly approaching Busch. Onlookers wondered what had happened to Busch’s car – but he, like Ambrose, had found the oil.
Only well after the race was it realized that the oil on the track had come from Bobby Labonte’s car. “You couldn’t see the oil,” Ambrose said. “It was wait 'til the car slides and try and save it.”
Busch crossed the start/finish line as the leader entering the final lap, but it wouldn’t last long. Keselowski went inside and Busch went wide to the outside of Turn One, and when he tried to get back in line, he didn’t clear Keselowski and he spun out in the entrance to the Esses.
That left Ambrose and Keselowski battling for the rest of the lap. Ambrose went ahead, Keselowski took it back.
Ambrose had a lead heading into the short chute leading to Turn 10, Keselowski bumped him from behind to go ahead, but Ambrose used the off-track pavement beyond Turn 10 to recover and get to the inside of Keselowski as they reached the final turn (11). Ambrose then just positioned himself perfectly to sneak past and get the win.
Keselowski showed why he’s not just one of his sport’s next great drivers, but perhaps its next great personality, because of how he put it into words (and tweets) afterward.
Busch stomped off, telling trailing reporters repeatedly – and understandably: “I don’t have anything good to say.”
“Sorry to @KyleBusch and his fans for the contact. We were just all pushing hard for the win and he caught the worst of it. #NotIntentional,” tweeted Keselowski.
“It was just hard, hard racing on a great race track,” Keselowski said. “This is a real road course – seems like all the other places are parking lots with corners. You see real racing here. … We leaned on each other, we bumped each other. We were both cool about it and didn’t dump each other. This is what I think racing in NASCAR is supposed to be, hard-nosed, going for the win, bumping and rubbing without any of that intentional wrecking nonsense.”
Later, Keselowski joked, “I guess we just need cars to blow up and put oil on the track every week.”
That’s certainly crazy talk. But after a finish like this … maybe just a little?