NASCAR » 15 August 2011
Ambrose finally gets to victory lane
"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," he said. "There was just nothing you could do. The front tyres locked up, and you can't steer."
Fortunately Hamlin had been able to climb out of the crumpled #11, but he looked shaken and was driven away in the ambulance for a routine visit to the infield care centre after waving at the crowd. He had been working hard all day to recover from starting at the back of the field after hitting the wall through turn 5 during his qualifying run: safe to say, the Glen wasn't going to be his favourite course of the year and may well have a major effect on whether he makes the Chase or not after the crash resulted in a 36th place finish.
Gordon pitted under the caution and took the restart in 20th position, while Earnhardt Jr. similarly took a hit and fell to 22nd after looking like he might be flirting with a breakthrough road course epiphany at one point. The race went back to green with 21 laps to go, Busch retaining the lead and checking out at the front, while Keselowski briefly lost second place to Truex Jr. and then came under further pressure from Ambrose. But Brad was soon back on form and back in second, and Ambrose soon dispatched the upstart Truex for third and then pressed Keselowski for second, claiming it on lap 75 and showing every sign of being right on course for his maiden Cup victory as he started to cut into Busch's lead.
By lap 82, with just eight laps to go before the end, Ambrose was right up on Busch's back bumper and the #18 was feeling the sustained pressure lap after lap, overdriving into turn 6 on lap 85 but managing to just about hold onto the lead despite the error.
And then on lap 86 the game completely changed, when Paul Menard - another outside Chase possibility - blew a tyre into turn 2 and hit the wall coming out of the esses at turn 5, taking a hard hit that left the #27 on fire and scattering fluids and debris all over the track for a very long stretch that would require a lengthy clean-up. Menard himself was okay and swiftly out of the demolished car, but it would be a painful blow to what had remained of his Chase hopes as he slumped to a 32nd place finish.
"The tyres were getting old but nothing was indicating that I had a tyre corded or anything," he said afterwards, lamenting the loss of a prospective 14th place. "The place is hard on brakes and that builds a lot of heat in the tyres. Really no warning though. Just going through a wide-open section going to fourth gear. I felt it popped, I lifted and the wall came up in a hurry."
It left the race staring at a thrilling final green-white-chequered showdown for the win between Kyle Busch and Marcos Ambrose, both with much to prove at the Glen; and not to forget Brad Keselowski now closed right back up to them under the caution and ready to make his own play for the win. But the critical factor also looked to be fuel, with Busch and Keselowski both right on the limit, but Ambrose, Montoya (in fifth) and Johnson (sixth) all good to run full throttle. Oh, and just for good measure, after a brief outbreak of sunshine half an hour before, suddenly there was rain in the air again.
The green flag came out, the leaders going three-wide down the frontstraightaway before Kyle overshot turn 1 and lost the lead to Keselowski. Ambrose had spun his tyres initially but soon recovered and was right onto and then into the back of the #2 in turn 5, physically moving the Penske aside in a classic sportscar move to take the lead for himself at the white flag, which made the race result official at the next flag.
"I just turned up into turn one and tried to make something happen," said Ambrose. "I'm pleased we did it clean - but I was gonna get to Victory Lane. I wasn't gonna let that #2 beat me to the chequered flag!"
And that flag was triggered before Keselowski could mount a fightback on the final lap, when all hell broke loose further down the field. Boris Said had tapped David Ragan into the wall hard at turn 1 at quite the worst angle. The #6 then bounced back off the barrier into the path of David Reutimann, sending the #00 seriously airborne and flipping him into the catchfence at turn 2 before it landed upside down in a quite horrifying accident. Elsewhere, Tony Stewart and Clint Bowyer had a private party when they made contact in a separate incident through turn 5.
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