After two and a half seasons in Sprint Cup competition - 105 starts in all - Marcos Ambrose has finally arrived in victory lane following a nailbiting and explosive finish to the rain-delayed race at the historic Watkins Glen International road course.
It took place in the unfamiliar setting of a Monday morning after the race had been unable to run in its usual scheduled Sunday afternoon slot because of heavy rain hitting the area. As feared, rain was still threatening on Monday as the green flag finally dropped for the 'Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen' Sprint Cup race: the showers were very light and fairly brief, but it was still enough to make the track greasy and the grass wet enough to catch out the unwary, but delaying wasn't an option even as the fog rolled in to add to the problems, as the forecast looked much worse for later.
Hence it was 10am in the morning at the Glen in New York state, under less than optimal circumstances, when the race finally got underway, with AJ Allmendinger immediately getting aggressive and beating pole sitter Kyle Busch through turn 1 to take the early lead, Kyle going another place down before the end of the second lap after Allmendinger's Richard Petty Motorsport team mate Marcos Ambrose also pushed past.
The tricky conditions were underscored when two drivers expected to do well at the Glen had early offs: Kurt Busch, who had won Saturday's Nationwide Series race, spun off through the inner loop section while trying to pass Dale Earnhardt Jr. and was forced into the pits on lap 4 to have the car tidied up, new tyres fitted and grass removed from the grille, putting him briefly a lap down; and Boris Said similarly got lose, spun and slid off the track on lap 2 and was forced into his own early pit stop for a clean-up and to deal with a vibration issue. There was also a drive-thru penalty for Casey Mears who had changed lanes before the green flag at the start.
More cars were coming in for surprisingly early pit stops, with Kevin Harvick in for an apparently routine visit on lap 7 and Ryan Newman in the next time by, but by contrast others such as Ambrose and Juan Montoya stayed out to lap 17 when a brief intensifying of the drizzle made them pre-empt a full course caution that didn't happen.
Whatever Allmendinger's pit stop strategy was intended to be, it was upset when he tangled with Kurt Busch on lap 9, with Busch determined to recover from his early problem and get back on the lead lap. In getting past Allmendinger, Busch locked up his rear brakes and the #43 was pushed wide off the track. AJ was not at all happy as he made clear over his car radio, especially when two laps later he was forced into the pits to take care of the grass clogging the grille and consequently fell to 35th place.
Arguably the most surprising strategy was that of Kyle Busch, who opted to stay out much longer and found himself with a huge seven second lead over his nearest rival. By lap 26 he was coming up on the back of Carl Edwards to lap the #99, after Edwards had suffered a lengthy pit stop for handling adjustments. The highest-placed of the early stopped was Marcos Ambrose back in tenth position.
There were ongoing complains about the conditions - brief rain here, a wet track there, grass thrown up onto the track, too much water on the infield, too little visibility in the fog - but the first full course caution didn't materialise until lap 28 when Greg Biffle stalled in the inner loop section having run out of gas. Leader Kyle Busch was almost badly caught out with the timing, driving on empty himself by this point and needing to coast through the caution laps until the pit road was open and he could come in for gas.
That put Marcos Ambrose back on front for the second time that morning, followed by Montoya and Jeff Gordon with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in fourth place (despite his pathological hatred of road courses) just ahead of Red Bull duo Brian Vickers and Kasey Kahne. All of them had stayed out, with Kyle Busch having dropped back to eighth place with his pit stop for maximum fuel and four tyres while others who came in largely going for shorter fuelling and only two tyres.