Marcos Ambrose went into the final lap of the the Finger Lakes 355 in third position. At times over the next seventy seconds, he and the other leaders came perilously close to outright disaster on a treacherous track made slick by oil from a backmarker. But when the dust finally settled, Ambrose had clinched the win in one of the most thrilling climaxes to a NASCAR Sprint Cup race all season.
"It was just absolutely crazy at the end," admitted the Australian, who won his first NASCAR Cup race right here at Watkins Glen exactly a year ago. "It just feels so good to be back in Victory Lane ... It just feel so good. This year is pure joy. It's a great day."
Despite concerns about showers in the area, the race started on time at 1.20pm local time. Polesitter Juan Montoya didn't get to turn a single lap in the lead and was immediately passed in turn 1 by fellow front row man Kyle Busch, who went on to lead 43 of the 90 laps of the race and claim the bonus point for most laps led.
"We got the last two poles and I did think we had a car to win today," said Montoya. "We kind of bogged down at the start and Kyle got us."
From the jubilation after qualifying on Saturday, it was to prove to be another disappointing race day for Montoya. He was able to maintain position behind Busch over the first stint, but was off the pace after the first round of pit stops with a mechanical failure.
"I think it was the lower control arm," Montoya said while the team effected repairs. "We got a good pit stop and got ahead of [Busch]. It was looking really good; everything like it was going according to plan. The car started getting really tight and all of a sudden I hit a curb and the car went completely left on me."
Montoya did get back out but was far off the lead lap by the time he rejoined. He was just one of a number of cars that seemed to get beaten up by the Watkins Glen curbs, with other casualties including Montoya's Earnhardt-Ganassi Racing team mate Jamie McMurray, Joe Gibbs Racing's Joey Logano, Michael Waltrip Racing's Brian Vickers and Phoenix Racing's Kurt Busch.
"We don't know if a tyre went down or what," said McMurray of his exit from the race on lap 25 which brought out the first caution in the middle of the initial round of pit stops. "It just happened all of a sudden. The tyre blew out and we hit the guardrail [in turn 4] pretty hard."
"I felt it about 10 laps before that caution," said Logano of his own problems. "I felt it bouncing really hard in the rear. It ended up ripping the whole mount, the whole shock mount right out of the chassis."