|The King and King of the road courses, for the second straight year (Getty)|
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. – Watkins Glen International's frontstretch grandstands erupted with approval as fans watched favorite villain Kyle Busch spin from the lead on the white-flag lap of Sunday's Finger Lakes 355.
Marcos Ambrose survived a wild last lap to win his first Sprint Cup race of the season and defend his title at Watkins Glen.
Marcos Ambrose and Brad Keselowski did their part to make sure they stayed on their feet.
Ambrose emerged victorious in a riveting duel to the checkered flag that had both cars skidding around the track, through grass and, ultimately, repeating their 1-2 finish in this Sprint Cup race a year ago.
With every twist and turn of the 2.45-mile circuit visible on big screens, fans roared during the last-lap theatre that ended with Ambrose making two final saves of his No. 9 Ford around two final turns before a dramatic drag race to the finish line. Even the runner-up was applauding.
"We were both cool about it and didn't dump each other," Keselowski said. "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. Marcos gets that."
Busch, who led 43 laps, wasn't quite as thrilled with the outcome, storming into his hauler without speaking to reporters. Crew chief Dave Rogers said Busch's No. 18 Toyota slowed after running through leaked oil from Bobby Labonte's No. 47. Busch went through the runoff in Turn 1, and by the time he returned to the racetrack Keselowski was on his bumper and spun him, setting the stage for the duel.
"We knew (Labonte) blew a motor, and instead of getting off the racetrack like he should have, he tried to stay out there and run the extra two laps," Rogers said. "And when he did, he ran right through the (racing) groove."
Ambrose, who has finished third or better in his last eight NASCAR races at Watkins Glen (Nationwide and Cup), was more than happy to take advantage for his second career Cup win.
"We had a fast car. We were in position to take advantage when it went crazy," Ambrose said. "We got the win. We didn't luck into it. We deserved to get this win. We'll take it."
Jimmie Johnson finished a distant third, replacing Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. (28th after a late spin) as the points leader. Sonoma winner Clint Bowyerwas fourth and Sam Hornish Jr. fifth, his best Cup finish since 2009.
Sunday's outcome enriches the focus on the Chase for the Sprint Cup cutoff that's coming in four weeks.
Ambrose joined a group of five one-win drivers that are vying for one of two wild-card spots awarded to the winningest drivers ranked 11th through 20th. The top 10 in points and 11th-place Kasey Kahne (two wins) are in good shape, but Ryan Newman, Busch and Jeff Gordon are separated by 10 points for the second wild card.
That Busch, who said Saturday he was taking a "win-or-bust" mentality into the Chase run-up, finished seventh was some solace to Gordon (21st). A second win for Busch would have meant an uphill climb for Gordon and other one-win drivers. "Yeah, that would have impacted it in a big way," Gordon conceded.