Kyle Busch celebrates Sunday’s victory at Watkins Glen, atoning for last year’s near miss in the race when he led going into the final lap but finished a disappointing seventh. (Reuters News Service)
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. — Kyle Busch fought off Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex Jr. on three restarts in the final 12 laps to win the Cheez-It 355 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International on Sunday.
Busch finally claimed a second WGI win after two years of leading the most laps.
Keselowski held on for runner-up honors, taking his third-straight Watkins Glen second-place finish. Truex was third.
“We were strong, but we just weren’t quite strong enough,” Keselowski said. “We were definitely really close, and we’ve been close over the last three years, but just came up a little bit short on the last lap on all three of them. That stinks, but that’s racing.”
Busch got restarted in the lead after a lap-60 caution. He had made his final pit stop of the race just before the yellow flag waved.
Those who hadn’t stopped during green-flag conditions were forced to pit under caution, moving those who pitted previously up to the front.
Busch remained up front for the rest of the 90-lap distance.
Marcos Ambrose, who had won the event the past two years, dominated the first two-thirds of the race, leading all but 10 laps by the time the lap-60 caution came out. But when the yellow waved, it caught Ambrose just before heading down pit road. As a result of pitting under caution, Ambrose restarted 14th and was never able to make up much ground on the front runners in the remaining laps.
Ambrose’s race went from bad to worse on a restart with six laps to go. He was among a group of drivers that got bunched up on the restart. He wound up spinning and hitting the wall, ending his day prematurely and resulting in a 30th-place finish.
“I’m just really disappointed for my Stanley team,” Ambrose said. “Something was wrong with the car there, and I just couldn’t get going. I could feel on the roll-around lap that something had broken, but I just feel bad for the guys who got caught up in all that mess. That’s not the way we wanted our day to finish, but thank you to Stanley and Ford and everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports for giving me a good shot to win today. We had a very fast car, but it just wasn’t our day.”
Keselowski also spun early in the race, but managed to avoid contact with any other cars or the wall and was able to continue to work his way back toward the front. By the time Ambrose’s issues began with the lap-60 caution, Keselowski was back toward the front to battle with Busch and Truex for the lead.
“I knew I needed to keep position on them (Keselowski and Treux),” Busch said. “The car was really good on long runs.”
But the lead was one that Busch wouldn’t relinquish. Both Keselowski and Truex pressured Busch for the lead on restarts throughout the remainder of the race. Each time, though, Busch managed to stay out front.
“We had a shot at it,” Keselowski said. “I was going to have to wreck him to really get it, and I didn’t want to do that. I thought I could cross him over here on the last corner, and the car just slid the back end a little too much, and I just couldn’t quite pull off the move.”
Carl Edwards finished fourth, and Juan Montoya rounded out the top five. Finishing sixth through 10th were Clint Bowyer, Joey Logano, Jimmie Johnson, Kurt Busch and A.J. Allmendinger.
NOTES: Kyle Busch’s other Sprint Cup win at Watkins Glen came in 2008… Busch also competed in the Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen on Saturday but wrecked on lap one of that event …. Ambrose led a race-high 51 laps. … The race included five lead changes among five different drivers. … The yellow flag waved eight times, three times in the final 12 laps. … The race was red-flagged for more than 12 minutes after a multi-car wreck on lap 40. … Keselowski moved up four spots in the championship points standings, from 12th to eighth. … Max Papis, filling in for the injured Tony Stewart, finished 15th.