The circumstances of the closing minutes of the Finger Lakes 355 at Watkins Glen International opened the door for Marcos Ambrose, and he drove through.
“He didn’t create the circumstances,” said team co-owner Richard Petty of Ambrose. “He took advantage of them.”
Ambrose turned in some spectacular driving on a slippery track on the final lap and passed Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski to score his first win of the year and the second of his career (the other also at Watkins Glen).
Oil – apparently from Bobby Labonte’s car – on various portions of the track made the last lap treacherous, and Ambrose sailed through it with the most authority.
“It was absolute chaos at the end,” Ambrose said. “All of a sudden, I’m starting to slide around on oil. It was absolutely crazy at the end.
“I thought Kyle got loose first on some oil. His car was sliding across the track and he was going to spin out, and Brad finished him off.
“You couldn’t see the oil. If it was a black streak, it would be OK, but it was almost like a fine spray.”
Other drivers also said they had no idea there was oil on the track until they hit it. NASCAR defended its decision not to throw a caution flag, saying its spotters did not see oil on the surface.
Ambrose said the “no-caution” call was OK.
“No one wants to see these races finish under caution,” he said. “We had the three fastest cars duking it out for the win, and I think they made the right call.
“And we were in position to take advantage when it went crazy.”
Ambrose said the situation with the oil was “similar to rain or drizzle on the track because you never know what you’re going to get when you get to a turn. It was wait until the car slides and then try to save it.”
Todd Parrott, Ambrose’s crew chief and a long-time traveler of NASCAR pit roads, said Sunday’s finish “probably ranks in the top two or three as far as excitement level.”
With his first seasonal win and a 17th-place position in points, Ambrose moved into contention for one of the two Chase wild-card spots. A second victory in the next four races could get it.
“We’re looking for next week (at Michigan),” Ambrose said. “We won the pole and ran top five there last time (finishing ninth). No reason why we can’t go there and surprise them again.”
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.