Philadelphia, PA – Several drivers are ticked off, or better yet, "slicked" off at NASCAR after the last-lap chaos in Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International.
The final circuit around the 2.45-mile, 11-turn road course in Upstate N.Y. was indeed a wild one with cars slipping and sliding due to oil spots on the track, which is believed to have come from Bobby Labonte's car after he was experiencing engine trouble during the closing laps.
Coming to the white flag, Kyle Busch led the way in hopes of picking up his second win of the season and therefore bolstering his chances of making the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. But Busch slid off the track heading out of turn one before second-place runner Brad Keselowski made contact with him. Keselowski moved into the lead when Busch spun around.
Marcos Ambrose moved into second and then caught up with Keselowski, as the two duked it out in a classic battle for the win. While both drivers were sliding around as though they were racing on a dirt track, Ambrose bumped into the rear of Keselowski and took the lead away from him with two turns to go before the finish line.
Keselowski made a valiant effort to reclaim the top spot but ended up finishing runner-up to Ambrose at Watkins Glen for the second year in a row.
After finishing seventh, an angry Busch was in no mood to talk with reporters when he was leaving the track.
Busch wasn't the only one who fell victim to the oil on the track. Jeff Gordon, the winner of last week's rain-shortened race at Pocono Raceway, had a top-10 run going until he lost control and spun out in turn 11 before slamming into the guardrail. Instead of maintaining his second spot in the Chase wild card rankings, Gordon's 21st-place finish at Watkins Glen put him out of the Chase field for now. Just four races remain before the playoffs begin in NASCAR's top series.
After the race, Gordon questioned NASCAR for not displaying the yellow flag on the last lap.
"It's just unfortunate that it gets taken away from you, because NASCAR doesn't want to end the race under (caution)," he said. "I understand. You want to keep it entertaining and give the winner a shot at it, but there are a lot of other things going on out there too. I think they completely disregarded that, and hey, it's over now."
Gordon's Hendrick Motorsports teammate, Jimmie Johnson, finished third and moved atop the point standings for the first time this season.
"Those last two laps were just out of control with the oil down," Johnson said. "You are studying the road, trying to see if you can see an oil trail, and there really wasn't a large visible one to dodge. But you could feel the oil on your tires and slipping and sliding, and then guys are spinning all over. It was chaos."
Even NASCAR fan-favorite Dale Earnhardt Jr. had an issue with how the race ended.
"It was a bad deal, I think," he said. "The track shouldn't have oil on it. It's a tough deal, I guess. It finished out with all that oil on the track. I don't really like that. It was a bad, ugly finish at the end."
Earnhardt Jr. spun out with seven laps remaining and ended up finishing one lap down in 28th. He came to Watkins Glen with the points lead but dropped to fourth in the standings (-17).
NASCAR officials said they had no reports of oil from their track spotters. They only received reports of smoke from Labonte's car and therefore made no decision to end the race under caution.
Whether or not NASCAR made a bad call, some drivers, most notably Ambrose, were pleased with the outcome.
"Big shout out to NASCAR," Ambrose said. "A lot of people were saying if they should have thrown a caution or not. No one wants to see these races finish under caution, bunched back up in these two-by-twos and make it a random finish. We had the three fastest cars duking it out for the win. That's the way it should be, and I think they made the right call."
The finish at Watkins Glen was actually a good thing for NASCAR, providing fans with a thrilling conclusion. Perhaps there should be more dramatic finishes like the one we just saw.
"We need cars to blow up and put oil on the track every week," Keselowski said.
Well, maybe that's a little too extreme.