Richard Petty Motorsports earned its fourth win during Sunday's running of the Finger Lakes 355 at the Watkins Glen International road course in Watkins Glen, N.Y. Marcos Ambrose made a last-lap pass to collect the win for the organization. It's the second consecutive year that Ambrose has won this race.
Richard Petty Motorsports now has wins in three of its four years. The finish yesterday was the eighth top-10 finish for the company this season and puts Ambrose and the No. 9 team in contention for a wild-card birth. They are currently fifth in the wild card standings.
Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 Stanley Ford
Starting Position: 5
Finishing Position: 1
Marcos Ambrose drove to his second-consecutive victory at Watkins Glen International in thrilling fashion as he traded spots for the lead multiple times coming to the checkered flag on an oil-slicked race track. Ambrose started the 90-lap race at "The Glen" from the fifth position. After losing a spot on the initial lap to Ryan Newman, Ambrose found his preferred line and had regained that spot, plus one, by Lap 7. Though he was running in fourth, Ambrose communicated to his Stanley team that the car was tight in the middle and loose on exit of the corners.
Ambrose continued to hold down the fourth position until his first scheduled pit stop of the day on Lap 20. Crew Chief Todd Parrott called the No. 9 machine into the pits for four fresh tires, fuel and track bar and air pressure adjustments in an attempt to help the car's loose condition. Just a few laps into his second run of the day, Ambrose relayed to the crew that he liked the changes made to his Stanley car and to continue going in the same direction for the next stop.
Pitting a few laps earlier than the majority of the field, Ambrose fell back in line in the 21st position exiting the pits. As more of the field began to cycle through green-flag stops, the first caution flag of the day flew on Lap 25 and Ambrose was scored in 18th. The rest of the field came to the pits under caution and with Ambrose's car just being serviced five laps prior, Parrott elected not to bring his driver down pit road. By virtue of not pitting, Ambrose restarted in the second position on Lap 29. Having a car that was handing to his liking, Ambrose passed the leader and was pacing the field from the top spot by Lap 39.
Easily outpacing the field, Ambrose held down the point position until having to come into the pits under green on Lap 46 for his second pit stop of the day. Noting Ambrose's earlier comment of making similar changes this stop as they did the previous stop, the No. 9 crew bolted on four fresh tires and again made track bar and air pressure adjustments. Still slightly off pit sequence from the rest of the field, Ambrose was running in the 14th spot when the second caution flag of the day was displayed on Lap 58.
Now in their fuel window, Parrott made the call to bring Ambrose down pit road one final time for four tires, fuel and a slight air pressure adjustment. The rest of the field elected to pit under caution and Ambrose was now back on sequence with the leaders, restarting in sixth. Shortly after the restart rain drops began to fall, bringing out the third caution of the day. On Lap 68 Ambrose again restarted in sixth.
On a mission to find his way to the front of the field, Ambrose quickly jumped into fifth position on the restart and then passed Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer going into Turn 1 to take over the third spot. With just 19 laps remaining, the second-place car of Tony Stewart spun bringing out the fourth caution of the day, advancing Ambrose to the outside pole for the restart on Lap 74.
When the green flag was displayed, Ambrose was on the outside when Kyle Busch took the leaders three-wide entering Turn 1. Not having the preferred line, Ambrose was shuffled back to the third spot. Battling Brad Keselowski for the second spot, Ambrose overtook the position on Lap 83. Ambrose now only had one car to chase down, but running each lap as hard as he could, his tires began to fade and Keselowski again regained the second position.
Running in third and second, Ambrose and Keselowski were gaining on leader Kyle Busch, when the track became slick with oil on Lap 88. Busch's car bobbled and Keselowski and Ambrose took advantage, sliding past him with just one lap to go. The final lap would prove to be one of the most exciting laps of the NASCAR season as Ambrose and Keselowski traded positions on and off the track's racing surface multiple times before Ambrose would take the lead for the final time coming out of the very last turn. Ambrose crossed the finish line in the point position to bring home his second-consecutive win at Watkins Glen International to the roar of an excited crowd.
The victory moves Ambrose up one spot in the points and he now sits in 17th place in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver point standings heading into next weekend's event at Michigan International Speedway, the site of Ambrose's first career pole earlier this season.
Ambrose's Thoughts after His Win at Watkins Glen:
"It just feels so good to be back in Victory Lane. Thank you to Sprint, Stanley, DEWALT, Mac Tools, Ford, Farmland - Richard Petty Motorsports and everybody that helped to get us here today. It just feels so good. This year is pure joy. It's a great day. That last lap was crazy and I slipped in the oil right off the bat. The oil on the track just kept getting worse and worse. You could tell the car was staying out there because the oil was moving around the race track and you just take your chances. You've got to commit at that point in the race and it was great racing with Kyle (Busch) and Brad (Keselowski). They're the two best guys to race at road courses. It's just awesome fun and that's the way racing should be and we got the No. 9 Stanley Ford in Victory Lane. I didn't burn anything up. Our strategy was to do three stops and all of a sudden that caution came out and we had to pit. We came in ninth or tenth or something and I just used the stuff up coming through and you just have to take Lady Luck when she strikes and it was our day."
Aric Almirola, No. 43 Smithfield Ford
Starting Position: 29
Finishing Position: 18
Aric Almirola and the No. 43 Smithfield Ford team also had a strong day with Almirola picking up his best finish ever on a road course in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. In fact, the finish was 10 positions better than his previous best, showing both the strength of the team and Almirola's improvement on road courses.
Starting in the 29th spot, Almirola moved up to 26th by Lap 18 when he told crew chief Mike Ford that his car was losing overall grip around the track. The team came down pit road on Lap 23 for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment to help the car. As Almirola returned to the track, the caution waved putting the team one lap down. But, since they just came down for service, they were in position to take the wave-around and restart 30th on Lap 29.
From Lap 29 to Lap 48, Almiriola never said one word on the team radio. He didn't need to as his actions were speaking louder than any words could as he advanced from the 30th position to 17th. On Lap 51, the team came down pit road for four tires, fuel and air pressure adjustments.
On Lap 57, the second caution of the day waved and this time Ford called Almirola into the pits for fuel only. This allowed Almirola to keep track position. He restarted the race in the top-15 and was able to stay in the top-20 and race to 18th in the final 30 laps of the event.
Almirola moved up one spot to 21st in the championship standings.
Comments from Almirola after Watkins Glen:
"Today was a big improvement for us at a road couse. I've got to thank Mike (Ford) and the guys, too. We had a pretty good car and we made some good calls on pit road to really gain some spots. On the track, I was pretty smooth and that helped us earn a good finish. It was a great day for Richard Petty Motorsports and Marcos. He drove a great race and deserved the win."