Kyle Busch finally took victory at Watkins Glen after two years of dominating performances had failed to produce a trip to victory lane.
Busch, who was leading up until the final lap in 2012 before sliding on oil, had a reversal of fortunes this year as Marcos Ambrose, who led 51 of the 90 laps, was caught out when team-mate Aric Almirola crashed on lap 60, with Ambrose dropping to fourteenth as a result of pit stops. Busch was on pit road when the caution came out, inheriting the lead as Ambrose came in to make his stop under caution.
“The guys did a great job this weekend, Dave [Rogers, crew chief] and everybody that worked on the car,” said Busch. “They did a good job for me, and I appreciate that, and all year long, I appreciate their effort. They’ve worked really, really hard. Today was just the fruits of their labour being able to get up front and lead those laps there towards the end of the race and then be able to win there at the end. I felt like our car was definitely better on the long runs. It seemed like I could stretch it out ones we got a few laps going.But there on cold tyres, it just really wouldn’t turn too well for me. I was struggling a little bit with that but was able to hold off the guys that are hungry behind us.”
Ambrose failed to make up much ground in the remaining green flag laps and all hopes of a Watkins Glen hat-trick were gone when Max Papis, substituting for the injured Tony Stewart, hit the Australian and sent him in to a spin with just six laps remaining.
“I’m just really disappointed,” said a frustrated Ambrose, who slammed his helmet into the car after climbing from his wrecked Ford. “Something went wrong with the car and I just couldn’t get going. That’s not the way I wanted to finish. It just wasn’t our day.”
Busch’s lead came under threat near the tail end of the race from reigning champion Brad Keselowski and Martin Truex, Jr. The duo came close to the Toyota in the closing stages with three late restarts, with Keselowski closing in on the eventual winner’s rear bumber, but knew there was only one way he would be able to get past.
“Kyle’s car was really good after five or 10 laps and my car was really good after five or 10 laps,” said Keselowski. “If that last run would have been five laps, I think I could have got him but it was only two or three. Kyle did a great job with his restarts. I almost had him but I was going to have to wreck him to do it and I’ve had enough drama. I didn’t need any more drama.”
Finishing second and third respectively allowed Keselowski and Truex to place themselves in the top ten with the Chase closing in rapidly. Keselowski moved from twelfth up to eighth while Truex climbed to tenth from fourteenth. Elsewhere, crashes for Kasey Kahne and Jeff Gordon saw both Hendrick drivers drop out of the top ten, although Kahne holds the first wild card with two wins.
Jimmie Johnson now holds a 75 point lead at the top of the Sprint Cup standings over Clint Bowyer in second place, while Carl Edwards, Kevin Harvick and Kyle Busch round out the top five. Kahne and Ryan Newman hold the two wild card positions with four pre-Chase rounds remaining.