As the laps ticked down in Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen, Marcos Ambrose chances for victory looked to be diminishing too. After passing Brad Keselowski for second, he wasn't able to close in on leader Kyle Busch, and the 2 second gap between the two stayed steady.
Then, with just over two laps to go, Keselowski got by Ambrose. It was definitely over for Ambrose — both for his hopes of winning the race and sneaking in the Chase. But then it all got crazy.
Right around the time Ambrose and Keselowski were fighting for second place, Bobby Labonte's engine let go, spewing oil onto the racing surface. However, that oil was largely invisible to the naked eye, and it turned the last lap into something that resembled a banana peel filled Mario Kart race at Sherbet Land.
As Busch rounded the last two corners of the penultimate lap, his gap over Keselowski and Ambrose shrunk from seconds to car lengths. It kept shrinking as the trio dove down the hill towards turn one on the race's final lap, and disappeared as they all slid through the fluid residing the racing groove.
Busch and Ambrose slid wide off one but rejoined the track as the three headed to the esses. Keselowski didn't, and that meant he was stuck to the far right side of the track as they headed up the hill. Busch, still in the lead, albeit barely, needed to get over to that preferred side of the track too, both to be in the groove and in front of Keselowski. But Keselowski didn't let off the gas, and Busch's right rear fender made contact with Keselowski's left front, sending Busch into the guardrail.
So the race for the lead was down to two, with Ambrose in hot pursuit of Keselowski. They went off roading in the bus stop, and then they both slipped in the slickness of turn five, first Ambrose, then Keselowski.
That might have been the break that Ambrose needed, as he had already collected the car as Keselowski was sliding, and got around him for the lead as the duo headed towards turn 6. But Keselowski, smoke coming from his car as the left front fender was rubbing the tire, got behind Ambrose and gave him a nudge into the turn. That sent Ambrose wide again, but when he rejoined the track, he had the inside line into the final corner as they were side-by-side, and he out drag-raced Keselowski to the checkered flag.
"I was the first one to slip in the oil and it was just getting worse and worse," Ambrose said. "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 and Brad. They're the two best guys to race. It's just awesome fun and that's the way racing should be and we got the No. 9 Stanley Ford in Victory Lane."
Now Ambrose, who is 16th in the points standings, is amongst five drivers with one win apiece from 11th-20th in the points standings vying for the final wild card spot. One of those other four is Busch, who declined to comment after the race, saying that he had nothing good to say.
It was, no doubt, the wildest NASCAR finish in recent memory, even if it overshadows the debate that will certainly ensue about NASCAR's decision to not throw a caution for the oil on the track; something that was evident after driver after driver talked about the track conditions after the race.
NASCAR said that they didn't have a confirmed report of oil on the track, and that none of their spotters saw oil on the track.
NASCAR VP of Competition Robin Pemberton said that NASCAR would have thrown the yellow if it thought there was a safety issue.
"If we thought it would put people in harm's way, we would have had to address that," Pemberton said. "We didn't get a confirmed report that there was oil on the track."
When Pemberton was asked by The Sporting News' Bob Pockrass about the oil, he said that "They also said that their tires were wore out and their brakes were wore out and all that other stuff that goes on."
It's entirely improbable that the track lost grip on it's own on the final laps for the entire field. But that lack of grip equaled a lot of craziness.
"Those last two laps were just out of control with the oil down," third place finisher Jimmie 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. "
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