Any way anyone wants to dissect it, Marcos Ambrose's win in Sunday's Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen was pretty slick.
With an apparent fine mist of oil that NASCAR officials and drivers alike couldn't see sprinkled down on the 2.45-mile track, the final lap turned into a fantastic spectacle of survival.
Ambrose, the defending race champion, was running third behind then-leader Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski when he took the white flag signifying one lap to go. But as the three lead cars came hustling through the esses on the tricky, fast road course, Busch's No. 18 Toyota appeared to wiggle a little and then got turned by a hard tap from behind by the No. 2 Dodge of Keselowksi. Suddenly Ambrose was running second.
"I can't blame Brad for hitting Kyle. The guy was sliding across the track. He was going to spin out," Ambrose said. "Brad just finished him off. And I thought, 'Man, there's one. I got one more to go.'"
Up on Ambrose's pit box, crew chief Todd Parrott sat with team co-owners Andrew Murstein and Richard Petty of Richard Petty Motorsports. They all instantly inched forward a little more on the edge of their seats.
Then Ambrose was chasing Keselowski up the race track, through the grass, and finally used his No. 9 Ford to nudge Keselowski with a gentle tap to get by him. And still, the two were not done. Battling the slick condition of the race track as much as each other, they dueled through the final two turns and were side-by-side again at one point before Ambrose finally pulled away for his first win of the season.
"I was pretty emotional there at the end," said Parrott, who first became a crew chief in 1995 with driver Ernie Irvan. "I've been around a lot of great races. I've been associated with a lot of great wins. But that one right there probably ranks up there in the top two or three as far as the excitement level on the last lap.
"You go to take the white flag, you're not sure if you're going to finish second or third. Then half a lap later, you're saying you're going to win the race. ... The fans got their money's worth on that one. I know from my seat, with Richard sitting behind me, that [expletive], it was crazy."
The bigger picture
And sitting right next to Petty was Murstein, who had this kind of crazy racing glory in mind when he decided to invest huge dollars in RPM in November of 2010 along with partner Doug Bergeron.
"That was unbelievable," Murstein said of Sunday's wild finish. "Watching the last couple of laps, sitting next to Richard Petty and having him give me the play-by-play, that was pretty incredible as well. It was a great day for RPM."
Murstein, however, was thinking of the bigger picture and what Ambrose's second consecutive Cup win at The Glen might mean in the long run. Only a couple of weeks ago, Murstein and Petty had been involved in serious, candid discussions about the future direction of the company -- and they weren't in agreement.
Murstein said he was under the impression that a lucrative proposal was in the works with Dodge, the manufacturer that instead made the surprise announcement last Tuesday that it was pulling out of NASCAR altogether.
"A lot of things go through your head -- because we're in a precarious position at RPM right now," Murstein said. "Things were going great. We thought we were going to have a couple of very large proposals put in front of us by Dodge and others. And then Dodge dropped out, as everybody knows. So you think about the future and this certainly makes it a lot easier to think what's going to come ahead for RPM."
Petty and Ambrose were two inside the organization who wanted to stay with Ford, even before Sunday's old-school win. Murstein wasn't so sure.
"There's money and then there's the love of this sport," Murstein said. "That's why I think Richard and I are a good pair. I try to keep an eye on the checkbook, and Richard just reminds me what this sport is all about, and where it came from, and what the fans mean to it. And Richard really wanted to stay with Ford all along. He felt comfortable with them and he thought we were showing improvements along the way with them.
"We were going back and forth for a while. And every time I would say, 'Yeah, but look at the money that's coming from Dodge,' he would come back and say, 'But look at the relationship we've built with Ford. Sometimes the people you know are better than the people you don't know.' I don't know which way it would have gone. Just like this race, it probably would have gone down to the wire."
Sammy Johns, director of operations at RPM, said it doesn't really matter about what might have been. Sunday was about what is.
"Today's about Ford Racing. We got Ford to Victory Lane," said Johns, standing in Victory Lane and soaked with champagne sprayed by Ambrose and other team members. "All I can say about the last month or so is kudos to all the employees of Richard Petty Motorsports. They kept their heads down. We knew this race was on the calendar coming up, but they easily could have lost their focus with all the rumors and stuff that was going on about us -- and then with the news the other day that Dodge came with.
"Our team easily could have lost focus. They didn't; they kept their heads down, did their jobs, and we put ourselves in position to get Ford to Victory Lane today. I couldn't be prouder."
One for the books
It was a win that was big on style points, as most are when a race remains in doubt coming into the final turns and cars are sliding all over the place. It reminded Petty, the Hall-of-Fame driver with a record 200 race wins and seven Cup championships, of the good ol' days.
"Everything played our way," Petty said. "The oil on the track took care of the 18 and the 2 car. You don't write a script like that. You just go run it and hope you're not the one sitting in the woods at the end.
"That was the best road race and one of the best finishes I've seen in a long, long time. Watching Marcos, he kept passing people. He was the only one who could make time on the race track and if he caught 'em, he was going to pass 'em. I think it got the whole crowd behind him, because he was really putting on a show."
Petty said it brought back some memories of him battling fellow Hall of Famers David Pearson or Bobby Allison on the final laps of races during his own career "but not on road courses." And that was thrilling, even for him.
"You get down to the last of the race, some of you old guys will remember me and Allison did a lot of beating and bashing in the last few laps," said Petty, who insisted that back then no caution would be considered unless there "was a car blocking the track."
Then Petty added: "You go, you run, you do the best you can -- and then you try to take advantage of the circumstances. That's what Marcos did."
Ambrose, the energetic, amiable Australian who at least moved into the wild-card conversation in the Chase for the Sprint Cup scenario with the victory, could not stop smiling afterward in Victory Lane. Nor did his grin fade during a lengthy media center interview that followed that.
He certainly did not want talk of oil on the track to muck up his feel-good moment.
"We had the three fastest cars duking it out for the win at the end," he said. "That's the way it should be."
Indeed, it is. And it would be outstanding if NASCAR sees more of these kinds of scrambling, chaotic finishes in the future.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.
- Marcos Ambrose
- Brad Keselowski
- Richard Petty Motorsports