By David Morgan, NASCAR Editor
When the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rolls into Watkins Glen International, the races staged at the 2.45-mile road course in upstate New York have been known for both the hard racing and the violent crashes that come on the fast seven-turn layout.
Back in August 2011, the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen delivered that and more.
After getting delayed until Monday due to rain, Kyle Busch and AJ Allmendinger led the field to green for the first of 90 scheduled laps. Allmendinger and Busch, along with Marcos Ambrose, who started third, would lead the majority of the first 50 laps.
While Kyle Busch held the lead, his older brother Kurt Busch, then driving the No. 22 car for Team Penske, was having a day on the opposite end of the spectrum. After spinning in the inner loop on Lap 4 and losing a lap, Busch and Allmendinger had a run-in on lap 9 that forced Allmendinger off the track and out of the lead.
Things got even worse at lap 49 when Kurt lost the brakes on his car in Turn 5, sending him hard into the tire barrier and bringing his day to a merciful end.
“I had a big problem getting into the braking zones today—just rear brakes locking up,” Busch said after the crash. “I had to crank eight rounds of front brake into our (car) just to survive. All that does is generate brake heat, and I blew out the left-front tire.
“It was a bummer of a day and not anything that we expected. It must have been something with the brake package. Whatever Keselowski found at Road Atlanta (during his Aug. 3 testing accident when he broke his ankle), I had a problem with today.”
Busch would not be the last to have braking issues on the day as Denny Hamlin suffered the same fate on lap 65. Entering the high speed Turn 1, Hamlin’s brakes failed and sent him screaming into the tire barrier in that turn, demolishing the front end of his No. 11 Toyota.
“Something blew out in the left front,” Hamlin said. “When it did, it must have cut a brake line, so I had no brakes. I was trying to do everything I could to weave or anything I could to get the speed down in the car.
“There was just nothing you could do. The front tires locked up, and you can’t steer.”
Kyle Busch continued to be the dominant force out front as the laps continued to wind down and looked to have the race in the bag down the stretch, but he would have to contend with Ambrose to see which of the two would come away with the win.
Ambrose had powered his way from fourth at lap 70 up to the runner-up spot by the time the race reached the five to go mark, shortening Busch’s lead from two seconds down to two car lengths before Paul Menard crashed on lap 86 to set up a final restart, making it anyone’s guess on who was going to come out on top.
On the restart, Ambrose spun his tires allowing Busch and Brad Keselowski to get the jump, but it was short-lived as Busch locked up his brakes into Turn 1, which vaulted Keselowski to the lead and gave Ambrose the opportunity to power back into second place.
Setting his sights on Keselowski’s Dodge ahead of him, Ambrose made his move coming out of the Inner Loop, pulling to the inside of the Blue Deuce through Turn 5 and clearing him as they made their way onto the backstretch.
Once he had the lead, Ambrose was going to do everything in his power to keep the other contenders behind him and that’s exactly what he did. Still out front as they took the white flag and Keselowski and Busch ever-present in his rear-view mirror, it was going to take a slip up for them to be able to get past the heralded road racer from Australia before the checkered flag flew.
Before those three could settle it for good, a vicious crash involving David Ragan, David Reutimann, and Boris Said broke out off of Turn 1 on the final lap, bringing out the final caution flag and ending the race a half-lap from the finish.
With the field frozen, Ambrose scored his first career win in the Cup Series, returning RPM to Victory Lane for the first time since 2009 and giving Ford their first win at the track since 1996.
Keselowski came home second, with Busch in third, Martin Truex Jr. in fourth and Joey Logano rounding out the top-five.
“Just a dream day,” said Ambrose. “The sacrifices you make, we all make to get here, Todd and all the team, the Petty family, my family to get here, to be a contender in the Cup Series, to finally get to victory lane, it just is a dream come true for me. I’ve traveled halfway around the world and dragged my kids and my wife with me, and I kept telling them I was good, but until you can win in the Cup Series you can’t really put that stamp on it.”
The last lap crash occurred when Said and Ragan made contact, sending Ragan off course and into the Armco barrier next to the track, causing him to ricochet back into traffic and collect Reutimann in the process. Reutimann got the worst of the deal as his car slammed into the wall on the opposite side of the track, sending him airborne and flipping before coming to rest against the fence.
Both Ragan and Reutimann climbed from their cars and were OK, but the crash forced the track to make significant changes to the way the walls were laid out in that section of the track in an effort to keep another incident of the same caliber from happening again in the future.
“It’s just a product of close quarters racing,” said Ragan. “Our UPS team had done a good job. We were going to salvage a top-20 finish, I think, after running out of fuel early in the race. I feel like I had a good run. Thought I had Boris cleared and I think he got a little bit better run than I did and just hooked us. He certainly could have given a bit more of a break and we all could have gotten through there and not torn up anything. He was aggressive. We were all aggressive. He hooked me and we hit hard.”
“Disappointing. Didn’t really need to happen, but that’s just how it goes,” Reutimann added.
“I’m thinking where I hit would be a good place for a SAFER barrier, so maybe we should look at that next time we come back. Overall, I’m OK and ready to get out of here.”
The late race fireworks didn’t end with the crash or the checkered flag as Greg Biffle and Boris Said got into it in the garage after the race before being separated by their crews. When TV cameras caught up with Said afterwards, he gave what was probably the soundbite of the year in expressing his remorse for his part in the crash and his disdain for Biffle.
“It was crazy,” noted Said. “The last lap, the 6 car was getting into me a lot and I didn’t want to wreck him, but I had to stay on the track. He didn’t give me any room and we collided. That’s the only thing I feel bad about.
“I’m more upset with Greg Biffle. He’s the most unprofessional little scaredy-cat I’ve ever seen in my life. He wouldn’t even fight me like a man after, so if someone texts me his address, I’ll go see him Wednesday at his house and show him what he really needs. He needs a friggin’ whooping and I’m going to give it to him. He was flipping me off, giving the finger, totally unprofessional. Two laps down, I mean he’s a chump.
“I went over there to go talk to him and he wouldn’t even let me get out of the car. He comes over and throws a few little baby punches in there and when I get out, he runs away and hides behind some big guys. He won’t hide from me long. I’ll find him. I won’t settle it out on the track. It’s not right to wreck cars, but he’ll show up at a race with a black eye one of these days. I’ll see him somewhere.”