Busch rallies for win at The Glen
This time, Kyle Busch closed it out.
After two consecutive years of watching victories slip through his driving gloves in late restarts at Watkins Glen International, Busch held off a hard-charging Brad Keselowski in a two-lap dash to win Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at The Glen.
"Last couple of years here have been tough and today it could have been tough again, but we were raced clean and we put on a good show, I felt like," Busch said. "We've had fast cars here. I wouldn't say we deserve it, but we felt like we deserved to win here and just haven't quite been able to put it all together when it matters. Today we did that and I got some good restarts."
Like he did during a media stunt in Rochester three weeks ago, Busch literally burned off his rear tires celebrating on the front straightaway. The win was the 27th of his Sprint Cup career, third of the season and his eighth straight top-10 finish at The Glen.
From his fifth-place starting position, Busch methodically moved up into second place on the 47th of 90 laps, but couldn't make up much ground on race leader Marcos Ambrose — the two-time defending Glen winner who started from pole position and led 51 of the first 61 laps. Ambrose led by as many as 3.6 seconds until one of five cautions that occurred in the high-speed esses.
Busch was one of a handful that pitted right before a caution on the 61st lap, but Ambrose did not. When the field was reset, Busch was leading and Ambrose was buried in 12th place for the restart, and he was never a threat after that. His day ended with a wrecked car in, where else, the esses, following contact with Max Papis.
"We restarted 10th or 11th on that last one and we had a chance to real, but something went wrong with the car and that's just the way it goes," said Ambrose, who finished 31st — his worst showing at The Glen by 20 positions in either series he's raced in here. "I was in the way heading up the hill and got dumped by somebody."
After a restart with 26 laps left, Martin Truex Jr. tried outbraking Busch from his third-place spot on the restart entering the chicane — pulling his NAPA Toyota alongside Busch's M&M's Camry, only to lose grip on the outside line. Keselowski took advantage and slid into second place, where he remained for the rest of the event.
Although, it's not like he didn't try.
Three times in the last 11 laps, Keselowski did everything to squeeze past Busch, who struggled to find grip on cold tires, but never got closer than pulling up to Busch's rear bumper exiting turn 10 on the final lap. The defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champ admitted he could have bumped Busch out of the way, but took the high road.
"I could have definitely dumped Kyle and won the race," Keselowski said. "That stuff goes back and forth and I'm sure someone in the tabloid side of the media will make a big deal about that, but it won't (bother) me because I know I did the right thing."
It was Keselowski's third straight runner-up finish at The Glen, and fourth straight second-place showing for the flagship No. 2 Miller Lite Penske Racing car — with two different manufacturers.
For Truex, his podium finish was as close as anyone in NASCAR's top series has come to sweeping the Sprint Cup road races since Tony Stewart won both in 2005. The New Jersey native stayed among the top five all day and only put a wheel off course once, when he tried passing Busch in the chicane.
"We were a third-place car all day, just missed it a little bit, but all in all it was a good day for us," he said. "It's frustrating when you can see the leader all day and you're right there behind him and you can't do anything about it."
The Gen 6 was indeed faster than any previous iteration of a NASCAR stock car, but that came with unintended consequences which were on display in turns 2-4 — the very fast, very narrow and very blind esses.
Five of Sunday's eight cautions occurred in the sweeping right-left-right complex that spills out onto the back straightaway. Of those five, three involved multiple cars, and one even brought out a red flag. Theories why so many cars got crumpled up in the esses vary.
"The car is definitely more on edge through there, for sure, than what we've been in the past," Busch said.
"I could make ground up on them through the esses, but man, I was out of control. I was sliding through there for everything I had just trying to keep the pedal down and make up ground on them."
Truex offered: "Brad and I were side-by-side a couple times through there, me and Kyle went through there side-by-side once, but I'm telling you, you're on pins and needles and you're just waiting for something bad to happen when you do it."
Carl Edwards made up the most ground of the front runners, finishing fourth from his 16th-place starting spot, while Juan Pablo Montoya placed fifth. Outside pole-sitter Clint Bowyer faded after the first round of pit stops and salvaged a sixth-place finish; Joey Logano brought his car home in seventh place; Jimmie Johnson, eighth, was the lone bright spot in an otherwise forgettable day for Hendrick Motorsports; Kurt Busch was ninth and A.J. Allmendinger faded to 10th after running up front most of the afternoon.
Jeff Gordon started the misery for Hendrick when the familiar No. 24 Chevy aero-washed into the Turn 4 fence and spun into the inside of the track on the 15th lap of the race. On lap 82, Kasey Kahne got turned by Matt Kenseth in the esses, collecting Hendrick teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr.
Papis, filling in for the injured Stewart, placed 15th — even after getting turned by Greg Biffle late in the race.
"I felt we were definitely bound to have a top-10 finish," said the Italian sports car star. "Really glad Greg Biffle came over and apologized when he turned me around, he said it was totally his mistake. I think that really cost us a solid top 10."
As a result of Busch's win, he is almost guaranteed to make the Chase for the Championship with three wins this season, and sits fifth in the standings. Johnson clinched at least a wild-card berth with his finish Sunday and Keselowski moved four spots into eighth with another runner-up at The Glen. Kahne dropped four spots into 12th, but has two wins for a good shot at the wild card, and Gordon tumbled to 13th with no wins.
Next week, Michigan International Speedway will host the series, which has only four races left in the regular season.
Chris Gill covers NASCAR for the Corning Leader.