THE MOMENT: THE WATKINS GLEN THRILLER
IT IS ONE of the great moments in recent NASCAR history – a last lap thriller at Watkins Glen between Aussie Marcos Ambrose, Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch that ended in Ambrose winning at the historic upstate New York circuit for the second time.
Less known is that there was more Aussie involvement than just a former Supercars Champion from Tasmania behind the wheel of the No. 9 Ford – theracetorque.com’s own Mark Walker was sitting back in Australia managing PR for Ambrose, riding every bump, slide and dramatic moment after moment.
Here, Walker recounts the thrilling finale’ with a blow-by-blow description of one of the best last laps in racing.. possibly ever.
The 2012 Finger Lakes 355 at the Glen
Watkins Glen International, New York, USA
90 lap/220.5 mile race
Driver of the Stanley/DeWalt Ford number 9, won his first ever career Cup race at the venue 12 months earlier, and in three other previous starts on the road course had never finished lower than third. Would go on to finish his NASCAR career with four Nationwide Series race wins at the facility.
Driver of Penske’s Miller sponsored number 2 Dodge, pushed Ambrose hard to the finish at The Glen in 2011. He would go on to win the 2012 title.
Driver of the M&Ms number 18 Toyota Camry, won at Watkins Glen in 2008 and again in 2013. Later, he would win the NASCAR Sprint Cup in 2015.
Car 9 Spotters – Tim Fedewa & Sammy Johns
Ambrose’s spotter Tim Fedewa had 343 race starts in the top three tiers of NASCAR between 1999 and 2006, with four race wins in what is now the Xfinity Series. A calming voice, who has since gone on to win the premier class title spotting for Kevin Harvick in 2014. Sammy Johns, the Director of Operations at Richard Petty Motorsports, was brought in as a second spotter for the longer circuits on the schedule, including Watkins Glen, Sonoma and Indianapolis.
Car 9 Crew Chief – Todd Parrott
Parrott started his Crew Chiefing career at Yates Racing looking after Ernie Irvan, before winning the 1999 Cup Series with Dale Jarrett. Ambrose’s Crew Chief for his first two seasons at Richard Petty Motorsports.
Car 18 Crew Chief – Dave Rogers
Long time Joe Gibbs Racing Crew Chief with drivers such as Jason Leffler, Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Carl Edwards and Daniel Suarez. Now the Technical Director at JGR.
TV Commentators – ESPN
Allen Bestwick, Dale Jarrett, Andy Petree, with Mike Massaro in the pits covering Ambrose.
Radio Commentators – MRN
Barney Hall, Joe Moore, Dave Moody and Mike Bagley.
Ambrose’s PR bloke dating back to 2010, mailing this particular event in from a friend’s couch after crewing a Subaru WRX, which spectacularly expired (not for the first time – Ed) at a Shannons Nationals event at Queensland Raceway the previous day.
The Set Up
Initially planning to take three pit services, cautions saw Ambrose adapt to a two-stop strategy on the run, which placed him back in the pack. Tony Stewart, who was running in second position with 20 laps to go, lost control on his own over the kerb at the final corner and backed into the wall right in front of Ambrose. Running order at time of caution – Brad Keselowski, Ambrose, Kyle Busch and Clint Bowyer, after Ambrose had forged past Busch and Bowyer in quick succession. At the restart with 16 laps to go, the top three ran three wide into turn one, with the leader board changing to read Busch, from Keselowski and Ambrose. The driver of the number 9 car bided his time, saving tyres, before successfully attacking Keselowski for second with 10 laps to go. With two laps to go, the track became slick with oil, which seemingly was a mystery to some. What followed was one of the wildest laps in the history of NASCAR…
2 laps to go
TV Commentary – “It looks like Keselowski’s car came back to him, it’s just too little too late. If Ambrose happens to make a little bit of a mistake, Brad will be there to take advantage, there was a little bit of a mistake from the 9 car. It just looks like his handling is going away from him. Bobbin and weaving ‘round a lot.”
With the track becoming increasingly greasy, Ambrose drops the right-hand side tyres off on the exit of the inner loop.
“Just a lap and half to go, Keselowski aggressively after Ambrose, here he goes for second. He’s got position on him in the right place, he made a great move through the inner loop, he just slid that thing through there and got back on the gas. You could see that Ambrose’s car was really going away.”
Car 9 Spotter – “Two’s right with you, inside, clear behind him…”
Author’s thoughts – “Dammit, this hasn’t gone to plan, third aint first.”
Situation: slippery, as the drivers approached the last two corners on the penultimate lap.
TV Commentary – “That nine car is really bobbin around… I see the 18 is movin around like he is out of fuel…. I tell ya, that 2 car has closed the gap.”
Kyle Busch – “There’s oil everywhere, everywhere!”
1 lap to go – Turn 1
Car 18 spotter – “White flag, bring it back no matter what.”
Car 9 spotter – “Be smart, you’ll get ‘em.”
Radio Commentary – “This could be a volatile last lap, Bobby Labonte has blown the rear end of the 47 car, the track was very slippery last time by.”
TV Commentary – “One lap to go, Kyle Busch defensive line into turn one. There’s something wrong with the 18. Now Ambrose, trying to get second from Keselowski, while he tries to get the lead from Kyle.”
Busch sprays his car incredibly wide into the paved turn one outfield, with Ambrose in third joining him for his first off-track moment of the lap.
1 lap to go – Turn 2
TV Commentary – “CONTACT IN THE ESSES!”
Car 18 spotter – “Inside… GOTCHA!”
Car 9 spotter – “In front of you…keep digging, keep digging.”
Keselowski, who barely had an overlap with Busch, made contact with the 18 Toyota on the entry to the fast uphill Esses, spinning the leader, who later re-joined to finish in seventh.
TV Commentary – “Dangerous spot on the track for Kyle to be sideways, it looks like he gets off to the guardrail, no caution yet!”
Author’s thoughts – “Hold up, we’re still on here!”
1 lap to go – Turn 4
TV Commentary – “Here’s the race for the lead! Keselowski’s got damage on the left front. Is the tyre going to make it all the way around?”
Smoke starts to pour from the guard rubbing on Keselowski’s left front tyre, as the new leaders struggle for traction onto the back straight.
1 lap to go – Inner Loop
Car 9 spotter – “Keep digging, no yellow, keep digging, no yellow.”
Car 2 spotter – “Watch him here, block him.”
TV Commentary – “…and will the 9 help him? Everybody’s in the grass!”
Radio Commentary – “Keselowski with a tyre rub, here they come, Keselowski slides wide in the grass, Ambrose is in the grass, battling for the lead and the win!”
Ambrose makes his second and third off-track trips for the lap at the mid and exit apexes of the inner loop, following in Keselowski’s grassy wheel tracks.
1 lap to go – Turn 5
Car 9 spotter – “Keep digging, no yellow.”
Car 2 spotter – “No yellow here, dig dig dig!”
TV Commentary – “That might have been the race right there, we’ll see, NO! Keselowski’s slower. Keselowski’s got a problem. Trying to stay with Ambrose.”
Radio Commentary – “Keselowski is able to hold on to car, but here comes Ambrose back to the bottom, sideways off turn number five for the final time!”
Ambrose’s loose exit from the Inner Loop throws him wide, where he gained excellent traction, which allowed him to drive right up to Keselowski’s bumper.
The Stanley Ford again slips wide, which once again gives him superior drive, before running off track for the fourth time in the lap, where he once again found an adhesion advantage.
Following slight nose-to-tail contact, Ambrose completes the pass around the outside of Keselowski on the exit of the corner.
Radio Commentary – “There are two turns left for the two race leaders, here comes Ambrose, waaay wide, they are side by side, move Ambrose to the top spot!”
1 lap to go – Turn 6
TV Commentary – “Two final corners, do they use the bumpers?!”
Keselowski uses the bumper. Ambrose spears off the circuit for the fifth time in the lap, which ultimately proves decisive, as there was plenty of traction provided by the oil-free paved outfield.
TV Commentary – “A nudge, a push! Can Ambrose save it?!”
Radio Commentary – “Keselowski is right there, contact is made! Ambrose is off the race track!”
Car 9 spotter – “Nice and easy now.”
1 lap to go – Final turn
Ambrose returns to the circuit on the clean inside part of the track, inside Keselowski, who slips sideways on the oil exiting the corner.
Car 9 spotter – “He’s outside of you. Come on, easy now, bring it home. He’s going to try to slingshot you here. COME ON, YOU GOT IT, YOU GOT IT, YOU’RE THE B”
Car 9 Crew Chief – “YES! WOOOO! YEAH BABY, YEAH! YOU ARE A TWO TIME WINNER IN THE NASCAR SPRINT CUP SERIES BABY, WUWW!”
TV Commentary – “To the chequered flag! Who gets here first! Ambrose nine, Keselowski two! Final corner! Marcos Ambrose is going to win at Watkins Glen, in a remarkable last lap turn of events!”
Radio Commentary – “Marcos Ambrose, for the second year in a row will win at Watkins Glen International… Marcos Ambrose picks off the victory in probably one of the most incredible laps I have ever seen in my life!”
All told, there were four changes for the lead on the final circuit.
Marcos Ambrose – “Man, I can’t believe it! Woooo! Great job boys!”
Car 9 Crew Chief – “That’s what I’m talking about buddy, way to hang in there, awesome job, good job in pits guys! I love you buddy, God I love you, great job!”
Marcos Ambrose – “There was so much oil down there, it was unreal. Great job boys, thank you sooo much!”
Car 18 Crew Chief – “Alright, everybody, hold your composure, KB, hold your composure bud. Don’t say anything we’ll regret here.”
Author’s Thoughts – “YES! Oh shit. I’ve now got work to do…”
Richard Petty on Radio Broadcast – “Hey, congratulations to him… I can’t believe he can do that stuff with that car that he does, great!”
TV Commentary – “That was a year’s worth of excitement in 2.45 miles. Incredible. Marcos Ambrose with the first ever last lap pass for the win at Watkins Glen…. Marcos Ambrose celebrating back-to-back wins in the Sprint Cup Series at Watkins Glen International, after a crazy/strange/bizarre twist in the last lap, where Ambrose went from third to first.”
Radio Commentary – “They’ll talk about this one for a long, long time, you can’t see any better racing than what we saw all afternoon long here at Watkins Glen.”
Car 18 Crew Chief on TV– “Well the 47 broke (ironically Ambrose’s old car, now driven by Labonte), you see him go by, he broke, he left oil down all over the track, and it allowed the 2 car to get to him, and the 2 car raced us the way he raced us…”
Brad Keselowski on TV, who jumped out of his car and instantly went to congratulate the Richard Petty Motorsports crew – “The 18 was leakin fluid something fierce, and the track just had no grip at all, and when I caught him, it leaked really bad into (turn) one and he missed the corner because he was slippin in his own oil. I got under him into two, we all slipped in his oil and I hit him and I spun him. I mean, I hate to say there was nothing I could do, but there was literally nothing I could do, there was just one big giant oil slick under his car. I feel bad about that. Then it just came down to running a whole lap with Marcos, I’d get in the oil and slip up, and he’d get by me, then he’d get in the oil and slip up and I’d get by him. Just really good hard racing, there was some beatin and banging… I think that’s the way racing should be, it’s great to race against guys like Marcos that you can rub on, lean on, and they don’t lose their cool and wreck you. That’s what racing is supposed to be right there, a good driver with a little bit of bumpin and rubbin, but none of that intention wrecking BS. Marcos is a class act, that’s the way racing should be.”
Marcos Ambrose on TV in Victory Lane – “I was the first to slip on the oil and I let Brad past, and it was just getting worse and worse, you could tell the car was staying out there, because the oil was moving around the race track. You just take your chances, you know you’ve got to commit at that part of the race. Bad luck to Kyle, but great racing with Kyle and Brad, they are the two best guys to race with, just awesome fun, that’s the way racing should be, and we got the number 9 Stanley Ford in victory lane.”
WORDS: Mark Walker
IMAGES: NASCAR Media