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Fireworks at the Glen, Ambrose wins, and several injured drivers are limping to Michigan

  Marcos Ambrose (9) on the inside of Jimmie Johnson, en route to victory, on a cloudy, foggy, but dry day at Watkins Glen (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

   By Mike Mulhern


   If you thought NASCAR-in-Sonoma was wild, you should have been at Watkins Glen International Monday.
   And if this thing doesn't pump up ticket sales for next weekend's NASCAR stop in Montreal, with many of the same characters on the grid…..

   Race day, rain-delayed from Sunday, dawned foggy and gloomy, with the threat of yet more rain in the air.
   But by the time it was over, wow! Because even when it was over it wasn't over.
   And to listen to angry Boris Said, it ain't over yet.
   Said, the James Finch/Chevy driver went after Greg Biffle, the Jack Roush/Ford driver, in a post-race garage version of the UFC – nothing like that war of words between bickering Kurt Busch and Jimmie Johnson a week ago at Pocono. And Said said he was looking for Biffle's address so he could keep it hot.
   Marcos Ambrose wound up celebrating the win, the first of his Cup career, after dominant Kyle Busch got too deep into the downhill first turn on the final restart, a green-white-checkered finish.
   Busch was kicking himself for giving away the win: "I got down into turn one, didn't stop the way I needed to, and the wheel didn't turn the way I expected it to, and I over-slid the corner -- got too far out to the outside. By then everybody was on my inside."
    Busch does wind up atop the Sprint Cup standings, finishing third after getting edged by amazing Brad Keselowski in the final miles.

    Marcos Ambrose dances on his car after his first Sprint Cup tour victory (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    Denny Hamlin, David Ragan and David Reutimann left this mountain-top road course, high above Lake Seneca, nursing bad bruises from hard crashes.
   Hamlin lost his rear brakes on the frontstretch and locked up his front brakes, then slamming nose-first into the outside tire-barrier in the dangerous first turn.
   On the final lap Said and Ragan were dueling and banged on the backstretch, Ragan hitting the wall hard and bouncing across the track into Reutimann, whose car flipped on its roof in a very scary incident.
   All the drivers appeared relatively unhurt, but bruised.

   However some significant safety improvements appear clearly in line here.
   "It's a shame that a race track we go to in 2011 doesn't have a better wall design all the way around the race track," Ragan said. "Hopefully they'll look at that. I've been to some dirt tracks that have better walls than that.
    "It was a hard hit. But our cars are safe. Thanks to everyone that builds us safe race cars.
     "I felt I had Boris cleared….but I think he got a little better run that we did, and he just hooked us.
    "He certainly could have given a little more of a break and we all could have gotten through there and not torn up anything.
    "But he was aggressive, and we were all aggressive. He hooked me, and I hit hard.
     "I'm okay; I'm sore. That was a hard hit.
     "I looked down at my feet, and my pedals and my leg-rests were all pushed over."



David Reutimann managed to escape serious injury in this horrifying, flipping crash. But something did penetrate the car and ripped into his body (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)


    Reutimann wasn't very happy either: "Something came in and ripped a hole in (his uniform). Something flew in there and got a hold of my shin and ate it up a little bit. 
    "Just a pretty dismal day all day. This is one of the bigger hits I would say…but it's part of the gig.  You sign up to do this stuff, and every once in a while you're going to hit something.  As fast as we're going, you hit stuff pretty hard. 
     "I'm good and will be ready for Michigan. 
     "But I'm thinking where I hit would probably be a good place for SAFER barriers."

    Hamlin had a scary crash too:
    "I feel better than I thought I would. 
    "It felt like slow-motion. But can't say enough for all the safety precautions NASCAR takes. And obviously the (tire) wall helped a lot, dampened the hit a little bit."
    The double-row of tires is backed by a guard rail, and Hamlin's hit pushed that guard rail in a couple of feet.
   "I really encourage all these drivers to go to seven-point safety belts," Hamlin said.  "It softened the blow quite a bit.
    "A lot of these guys run five-point belts, and it's just not enough."
    The wreck was apparently triggered by excessive brake heat melting a tire sealing bead.
    "Something blew out in the left-front, and it must have cut a brake line, so I had no brakes," Hamlin said.
    "I was trying to do everything I could to get speed out of the car, but just nothing you can do. The front tires are locked up and you can't steer. 
     "The only hit really maybe harder was the Talladega one, when I had the concussion a couple years ago.  That was about the worst. 
     "This was just terrifying because you know there's nothing you can do and you're headed straight for the fence.  That was the scariest I've been in my car."


    David Ragan's battered car. He says the track needs soft walls and a stronger safety agenda (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

    For the second straight week Keselowski surprised. He was a contender through the 2-1/2-hour race, which played out in front of crowd track officials announced at 85,000. Just 10 days ago Keselowski barely escaped serious injury when he crashed testing at Road Atlanta when his brakes failed. He stunned everyone last weekend by not only driving at Pocono but winning, beating Busch.
   For much of Sunday it was another Busch versus Keselowski show.
   "We were one of the cars to beat…but I just wasn't quite good enough to pull it off, and made a couple small mistakes at the end and lost the lead to Kyle, and got back by him, and then lost the lead to Marcos," Keselowski said.
     But then Keselowski says he can count on his hands the number of NASCAR road races he's been in.
    "I look back at this one and wish I had been in better condition and had more experience, and maybe I could have made the most of my car -- because quite frankly I think I had one of the cars to beat."


       AJ Allmendinger taking a romp through the grass. It was a rough day at the Glen Monday, and nobody was playing very nice (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

     But it was Marcos Ambrose, who could be the best pure road racer in this sport today, Formula 1 caliber according to Carl Edwards, who used patience and wiles to win.
     And Ambrose was humble and magnanimous in victory.
    "Just a dream day….the sacrifices you make, we all make, to get here -- Todd (Parrott, his crew chief) 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.
    "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.
    "I've tried for 2-1/2 years to get to victory lane. And I have to thank Todd for giving me the chance."
   Ambrose hit NASCAR a few years back like a ton of bricks…on road courses at least. He still struggles on ovals.
   But last summer he decided he needed a change, and asked to be released from his contract with Tad Geschickter a year early so he could move on.
   He lined up a deal with Richard Petty…and then the Petty empire suddenly all but collapsed, going through a wrenching stretch last fall where each week seemed a battle just for survival. And Ambrose conceded he was worried that he'd made the wrong decision.
    "This time last year I didn't know what I was going to be doing," Ambrose said.  'I didn't know if I was going to be in the Cup series. 
    "I took some chances…was on the roller coaster with the whole Petty team when it went through the changes the end of last year…and now to get into victory lane is just a dream come true.
    "I've felt a lot of weight of expectation and pressure to win, and sometimes that clouds judgment.
     "I've pressured myself once or twice trying to get to victory lane here in the Cup series. Not that I was worried, but the word 'choke' was starting to creep into the back of my mind.
    "And there was a time (last fall, while waiting for the Petty drama to play out) where I was sitting around the boardroom table and I was the only one there. It was completely out of my hands.
   "There were days, and weeks, where I was very anxious. But you've got to roll the dice sometimes, and be patient, and turn the phone off, play golf for a while. And it all worked out."
    So this is not just another win, but part of a revival of the Richard Petty brand. It's Petty's first win as team owner since Kasey Kahne's Sonoma surprise in the summer of 2009.



Kyle Busch (18) smoking the tires and brakes in his duel with surprising Brad Keselowski (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)




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