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A Marcos Ambrose win at Sonoma would have been a nice shot in the arm for this sport.....

  Marcos Ambrose: what was shaping up as the greatest day of his career ends on a strange downer at Sonoma (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)   

   By  Mike Mulhern

   SONOMA, Calif.
   Boy, NASCAR sure knows how to blow a good story line...
   Yes, it was a judgment call, a balls-and-strikes thing, and Marcos Ambrose stalling his engine out on the track under yellow might have been a little difficult to forgive.
   Still, what we were watching was a brilliant run by the wickedly witty and talented Tasmanian....
   And what we wound up with was another Jimmie Johnson win. His fourth of the spring. And the same sense of stunned disbelief we felt in a similar situation last summer at Indianapolis, when Juan Pablo Montoya's run was interrupted....
   Maybe the late Billy France Jr. might have made a different call. He was famous for 'situation ethics,' finding ways to fashion the right solution to a situation, rather than blindly following the rule book.
   Maybe the sport has gotten beyond that.
   Or maybe the sport needs to get back to that.

   But forget for a moment the controversy about whether or not NASCAR officials should have given Ambrose his spot back at the head of the line under yellow after his engine balked at restarting while he was trying to save gas.
   Consider the bigger picture here in Sunday's Sonoma 350 – it was one of the wildest races ever at this hilly two-mile road course, with drivers at times going even four-wide – four-wide? on this tight course? Yes. And it was cutthroat at times.
   Just the kind of action to delight the announced crowd of some 90,000 on a delightfully pleasant Wine Country Sunday afternoon.
   And if this is the season for 'boys, have at it,' then the next Cup tour stop, at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, may be the Payback 500.
   A lot of drivers left here ticked, particularly several at Jeff Gordon, who agreed it wasn't his finest performance.

   And Jimmie Johnson finally got that first road course tour victory, albeit after a surprising mistake by late-race leader Ambrose – which officials could have ignored, as they have in other similar judgment call situations.
   Johnson dominated the first part of the wild and crazy race, but Johnson conceded he had nothing for Ambrose down the stretch. And Johnson said he might have griped about it but he would have accepted NASCAR moving Ambrose back to the point for the final restart.
    "It was definitely a gift kind of handed to us," Johnson said.
   Nevertheless, Ambrose's move – cutting off his engine to conserve fuel for a couple of possible green-white-checkered finishes – was a curious mistake.
   First, what was he thinking, cutting the engine off while going up hill?
   Johnson himself was stunned: "Normally guys shut the car off downhill, coasting to save fuel.  I didn't think at first he had shut the car off going up the hill.  That's just the last place you would probably do it. 
    "So I thought maybe he ran out of fuel, or had an electrical problem...because the car just came to a stop. 
     "I'm like 'Wow!'
     "At that point I'm thinking 'How does the procedure work?'  I know if you come to a stop, you're clearly not maintaining a reasonable speed.  It will be interesting to see where they put him.
    "In one respect, I felt if they put him back up in front of me, I could kind of see that as okay...although I'd be raising hell on the radio and cussing like crazy, trying to fight it. 
     "It's not like the car broke.  He had it shut off.
     "The way the rule reads, you have to maintain a reasonable speed.  Coming to a stop on the racetrack is no speed.
      "When you look at him coming to a stop, I think it really eliminates the gray area 'What is a reasonable speed?' When you come to a dead stop on the track, I think that changes things -- makes it black and white. Very easy to read the rule at that point.
     "It's the last type of mistake I would expect to see.
      "You can count on mistakes with some guys.  I just didn't really think he would be the one to make a mistake.
     "To see the mistake happen as it did was totally off the wall. I don't know if I've ever seen that eliminate a guy from winning a race. "

     And what about runner-up Robby Gordon?
     Talk about a hard-luck story turnaround...
      Gordon had his best run of the year, his best run in some time, finishing second.
    And he says he expects to be just as tough at Watkins Glen in a couple of weeks.
     He won here in 2003, but he's not had much luck at this place since. In fact this was his first top-10 at Infineon since that win.
     "We came here to win, but second-place is pretty darn close to winning it," Gordon said.
   "My team needs a little bit of morale...This will boost morale.
    "Kevin and the guys had 10 laps better tires than I did. So I was kind of a sitting duck.  I'm fortunate he and Jimmie are racing for points, and we were able to slide in between them there.
   "I'm sure if it was for the win, Kevin would have moved me.  For second, I appreciate you giving me a little bit of racing room."
    Harvick and Gordon were once teammates at Richard Childress', and they had a tussle here in a battle for the win a few years ago.
    Gordon conceded he had no good shot at Johnson at the final restart with six laps to go. "Before the restart I thought I did. I was trying to anticipate when Jimmie would go. 
    "But I was on 10-lap older tires, and it just buzzed the tires at the restart. I miss-timed it a little, and Jimmie got the jump on me." 
    For Gordon this was a big shot in the arm. Just a few weeks ago he didn't even qualify for Pocono, and he's been fighting to stay in the top-35, for that guaranteed starting spot.
    And Gordon, to be blunt, is struggling this season, with sponsorship issues and cars and testing and equipment. He is doing more with less.
    "Let's face it, we're 34th in points, and it's hard to build morale when you're 34th," Gordon said.
    "But I believe the guys will now have confidence going to Watkins Glen that we can actually win that race...so we can build some momentum through the summer."


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   Robby Gordon: Does it all (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)

If the rulebook was "blindly

If the rulebook was "blindly followed" for every situation, then I wouldn't have a problem with what NASCAR did to Ambrose. The problem is, they blindly follow it sometimes and ignore it when it should also be followed. Biffle ran out of gas at Michigan, got passed by 2 cars, and was then awarded his spot back by NASCAR which gave him the win. What was the difference? NASCAR said the other cars sped up to pass him. BS. I don't care if Ambrose stopped to do some burnouts, he should not have had his position taken away under caution unless he needed a push. And that goes for any other driver as well. So long as you can regain power on your own, the only way you should lose a position under caution is if you choose to go to the pits.

Carl Edwards came back out on the track at Atlanta 170 laps down, blatantly wrecks the 5th place car, and gets no penalty whatsoever. Nada. He was already out of the race, so "parking" him was like the teacher tapping his hand with a ruler. This after he cut Keselowski off, taking himself out and having no real cause to even retaliate.

The biggest complaint with NASCAR out of most everyone is that there is no consistency and that they show favoritism to certain drivers. Yesterday proved both.

Nice story Mike but I still

Nice story Mike but I still question "the grey area" here. Maybe I'm feeling too cynical of NASCAR playing RACING GOD here. But 25 years ago, there was NO CHASE!, "lucky dog", "green/white/checkered flag finishes", "phantom debris cautions", "competition yellows" (for what???), "double-filed restarts" (okay, keep that), "wrap around leaders" or whatever-the-hell they no call it. It's gotten outta control!

Back in the day, it was just simple good, hardcore racin'...And the people were happy! And other than Bristol, there was no night time racing. Hot as hell, from the 600 @ Charlotte to Talladega in July to Bristol at night. But guess what, the people were happy.

I bet'cha Bruton Smith wished he owned Watkins Glen. He would have a field day with Marcus Ambrose promos. And if the current WGlen execs were paying attention to the last race, they have a lot to work with to fill up the stands.

Amen fireballroberts! I

Amen fireballroberts! I totally forgot about the Atlanta incident. You're right as rain on that one!

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