The King was talking about his driver, Finger Lakes 355 winner Marcos Ambrose, but he could have just as well been talking about Brad Keselowski. The final laps Sunday were at Watkins Glen, but with oil flooding the track it suddenly evolved into the white flag lap at Tony Stewart’s Prelude to a Dream, complete with breathtaking sideways dirt-like saves as standard operating procedure.
Usually in a drama somebody has to take one on the chin, and Sunday it was Kyle Busch, who spun out in the muck apparently put down by Bobby Labonte.
You can feel bad for Busch, and for all the petulant behavior we’ve all gotten tired of, he gets a pass for storming off Sunday.
But nobody can be too worried about Busch right now. The result was Ambrose and Keselowski in a final-lap shootout we’ll be talking about for 50 years. It was the kind of finish that had folks asking Richard Petty to compare it to some of his duels with David Pearson.
In 1987 at Charlotte Motor Speedway we had the pass in the grass. But have we ever had a race where the final two contenders found it much more comfortable to race on the grass than the pavement?
“That’s what racing is supposed to be right there,” Keselowski said after the race. “A little bit of bumping and rubbing but none of that intentional wrecking [BS].”
Keselowski isn’t wrong, and he showed his sincerity by heading to Victory Lane to congratulate Ambrose. But I’m not sure those guys had that much of a choice. Usually the option is whether you’re going to dump somebody else. In the end, as they skated like they were training for the Winter Olympics, the prime objective was not dumping yourself.
A photographer came into the media center afterward, and another asked him about how much oil was on the track. He responded that in the esses you couldn’t see it, but you knew how much was there because of the sickening smell.
Ambrose agreed, saying, “If it was a black streak, it would be OK. It was almost like a fine spray and just really hard to pick [up].”
Said Keselowski, “[It was] slick as hell. You couldn’t drive it; it was undrivable. I go down in the corner and hit the oil and slip and Marcos would go in the corner and slip up. Just came down to who was going to slip up last and I did and he got by me and won the race.”
You can’t manufacture finishes like that. Bruton Smith suggested as much by campaigning for mandatory cautions earlier this year, a suggestion that was quickly shouted down. NASCAR took some latitude at the 2001 Winston by letting Jeff Gordon pull out a backup car in between rainstorms to win the race. But you can do those kinds of things at exhibitions.
NASCAR made the right call in ’01, and made the right call Sunday.
“I think a big shout out goes to NASCAR,” Ambrose said. ” A lot of guys are gonna say, ‘Should they have thrown a caution or should they not?’ No one wants to see these races finish under caution… We had the three fastest cars duking it out for the win and that’s the way it should be.”
Petty couldn’t agree more.
“I know some of you old guys remember me and [Bobby] Allison used to do a lot of beating and bashing the last two or three laps — me and Pearson have been in a couple of different ones. I’ve been in there with a lot of them, I’ll put it that way. You go and you run and you do the best you can and then you try to take advantage of the circumstances that are there. That’s what Marcos did today. He didn’t create none of those circumstances; he took advantage of those circumstances.”
Follow Josh Stewart on Twitter @JoshNASCARWWE.