Ambrose wins Zippo 200
Saturday, August 9, 2008; 7:25 PM
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Marcos Ambrose took advantage of a fortuitous pit stop midway through the Nationwide Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International on Saturday and easily beat Kyle Busch for his first career NASCAR victory.
Ambrose, from Tasmania, was in the pits on lap 42 when the fourth caution of the 82-lap race flew. He gained the lead on lap 48 but gave it up right away to top off for fuel.
Ambrose worked his way up to third with 12 laps to go as Jeff Burton and Jimmie Johnson battled for the lead. But the two leaders ran out of fuel with less than four laps remaining and Ambrose coasted to the victory in the No. 59 JTG Daugherty Racing Ford.
"I just feel like a weight is off my shoulders, just a huge relief," said Ambrose, who was third last week in the rain in Montreal after leading the most laps and second on the road course in Mexico. "We've come close. We haven't been able to close the deal. I've had to be patient."
"He's been due," Busch said. "He was leading last week in the rain by nine seconds."
Matt Kenseth finished third, followed by Kevin Harvick and polesitter Dario Franchitti, who was back in a NASCAR racecar for the first time in nearly a month. Franchitti, who lost his Cup ride with Chip Ganassi Racing last month because of a lack of sponsorship, led 18 laps in the first of seven Nationwide starts the former Indianapolis 500 champion will make this season for Ganassi.
Brad Keselowski was sixth and moved past Carl Edwards into second place in the series standings, 128 points behind leader Clint Bowyer. Rookie Joey Logano finished seventh in his first race at Watkins Glen.
Bowyer was running in the top 10 on a restart following the fifth and final caution of the race, but Edwards slammed into him on the first turn and both ran off course. Edwards finished 25th, two spots behind Bowyer.
Johnson, in only his second start in the series this year, was seeking his first career road course victory and led 17 laps before pit strategy ruined his day. He finished 29th, while Burton limped home 14th.
Johnson was leading midway through the race but was caught speeding off pit road under the caution on lap 42 and was sent to the rear of the field. Joining him there was Busch, who was penalized for an uncontrolled tire in the pits. Both came back in to top off with fuel, but too many laps remained to finish the race without pitting again.
Still, both tried, gambling on cautions that never came. Burton, who had spun out on lap 3, gained the lead on lap 51 with Busch close behind.
Busch, seeking to become the first driver in NASCAR history to win three road courses in one season, then stalked Burton for seven laps, often smoking his front tires on heavy braking in the turns.
On the final turn of lap 62, Busch hit the right rear of Burton and both cars spun completely around. Busch rammed it in second gear and quickly took off with the lead as both drivers recovered, and Ambrose was able to get past Johnson for third when Johnson slowed because of smoke created by the spinout.
Burton, one of the most mild-mannered drivers in NASCAR, exacted payback six laps later, catching the rear of Busch's No. 92 Toyota and regaining the lead as Johnson roared past Busch into second.
In an effort to save fuel, Johnson backed off and trailed by 1.2 seconds but was well ahead of Ambrose and Busch. But Johnson was forced to pit at the end of lap 78, four laps shy of the finish. Burton continued but ran out the next time around, giving Ambrose the lead.
The final lap was tense. Ambrose had a big lead over Busch, but Boris Said was right in front of him and crew chief Gary Cogswell told Ambrose not to pass.
Good idea. Ambrose spun Said in the April race in Mexico and the irate Said walked to the Australian's pit box and apologized to Cogswell for the car that Ambrose's team would have to fix down the road.
"It's pretty tremendous," Cogswell said. "The race was just like a storybook race. It's hard to just beat people. There's just so many good cars. We were just able to put ourselves in the right position to win. Everything went the way it needed to for us to win."
"I've dragged my family halfway around the world, away from my dad and mom, and everybody who needs me back in Australia," said the 31-year-old Ambrose, the first Aussie to win a race in any of NASCAR's top three divisions. "Today it just feels like it's worthwhile. It feels like I've conquered a huge mountain."