Nothing could stop Marcos Ambrose on Saturday afternoon at Watkins Glen International. The 37-year-old was entered in his first NASCAR Nationwide Series event in nearly one year, and he made the most of it. Ambrose and his crew chief Scott McDougall played the perfect strategy to win the Zippo 200 at the Glen.
Leading a race-high 48 of the 82 laps, the No. 09 team brought Ambrose his fifth career victory in NASCAR’s second-tier division. The victory also marks the first time that Richard Petty Motorsports has won a race in the Nationwide Series since he won at Montreal in 2011. With high hopes for Ambrose going into Sunday’s Cheez-It 355, his win in the Nationwide Series race gives him an added level of confidence heading into one of the most important races in his NASCAR career.
With strategy coming into fruition on Saturday afternoon at the New York road course, Ambrose’s team was able to come out on top. After several different pit strategies that had some plot twists with five cautions during the 82-lap spectacle, a few teams had to pit late in the race. However, the No. 09 came into pit road with 32 laps to go – providing the Ford-powered car just enough fuel en route to Victory Lane.
Busch ended the afternoon with his fifth runner-up finish in 16 Nationwide Series races this season. Team Penske drivers Joey Logano and Brad Keselowski ended the day in the third and fourth positions, respectively – leading a combined 19 laps with Matt Kenseth rounding out the top-five. Chase Elliott, Elliott Sadler, Ty Dillon, Paul Menard and Brian Scott were the remaining drivers inside of the top 10.
During the race that lasted approximately two hours and 14 minutes, there were 15 lead changes with 11 different drivers taking the top spot. Although Logano gave Ambrose a run towards the end of the race, he was passed by Busch with less than 10 laps to go – putting an end to the 24-year-old’s hopes at getting his first Nationwide Series win of 2014.
Elliott was able to stretch out his championship lead to 12 points over Regan Smith. Smith had to pit on Lap 55 for a loose lug nut just a lap following his final pit stop of the day – putting him in the 17th position when the race concluded. Dillon and Sadler remain tied for third in points, but they lost just one point to Elliott as they are 13 points out of the championship lead. Scott moved up to fifth in points with Trevor Bayne, Chris Buescher, Brendan Gaughan, Ryan Reed and James Buescher rounding out the top 10.
Three of the four Richard Childress Racing cars finished inside of the top-10 in the Zippo 200 at the Glen. The team’s effort, led by rookie Ty Dillon, was one of their best overall runs of the season. Both Dillon and Brian Scott are slowly closing the gap in the standings, and they are attempting to bring the team their second consecutive Nationwide Series title.
Trailing the Childress cars was RAB Racing’s James Buescher in the 11th position. Entering Watkins Glen, the 2012 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series champion had just one top-10 with nine top 15s. However, he has begun to click with his new crew chief Matthew Lucas after four races of finishing 21st or worse. The top-15 finish is a slight victory for a team that had six top 10s last year with a minor alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Kyle Larson had two pit road speeding penalties on the day. One of the penalties occurred during a caution period; putting the Sprint Cup Series Rookie of the Year candidate at the tail end of the field. Moreover, the other penalty took place during a green-flag pit cycle – forcing Larson to lose multiple positions after working his way back into the top 10. He ended up finishing 15th, but his teammate Dylan Kwasniewski was also hurt by the same infraction.
The 19-year-old was running inside of the top 10 before he had to make a late-race pit stop to pit for fuel. Kwasniewski came out of pit road, and subsequently had a right-front tire going down on his No. 31 Chevrolet. He spun out and was forced to make another pit stop – putting him in the 27th spot after one of the best runs he has had this season.
Trevor Bayne was involved in three incidents Saturday’s race. On Lap 11, he tapped the No. 75 car of Kenny Habul. Just 16 laps later, he got together with Kevin O’Connell’s No. 23 Chevrolet in the same area of the track that he made contact with Habul. J.J. Yeley also fell victim to Bayne on Saturday afternoon after sliding in front of Bayne, who evidently got into the rear bumper of the No. 28 Dodge.
Bayne’s Ford received a large amount of cosmetic damage throughout the day, but he was able to finish 13th on a day where he was involved in three incidents. After finishing a career-best third at Road America, O’Connell tied a career-worst of 37th after his car was not able to get back on track.
Underdog Performer of the Race
Jeremy Clements and his family-owned No. 51 team had a solid run in Saturday’s race. Clements finished on the lead lap in the 16th position. Throughout the race, the 29-year-old ran inside of the top 20, but gained ground late in the day due to several drivers having to pit. Clements trailed Mike Bliss and Larson late in the race as he earned his ninth top-20 finish of 2014.
Although he started in the 26th spot, Clements worked his way into the top 10 at one point in Saturday’s event. This small team finished sixth at Road America, and they will certainly be looking forward to next weekend’s race at Mid-Ohio.
Double Duty and Start-and-Park Effect
Nine of the 39 drivers entered in the race were full-time drivers in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. The top 5 were each Sprint Cup Series regulars along with Menard, Larson, Landon Cassill and Josh Wise being the other Cup Series drivers in the field.
Two of the 39 cars opted to start-and-park. The two drivers that ended their days early were Wise and Blake Koch.
The Final Word
As there are just 12 races left in the season, the series has yet another road course race to look forward to next weekend. The race at Watkins Glen was dominated by drivers in the Sprint Cup Series, yet with the Cup Series at Michigan next weekend – some of the sport’s top-tier drivers will opt not to pull the double.
However, those 12 circuits are going to be vital for Chase Elliott after he extended his championship lead once again. Elliott was the highest finishing Nationwide Series regular, and has significantly outrun his counterparts at the intermediate tracks, which make up seven of final 10 races.
With first through sixth separated by just 48 markers, one mistake can cost a driver a shot at winning the title. The Nationwide Series will return to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course for their second annual event at the 2.258-mile road course. The Nationwide Children’s Hospital 200 is schedule for 3 p.m. ET with television coverage starting at 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN.