For more than half of Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen International, Marcos Ambrose looked to be on a Sunday drive.
However, after running seemingly on cruise control out front for 51 laps, Ambrose fell behind due to an ill-timed caution.
And that was just the beginning of the pole-sitter’s troubles.
Mired in 12th on a lap 64 restart after pitting when several frontrunners stayed out under the race’s fifth caution, Ambrose made little progress in getting back to the front.
Matters went from bad to worse for Ambrose when he veered into Max Papis, who was substituting for the injured Tony Stewart, and crashed along with Brian Vickers following a restart with six laps to go.
Ambrose’s day and shot at a third consecutive win at the 2.45-mile road course were done.
“I’m just really disappointed for my team,” said Ambrose, who on Saturday shattered the track record with a pole-winning lap of 128.241 mph.
“Something was wrong with the car there and I just couldn’t get going. I could feel on the roll-around lap that something had broken, but I just feel bad for the guys who got caught up in all that mess.”
Papis, in his first and likely only outing as a substitute driver for three-time champion Stewart, managed to salvage a 15th-place finish.
“The guy was sideways going up the hill,” Papis said of Ambrose. “I mean, I’m going up the hill. I touched him, I turned him — not on purpose, obviously. I think that something broke in the back of his car, I guess. Pretty weird deal. It was not a good thing.”
Prior to a caution on lap 61, which came out just moments after race winner Kyle Busch and a few other frontunners had pitted under green, Ambrose had been firmly in command.
With seemingly little effort, the Australian pulled away at the start of the race and several early restarts, and quickly regained the lead after Kevin Harvick used a different pit sequence to lead laps 31-38. But when Ambrose’s teammate, Aric Almirola, crashed into a tire barrier to bring out the yellow on lap 61, Ambrose had not made his green-flag pit stop, forcing him to surrender the lead and pit under caution while Busch and other frontrunners who pitted under green stayed out.
Ambrose never whiffed the lead again.
“That’s just the way it goes,” said Ambrose, who hoped to join Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon as the only drivers with three consecutive wins at The Glen.
“We put on a strong showing, and I’m proud of my Stanley team and everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports for giving me the opportunity to run well. It wasn’t our day, but we’ve had plenty of good days here. We just need to reflect on this, and we’ll wake up tomorrow and just press on and go to the next one.”