By Craig Murto - firstname.lastname@example.org
The NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen last week was just the race NASCAR needed to bring excitement back into the sport.
In a season that has produced more green-flag racing than any other, and that prompted NASCAR president Brian France to lament that the sport needs more "wow" moments, the final two laps at Watkins Glen proved to be the best two laps of racing the series has witnessed in a number of years.
Marcos Ambrose came out on top, driving his Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM) Ford to his second Cup victory, and second in a row at Watkins Glen. But only minutes before, he thought he was going to finish third.
By now you know the story. Kyle Busch led the race, apparently on his way to victory, until Bobby Labonte's car began oiling the track. Busch took the white flag, but slipping in oil was quickly caught by Brad Keselowski and Ambrose. Keselowski and Busch made contact, Busch spun.
Ambrose and Keselowski made contact numerous times on the last lap, and not only used the track but used much of the dirt as well until Ambrose finally came out on top.
Kyle Busch was angry, and refused to talk to the media. That was probably a good decision. The first thing Keselowski did when he got out of his car was congratulate RPM crew members along pit road. Both Keselowski and Ambrose called the race exciting. Fans will be talking about it for a long time.
But accusations and controversy seem to surround every good race.
Should there have been a caution flag? No, I don't think so. The oil on the track was not visible, so until the final lap it really wasn't clear that the racing surface was affected. There was no car or object obstructing the racing surface. Also, the conditions were the same for everybody. On top of that, to spread oil-dry on the entire racing surface and get that mess cleaned up could have taken as many as six to 10 laps; cars would have been running out of gas before the race restarted. The best decision NASCAR made was to allow the race to play out.
Did Keselowski wreck Busch? Many Keselowski detractors and Busch fans think so. Truthfully, though, the answer is no, he did not wreck Busch.
Busch was backing up to Keselowski so fast it probably appeared to Keselowski that Busch was stopping in the middle of the racetrack. He left the door open on the inside and Keselowski stuck his nose in there -- it was the last lap, after all. It wasn't Keselowski's fault that Busch tried to slam the door shut (while going 10 mph slower) and that Busch was slipping in oil.
After the race, Ambrose and Keselowski both stated that rubbing was racing. Both drivers beat and banged off each other, sliding in oil and sliding on and off the racing surface. It wasn't until the cars came off the final corner that Ambrose pulled ahead for the win. And Keselowski demonstrated a lot of class the way he congratulated the RPM crew. Everybody involved realized that they had been a part of something very special.
Anything can happen in racing, and the race isn't over until it's over. NASCAR fans got the excitement many believed was missing. Unlike Daytona and Talladega finishes, where restrictor plates choke engines to the point that cars can't pass and winning by inches feels artificially created, there was something pure about the Watkins Glen finish.
It was pure excitement. It was pure thrills. The win was determined by the pure will and desire not to finish second, despite the adverse racing surface that had been dampened with rain sprinkles then touched with a bit of oil. Jokes are already floating around about Formula One's Bernie Ecclestone contacting Brian France to find out how to oil the racetrack on the last two laps to bring the same excitement to his races.
Watkins Glen was a race to remember. The last lap was one for the record books. It was just the thing needed to bring the excitement back to the sport. It proved that the potential for excitement is always there, anytime cars are on a track. The race isn't over until the checkered flag flies, and anything can happen until then.
-- Veteran motorsports columnist Craig Murto is a Linden resident.