Kyle Busch hangs on for Sprint Cup win at Watkins Glen

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A thrilling final lap saw Kyle Busch hold off a big challenge from Brad Keselowski to win the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Busch and Keselowski led the field down for the final restart of the day with two laps to go, and it briefly appeared that Busch was going to pull away before Keselowski started to reel him in again. But in the end, Busch was finally able to nail down a victory at the Glen after leading the most laps in each of the last two Cup races there only to lose out in both of those.

Busch assumed the lead after pole sitter Marcos Ambrose was forced to pit under caution at Lap 62 after his Richard Petty Motorsports teammate, Aric Almirola, went into the tire barriers at Turn 5 – just after Busch pitted under green at Lap 60.

That shuffled Ambrose back to 14th, and things would get worse later for the Australian when, after a restart with six laps to go, he briefly lost control in the esses and was then spun by Max Papis into the retaining wall.

A frustrated Ambrose, who led a race-high 51 laps but finished in 31st place, chucked his helmet and HANS device into his car before being led away by safety workers. With the race’s dominant driver now out of the fight, it was left to Busch and Keselowski, two of the sport’s most outspoken personalities, to duke it out for the W.

“My car wasn’t turning as good as it needed to on cold tires so I was really having it awful trying to get it around there as best I could,” Busch said to ESPN in Victory Lane.

“…This Toyota Camry was awesome today, just fun to drive. Not quite as good as it needed to be. I think we could’ve made it better, but I’m always a perfectionist – I always want it to be better.”

Keselowski, who earned a third consecutive runner-up result at the Glen after overcoming an early spin that sent him out of the Top 10, felt he could’ve had a better chance of besting Busch with some extra laps.

“Kyle’s car was really good after about five to ten laps, and my car was really good for five to ten laps,” he said. “If that last run would’ve been about five laps, I think I could’ve got him but it was only two or three [laps].

“Kyle did a great job with his restarts. I almost had him down here [in the final corner] but I was gonna have to wreck him to do it, and I’ve had enough drama [laughs].”

Martin Truex Jr. was ready to pounce if Busch and Keselowski’s battle escalated with a spin or a wreck but settled for a good third-place finish. Carl Edwards and Juan Pablo Montoya rounded out the Top 5.

Mario Andretti says Colton Herta could be next American star in F1

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Mario Andretti’s last Formula One victory is also the last by an American driver in more than 42 years on the international open-wheel road racing series.

If you had told Andretti that while he was celebrating on the Grand Prix of the Netherlands podium on Aug. 27, 1978 at the Vandzoort circuit, he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Absolutely not,” Andretti told Kyle Petty during the most recent “Coffee With Kyle” episode (video above). “It’s a shame. Somehow we have so much talent here, and either there’s no invitation or something there. But I think it’s time to give some of this young talent that, in my opinion, is absolutely capable.”

The Dutch GP was the last of Andretti’s 12 victories in F1 and came during his championship season. No one since has come close to matching his success in F1.

Mario Andretti drives his Lotus-Ford to victory in the 1978 Grand Prix of the Netherlands (Bernard Cahier/Getty Images).

Andretti’s son, Michael, took a full-time ride with McLaren in 1993 but left with three races remaining in a season marred by crashes and mechanical problems.

Scott Speed was the last American to run a full F1 season in 2006, and Alexander Rossi made the most recent F1 start by a U.S. driver in 2015. Rossi has said he has no desire to return to racing in Europe after winning the 2016 Indianapolis 500 and becoming an IndyCar championship contender.

But Mario Andretti believes Andretti Autosport has another rising star with F1-caliber ability.

“Colton Herta is one that comes to mind,” Mario Andretti said. “As a young lad, his dad sent him to Europe, he was doing Formula 3, and he knows most of the circuits there. He’s trained. He’s showed in his rookie season and won some premium races at COTA (and Laguna Seca), beat two of the very best Indy has to offer (in) Will Power and Scott Dixon.

“This is one kid I’d love to see him get a break over there to fly the U.S. colors again.”

Herta, 20, seems interested in exploring an F1 leap over the next few years. After winning Sept. 13 at Mid-Ohio from the pole position (his third career victory in the NTT IndyCar Series), the No. 88 Dallara-Honda driver is ranked fourth in the standings in his sophomore year and regarded as one of the series’ top prospects.

Herta recently told RACER.com “I’d love to give Formula 1 a crack” but said he also would be happy driving in IndyCar and IMSA.

A naturalized U.S. citizen who told Petty about spending several years with his family in an Italian refugee camp before coming to America, Mario Andretti said F1 brought an enormous sense of patriotic pride.

“Formula One is like the Olympics in a sense,” he said. “You’re in a different country, a different continent. When you earn that highest step of the podium, they play your national anthem. That’s when you take nothing for granted. You feel like I’m representing my country, and the proudest moments are those.

“I’d just like to see some other American drivers experience that. It’s time.”

Mario Andretti with four-time NASCAR champion Jeff Gordon and six-time Formula One champion Lewis Hamilton before the Nov. 22, 2015 season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway (Jared C. Tilton/NASCAR via Getty Images).

During the “Coffee With Kyle” conversation, Andretti also discussed:

–His versatility as a winner in IndyCar, sports cars, NASCAR and Formula One;

–His 1967 Daytona 500 victory and how he enjoyed racing with crew chief Jake Elder at the famed Holman-Moody team;

Mario Andretti Colton Herta
Mario Andretti and Kyle Petty saluted “The King” by wearing their Richard Petty-style hats during the latest “Coffee With Kyle” (NBCSN).

–Why he delayed his entry to F1 for a few years because of his earnings power in IndyCar. “I always say I’d race for free, but at the same time, you’re thinking of family and the future,” he said. “It was in the back of your mind that you can’t give up the earning power of IndyCar. That kept me from going full time in Formula One, but I always said that sometime in my career, I’d have to devote a period to Formula One.”

–On what it was like racing in an era when driver deaths were more prevalent. “If you’re going to do this, you’re not going to dwell on those negatives,” Andretti said. “There’s no way. You knew it was present. Especially in the ‘60s at the beginning of the season at the drivers meetings, you couldn’t help but look around and say, ‘I wonder who is not going to be here at the end of the season.’ We’d lose four to five guys. In ’64, we lost six guys.

“It’s something if you dwell on that, you’re going to take on a different profession. It’s a desire and love to want to drive that overcame all that and then the confidence it’s not going to happen to me. And then you pray.”

Watch the full “Coffee With Kyle” episode in the video above or by clicking here.

Mario Andretti looks on before the 103rd Indianapolis 500 on May 26, 2019 (Chris Graythen/Getty Images).