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.

March 28 in Motorsports History: Adrian Fernandez wins Motegi’s first race

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While auto racing is an international sport, oval racing remains uniquely American. 

That almost always has remained the case since the inception of the sport, but in 1998, the citizens of Japan got their first taste of American oval racing.

Having opened the previous year, Twin Ring Motegi was built by Honda in an effort to bring Indy-style racing to the Land of the Rising Sun. 

Adrian Fernandez was the first driver to win at the facility, taking the checkered flag in CART’s inaugural race after shaking off flu earlier that day.

Fernandez held off a hard-charging Al Unser Jr to win by 1.086 seconds. The victory was the second of his career and his first since Toronto in 1996.

Adrian Fernandez celebrates with Al Unser Jr and Gil de Ferran after winning the inaugural race at Motegi. (Photo by Robert Laberge/Getty Images)

The race was also memorable for a violent crash involving Bobby Rahal.

Running third with 15 laps remaining, Rahal’s right front suspension broke in Turn 2, causing his car to hit the outside wall and flip down the backstretch.

Luckily, Rahal walked away from the accident without a scratch.

“The car was on rails through (turns) 1 and 2, and all of a sudden it just got up into the marbles, and it was gone,” Rahal said. “Thank God we’ve got such safe cars.”

The following season, Fernadez went back-to-back and won again at Motegi. The track remained on the CART schedule until 2002.

In 2003, Honda switched their alliance to the Indy Racing Leauge, and Motegi followed suit.

The track continued to host IndyCar racing until 2011 with the final race being held on the facility’s 2.98-mile road course, as the oval sustained damage in the Tōhoku earthquake earlier that year.

Also on this date:

1976: Clay Regazzoni won the United States Grand Prix – West, Formula One’s first race on the Long Beach street circuit. The Grand Prix would become an IndyCar event following the 1983 edition of the race.

1993: Ayrton Senna won his home race, the Grand Prix of Brazil, for the second and final time of his career. The victory was also the 100th in F1 for McLaren.

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