Marcos Ambrose falls short of earning Chase berth at Watkins Glen, but still has a chance with 4 races left

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Marcos Ambrose went for the weekend sweep, but in the end, he got the brush-off from A.J. Allmendinger.

In perhaps both Ambrose’s best and last chance to make the Chase – and potentially competing in the last road course race of his NASCAR career – Ambrose came up short, finishing second to Allmendinger in Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International.

Ambrose won Saturday’s Nationwide Series race at WGI and was the overwhelming favorite to win Sunday’s Sprint Cup race.

But Allmendinger engaged in a tight but clean finish, particularly on the final two laps of the race following a final caution and resulting restart, got ahead of Ambrose and went on to his first Sprint Cup career win.

To his credit, Ambrose was quite cordial about being the first loser.

“First of all, congratulations to AJ,” Ambrose told ESPN. “He really deserved that win because I was giving it everything I had to rattle his cage. He withstood the pressure and congratulations to him.

“We had a great day on the Stanley Ford. We had a little mistake on pit lane, I half-stalled leaving the box and I think that was the difference today between winning and second place.”

No one had to tell Ambrose the significance of Sunday’s race. Had he won, as he had done twice previously in Cup races at the nearly 2.5-mile twisting road course, Ambrose would likely have punched his ticket to the expanded 16-driver Chase for the Sprint Cup, which begins five weeks from now.

Instead, Ambrose remains on the outside of the Chase looking in.

While he mathematically moved up to 16th in the Sprint Cup standings, there are four drivers behind him in the rankings that have at least one win this season, meaning they’d vault over Ambrose to make the Chase: Allmendinger, Denny Hamlin, Kurt Busch and Ambrose’s Richard Petty Motorsports teammate, Aric Almirola.

For Ambrose to have any chance to make the final 16 without earning a win, he’d have to climb to at least 12th position after Richmond to sneak into the Chase only on points.

Unfortunately, Ambrose is still 42 points behind the current 12th-place holder,Greg Biffle, with four races left. While it’s not an impossible task to reach 12th, it definitely won’t be easy – if Ambrose can do it at all.

That leaves Ambrose back to square one: His only other chance to make the Chase is to do so on an oval at one of the four remaining pre-Chase tracks: Michigan this coming Sunday, Bristol, Atlanta and the final Chase qualifier at Richmond next month.

“We put a lot of effort into this race, knew it was our best shot at the Chase and it was this close,” Ambrose said. “I’m pretty disappointed just because there’s so much to win, so much effort, but congratulations to AJ.”

ESPN reported that Ambrose’s crew chief, Drew Blickensderfer, planned to question NASCAR about the final restart – believing it may have been improper – Ambrose downplayed the impact such a query might bring.

“It didn’t change the outcome of the race,” Ambrose said. “We raced each other to the line and he was the winner.”

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G’day mate: Will Power wins first career Indy 500, Carpenter second, Dixon third

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After 10 prior tries, Will Power, the pride and joy of Toowoomba, Australia, finally earned the biggest prize of his IndyCar career, capturing Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500.

In doing so, the 37-year-old Power not only earned his first 500 title, he also becomes the first driver to win the INDYCAR Grand Prix and the Indy 500 in the same month at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, having won the GP on May 12.

It also is the 17th Indy 500 win for team owner Roger Penske, as well as Team Penske’s 201st all-time IndyCar win, with Power taking No. 200 two weeks ago in the Grand Prix.

Power’s previous best finish in the 500 was runner-up in 2015.

Power took the lead on Lap 197 after race leaders Stefan Wilson and Jack Harvey were forced to pit road for a splash of fuel.

Pole sitter Ed Carpenter finished second, followed by Scott Dixon, Alexander Rossi and Ryan Hunter-Reay.

Sixth through 10th were Simon Pagenaud, Carlos Munoz, Josef Newgarden, Robert Wickens and Graham Rahal.

Here’s how the race played out:

Danica Patrick and Tony Kanaan were the first drivers to hit pit road in the race, both on Lap 31. The rest of the field came in for service over the next three laps.

On Lap 48, in the first contact of the day, defending 500 winner Takuma Sato wrecked with James Davison, knocking both drivers out of the race.

Davison had struggled throughout the race to maintain a competitive speed. Sato came out of Turn 3 at full speed and had nowhere to go, unable to avoid Davison’s car, running into its left rear, destroying both cars.

“We knew Davison was running way up high and running slow … and it looked like we just didn’t see him or didn’t understood the closing rate and hit him,” team owner Bobby Rahal told the IMS Radio Network. “It’s very disappointing.”

After being medically cleared at the infield care center, Davison said, “We had an anti-roll bar jam and I couldn’t choose the balance and not put any steering in it without getting loose. I feel for Takuma and his team, getting caught up in that. It’s not the situation you wanted to be involved in. It just wasn’t to be for us this year.”

Added Sato, “James seemed to be struggling, went high, we braked, slowed down and the closing speed between he and I was too small, I hit the brakes, tried to avoid him and it just sucked in.”

The Davison-Sato wreck proved to be the first of seven wrecks in the 200-lap race.

As the cleanup completed, the majority of the field came to pit road on Lap 51, most only for fuel.

On Lap 6o, another driver who did well in last year’s race, made an early exit. Ed Jones, who finished third last year as a rookie, had a one-car incident coming out of Turn 2 and saw his race come to an abrupt end.

Jones complained of a headache and neck pain and was transported to the Indiana Health facility a few miles east of the Speedway.

Danica Patrick, in the final race of her two-plus decade racing career, saw her hopes for a win also come to a premature end as she spun and hit the outside wall coming out of Turn 2, in a similar situation and location to Jones’ mishap.

“I don’t really know what happened, just came around on us,” Patrick told the IMS Radio Network. “It was a little tough to drive but I was not expecting it.”

Patrick finished 30th, the worst finish of her eight appearances in the 500.

“It just seemed to come around, seemed pretty late off the corner,” Patrick told ABC. “Today was really disappointing for what we were hoping for and what you want for your last race, but I’m grateful for all of it. I wish I could have finished stronger.

“It’s an entire career, but what really launched it was this. I’ve had a lot of good fortune here and still had some this month, it just didn’t come on race day. We had some good moments.”

Graham Rahal, who started near the back of the pack, led at the halfway point (100 laps) before falling back.

On Lap 105, Zach Veach came on pit road and suffered flames when the fueling hose disconnected. Veach returned to the track and the flames extinguished themselves, apparently not causing any damage to Veach’s car.

Just before that, Tony Kanaan had to return to pit road for an unscheduled pit stop when it appeared he was losing air in his right rear tire. The stop forced Kanaan, who had been at or near the front for much of the race, to fall one lap off the pace.

On Lap 113, rookie Kyle Kaiser suffered mechanical failure coming onto pit road that ended his day and his first appearance in the 500.

On Lap 139, Sebastien Bourdais spun coming out of Turn 3, hit the Turn 4 wall and wound up sitting backwards on the track.

On Lap 147, Helio Castroneves saw his bid for a fourth Indy 500 win end, spun coming out of Turn 4 and crashed hard into the pit road wall.

Castroneves, who was running in the top five, received a big round of cheers from fans and walked under his own power to the infield care center.

“I was never expecting it, I never had any sign,” Castroneves told ABC. “It was very frustrating. The car was good, it definitely was very tough out there.”

Castroneves already hopes to be back for next year’s 500.

“Please, Roger, I’ve gotta go back,” he said in a plea to team owner Roger Penske.

Penske told ABC, “We’ll certainly take a good look at that, for sure. … I guess he just got a little bit high. You don’t see a guy like him lose it very often, what a great guy and what he’s done for our team for so many years. He’s the fence climber and he’s one of my best guys.”

As he exited Turn 4 on Lap 155, Sage Karam hit the outside wall hard in almost the same place as where Castroneves hit.

“I really don’t know what happened, man,” Karam said over his team radio.

Another fan favorite, Tony Kanaan, joined the list of drivers that wrecked, losing it coming out of Turn 2 on Lap 190 and striking the inside retaining wall.

We’ll have more, including driver quotes and more shortly. Please check back soon.

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