So-o-o close. Marcos Ambrose has taken a great second place in Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen International to bank his best-ever result in the big-league NASCAR series.
Ambrose and his crew chief Frankie Kerr gambled on a different pit stop strategy early in the 90-lap race and were left to fight for the lead near the end with rubber that had seen a little too much action.
The Australian finished just behind current Sprint Cup points leader Tony Stewart in the rain-delayed 355km contest.
Driving the #47 Little Debbie-backed Toyota of JTG Daugherty Racing, Ambrose started from fourth position and ran up front in the opening laps. But his race became a lottery on lap 23 when he was one of only three cars not to pit at a caution.
Off-strategy to the front-runners, Ambrose faced a sizeable challenge to get back into the lead pack, despite leading the race on two occasions for a total of nine laps as his alternate fuel/tyre tactics played out.
At the final series of pit stops, Ambrose and his crew chief Kerr opted to take only fuel, resulting in a quicker pit stop and propelling Ambrose from outside the top 20 up into fourth place, but meaning that he would have to finish the race on well-worn tyres.
Despite his older rubber, Ambrose had more than enough speed to pass Kyle Busch - his rival in Saturday's spectacular Nationwide Series win - to take second place.
Two-time Sprint Cup champion Tony "Smoke" Stewart was a harder nut to crack and didn't wilt under pressure, denying the Australian his first top-level NASCAR victory.
"The Cup car was just a little aggressive to drive and I had to work really hard to keep up with Smoke there," said Ambrose afterwards.
"I was closing in, but he just didn't make a mistake. What a fantastic driver he is, he's just unbelievable.
Then came his routine suck-up to NASCAR and all who sail in that good ship. "I just feel privileged to be racing against him and to drive for my team. I'm just so proud of all my guys. They've given me great stuff all year and JTG Daugherty is here to stay with the help of Michael Waltrip Racing and it's just really exciting times for us.
"I can't wait to have a shower and lie down. I'm pretty whipped."
Ambrose also made a plea for better brakes on the heavy NASCAR stock cars for road courses
"I'd love to see better brakes because it's very hard to pass when you're brakes are so hot.
This brought a quip from third placed Carl Edwards: "Well, when you go in 200 feet deeper than everybody else ..."
For their efforts, Ambrose earned the Mobil 1 Command Performance Award and Kerr the DirecTV Crew Chief of the Race Award.
Ambrose rises one spot in the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series points standings after the Glen result to now sit in 17th place.
The Glen caper was marred by a lengthy red flag period after a sickening crash involving Sam Hornish Jr, Jeff Gordon and Jeff Burton. All drivers escaped uninjured.
Ambrose will be back in action this weekend at the 2.0-mile Michigan International Speedway for the Carfax 400, the 23rd race in this year's Sprint Cup Series.
RESULTS: Sprint Cup - Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen1. #14 Tony Stewart 90 laps
2. #47 Marcos Ambrose
3. #99 Carl Edwards
4. #18 Kyle Busch
5. #16 Greg Biffle
6. #42 Juan Pablo Montoya
7. #2 Kurt Busch
8. #13 Max Papis
9. #33 Clint Bowyer
10. #11 Denny Hamlin
RESULTS: Sprint Cup Starting Line-Up1. #48 Jimmie Johnson 1:11.340
2. #2 Kurt Busch 1:11.348
3. #11 Denny Hamlin 1:11.653
4. #47 Marcos Ambrose 1:11.681
5. #12 David Stremme 1:11.810
6. #39 Ryan Newman 1:11.911
7. #16 Greg Biffle 1:11.989
8. #18 Kyle Busch 1:11.992
9. #08 Boris Said 1:12.003
10. #42 Juan Pablo Montoya 1:12.247
2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Driver's Standings - After Race 22 of 361. Tony Stewart 3383
2. Jimmie Johnson 3123
3. Jeff Gordon 3041
4. Kurt Busch 2902
5. Denny Hamlin 2847
6. Carl Edwards 2830
7. Juan Pablo Montoya 2781
8. Kasey Kahne 2754
9. Ryan Newman 2727
10. Greg Biffle 2718
11. Mark Martin 2716
12. Matt Kenseth 2685
13. Kyle Busch 2627
14. Brian Vickers 2589
15. Clint Bowyer 2586
16. David Reutimann 2530
17. Marcos Ambrose 2416
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