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Ambrose rattles AJ’s cage but can’t capture win

August 10, 2014, Stu Hothem, NASCAR.com

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Salutes former team as he continues quest to make the Chase

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Third-place finisher Kurt Busch had a front-row seat as AJ Allmendinger and Marcos Ambrose beat and banged for a victory on Sunday at Watkins Glen International and a berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

When asked what strategy Ambrose should have employed in the final laps of the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen, Busch said, "He should have wrecked Allmendinger."

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Sounding like "The Intimidator from Down Under," Ambrose said, "I tried to rattle his cage and couldn't shake him. We raced fair and square to the end there. It was a tough couple laps but it was fair. We were both giving it to each other pretty hard. No harm, no foul. We just came up a little short."

Ambrose had too much respect for his competitor, the No. 47 team and racing in general to spin and win. The Australian driver spent two full seasons with Allmendinger's JTG Daugherty Racing before moving to his current team, Richard Petty Motorsports, in 2011.

"They are good friends over there," Ambrose said. "I drove for those guys a long time, and I was never able to seal the deal with a win for them. I am pleased that they were able to get a win, and I am thrilled for AJ too, that is a big win."

Ambrose led 19 circuits from Lap 33 through Lap 51 and never fell below second place over the final 20 laps, running side-by-side with Allmendinger down the stretch. With four laps to go, Ambrose and Allmendinger were within .003 seconds of each other at the start/finish line.

The turning point for Ambrose came on the sixth and final yellow flag at Lap 88 when Denny Hamlin spun into the barrels at the entrance to pit road. The race to the field being frozen under caution was on and Allmendinger won it.

"I can't remember much of it, but I know there was a lot of door banging going on and a lot of corners where we were side by side," Ambrose said. "I got my tires really hot during that and slid coming off Turn 11 after I got the lead and he got it back before the caution dropped.

"That was probably the difference between winning and losing. If I could have had the lead when the caution came out I probably would have had the advantage on the restart and probably would have been able to fend him off. That is just racing. That is what it is all about. You try to take a couple chances, and I am just pleased we got through the esses side by side without wrecking the whole field. It could have easily happened."

On Saturday, Ambrose earned his fourth NASCAR Nationwide Series win at Watkins Glen with a Richard Petty Motorsports research and development team. On Sunday, he liked his chances of completing the first weekend sweep at the facility with his full-time No. 9 Sprint Cup team, which used a precious test at the Glen to get a win and join the No. 43 team and Aric Almirola in the Chase.

"I am just really proud of my Stanley team," Ambrose said. "We put a lot of effort into this race and really tried to win it. We won yesterday and came up one short today."

With four races to go until the Chase, his focus remains on winning his way into NASCAR's playoffs, but he's also aware of his points situation heading into Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond.

"Man, I just finished the closest race of my life," Ambrose said. "I haven't thought about points or anything. I will look at it Monday. 

"We are decent in the championship position. I think we are 16th or something. We need to score points, but we really need to focus on winning."

Ambrose is indeed 16th in points, 50 markers behind Clint Bowyer, who holds the last provisional spot on points.

But the win was the thing for Ambrose, who enjoyed rubbing and racing with Allmendinger, just not as much as he did when he and Brad Keselowski slam-danced their way to the start/finish line in 2012.

Was Sunday's run was as exciting as that epic dash to the checkered flag two years ago? 

"Not for me personally," Ambrose said.

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