'I Tried To Rattle His Cage'

Marcos Ambrose, AJ Allmendinger

AJ Allmendinger (left) and Marcos Ambrose duel for the lead late in Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen. (Photo: Getty Images)

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - Marcos Ambrose leaned against his car on pit road and looked to his right. There, 150 yards away, AJ Allmendinger celebrated his first career NASCAR Sprint Cup win and a spot in the Chase.

Ambrose had pointed toward this weekend for some time, knowing it was his best chance to score a victory and join teammate Aric Almirola in the Chase. Unable to outmuscle Allmendinger in the final two laps, Ambrose could only watch Allmendinger dance, hug and jump about as smoke from his doughnuts wafted skyward.

That could have been Ambrose.

“I tried to rattle his cage,’’ Ambrose said, using a famous Dale Earnhardt Sr. line, “but I just couldn’t shake him. It was a rough couple of laps, but it was fair.’’

Ambrose smiled through it, but that only masked the pain of coming so close to sweeping the weekend after winning Saturday’s Nationwide race.

“I’m pretty bummed out,’’ he said.

If Ambrose looks back, he’ll see different places in the final laps that if any of the had been different, he could have won.

A key point came just before the final caution. Ambrose and Allmendinger raced side-by-side down the frontstretch before Allmendinger darted ahead in Turn 1 just before the caution came out for a crash.

“We had run door-to-door up through the esses and I slid my tires through the bus stop, and I was still really hot coming into (Turns) 10 and 11, and I got wide in 11 and he got the run and the momentum,’’ Ambrose said. “If the caution could have come out five seconds earlier, I would have been in the lead and it would have been a different story.’’

That was important because it allowed Allmendinger to lead on the final restart, giving him the advantage.

“He was one step ahead of me,’’ Ambrose said.

Allmendinger shot ahead on the restart but Ambrose soon caught him and they made contact repeatedly as they raced to the white flag. At any point, it looked as Ambrose was ready to take the lead but couldn’t.

“He could have easily just wrecked me ... and drove to the win and make the Chase,’’ Allmendinger said of Ambrose. “He moved me out of the way and leaned on me, and I leaned on him back.’’

They continued to make contact and pushed each other as they went side-by-side, both cars banging off one another. Allmendinger began to pull away and Ambrose couldn’t close on the final lap, watching one car keep him from winning and making the Chase.

“It’s what racing is,’’ Ambrose said. “It can be gut-wrenching and it can be just exhilarating at the same time.’’

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