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Kyle Busch denies Brad Keselowski
WATKINS Glen, N.Y. ( K. Lee Davis / ESPN.com ) -- Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen had a very familiar feel to it. Oil on the track at one point, fortunes rising and falling with every caution flag, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski battling for the victory.
Busch remembers all too well how that scenario played out last year, but he did almost everything right to bring home the victory this time.
That it came despite a strong challenge from the 2012 Sprint Cup champion on the race's final lap was all the better.
"I commend Brad for doing a better job this year, bringing home a cleaner race," Busch said. "… It was fun, and I'm glad it worked out the way it did. For me, anyway."
It was a reversal of roles from last year, when Busch appeared to have the race won before oil on the track led Busch to swinging wide though a turn, only to find his position occupied by Keselowski when Busch tried to get back on track. Contact was made, Busch spun, and Keselowski settled into a memorable duel with eventual winner Marcos Ambrose.
For Busch, the hard feelings are not gone.
"No, nothing ever really makes up for it," Busch said. "I'll never get the trophies at my house, and, you know, I won't have the win that it took to make the Chase for last year.
"You know, nothing ever makes up for lost things, I guess things taken from you, however you want to put it."
Last year, with Busch wrecked, Keselowski and Ambrose traded paint on that oil-slicked final lap. Sunday's second-place finish by Keselowski -- his third in a row on this road course -- had a different set of circumstances, he figured, and he said he raced accordingly.
"There's racing and wrecking," Keselowski said. "Those are two different things. Everybody defines them a little differently, and, I guess, that's the code you live your life by.
"Me, I define last year as racing, and some people would define that as wrecking. If I was gonna take out Kyle today, it would have been wrecking in my mind, and there's a distinct difference."
So instead of using the so-called "chrome horn" to get by Busch, Keselowski gave him what many in the sport would consider a break.
But the biggest break Busch received all day was one of his team's making. When a caution flag flew as the No. 18 car was coming in for a pit stop -- what can be a disaster on an oval is usually advantageous on road courses, because the cars still on the track have to slow down and a car in the pits loses less track position because of the length of the track -- Busch and his crew knew they had just put themselves in position to compete for the win.
"I actually got to give credit to my two engineers," crew chief Dave Rogers said. "They got [to] talking and they saw some people sliding around, and Steve Hoelger, one of my engineers, said, 'Man, I think there's fluid on the track. You better get [Busch] in.'
"it was a last-minute call to get Kyle on pit road, and, next thing you know, there was a caution. So it worked out great."
And there was plenty of wrecking to be had at the 2.45-mile layout that includes plenty of elevation changes, not to mention high speeds, for a road course.
Some cars were wrecking for seemingly no reason (Jeff Gordon on Lap 15). Other cars were crashing into one another for obvious reasons (Tomy Drissi, Travis Kvapil, Ron Fellows and Victor Gonzalez Jr. on Lap 41). A 22-minute, 11-second red flag for oil on the track laid down by Gonzalez only delayed the scrums to come. The race had a little bit of everything, including that bumper-to-bumper battle for the win. There were a total of eight cautions for 21 laps with only 34 of 43 cars running at the end.
It didn't start off auspiciously, however.
Pole-winner Ambrose rolled to an easy early lead and clearly appeared to be the class of the field, but the same caution flag that was advantageous for Busch put Ambrose back in the pack.
He was never able to recover and wrecked out of the race when his car slowed just after a restart with four laps to go. He led a race-high 51 laps.
"Something was just wrong with the car there, and I just couldn't get going," Ambrose said. "I could feel on the roll-around lap that something had broken, but I just feel bad for the guys that got caught up in all that mess.
"We had a very fast car, but it just wasn't our day."
On an otherwise forgettable day for Hendrick Motorsports, Jimmie Johnson finished eighth and clinched at least a wild-card spot in the Chase. His teammates Gordon (finished 36th), Kasey Kahne (34th) and Dale Earnhardt Jr. (30th) crashed, pushing Kahne and Gordon to 12th and 13th in the standings, respectively.
For Gordon, on the outside looking in for the Chase because he has no victories, it was a pretty tough day to swallow. So what now?
"Fight hard," he said. "Just keep working to go to the next race and qualify better, execute better and not make mistakes. That was my mistake. That was on me today. We can't have stuff like that happen."