Jimmie Johnson inherited the lead in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway when Marcos Ambrose failed to keep up with the pace car during the final caution of the 110-lap race and pulled away from Robby Gordon in the final five laps to win the first road-course race of his career.
By Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service
(June 20, 2010)
SONOMA, Calif.—Jimmie Johnson scratched another item off his bucket list—but not without unintended help from Marcos Ambrose.
Johnson inherited the lead in Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Infineon Raceway when Ambrose failed to keep up with the pace car during the final caution of the 110-lap race and pulled away from Robby Gordon in the final five laps to win the first road-course race of his career.
Ambrose had opened a lead of more than two seconds over Johnson when Brad Keselowski spun and stalled in Turn 7 to bring out the seventh caution on Lap 103. Attempting to save fuel during the caution laps, Ambrose lost power and slowed, and his No. 47 Toyota failed to refire.
Ambrose’s engine finally started, but by then, the first six cars in the running order had passed him. Consequently, Ambrose restarted seventh with five laps left and was able to recover one position before the finish.
“Boys … finally,” Johnson radioed to his crew after crossing the finish line. “Better be ready to drink some beer here in a little bit. Woohoo! About time! Boooyah!”
Johnson won for the fourth time this season and the 51st time in his career, breaking a tie for 10th on the all-time list with Junior Johnson and Ned Jarrett. The victory was the 15th on a road course for Hendrick Motorsports, the most for one organization.
Ambrose could only reflect on what might have been. Only three other foreign drivers—and no Australian—had ever won a Cup race. Nor had team owners Tad Geschickter, Jodi Geschickter and Brad Daugherty.
“I was leading the race and had trouble getting the motor cranked back up a little bit there, and NASCAR made the call,” Ambrose said as he walked back to his transporter after the race. “I was trying to save fuel, and the motor shut off. It didn’t recrank the way it should. I didn’t stop rolling, but it is what it is.
“I don’t think (NASCAR should have made that call). But that’s in my opinion, because I lost the race. There’s not a lot of words to say. I’m just sorry for my guys.”
Johnson crossed the finish line 3.105 seconds ahead of Gordon and moved up four spots in the standings to second, 140 points behind leader Kevin Harvick, who ran third. Harvick began the day 22 points ahead of Kyle Busch, 47 ahead of Hamlin and 118 ahead of Kurt Busch. But all three struggled. Kyle Busch finished 39th, Hamlin 34th and Kurt Busch 32nd.
Polesitter Kasey Kahne was fourth, and Jeff Gordon fifth, but the major topic of discussion after the race was Ambrose’s gaffe.
“With Marcos, we came around through Turn 1, and normally guys shut the car off downhill, coasting to save fuel,” Johnson said. “I didn’t think at first that he had shut the car off, going up the hill—that’s just the last place that he would probably do it.
“I thought maybe he ran out of fuel or had an electrical problem or something major, because the car just came to a stop. At that point, I’m thinking, ‘How does the procedure work?’ I know when you come to a stop, you’re clearly not maintaining a reasonable speed, and it would be interesting to see where they put him.
“In one respect, I felt like, if they put him back up in front of me, I’d kind of see that as OK, although I’d be raising hell on the radio and cussing like crazy and trying to fight it, because it looked like his car broke, and it shut off. The way the rule reads, you have to maintain a reasonable speed, and coming to a stop on the racetrack is no speed.
“All that being said, I feel bad for him. His team owners gave my chance in (the) Nationwide (Series) in ’98. … It was definitely a gift kind of handed to us.”