WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. That was truly a race into the Chase.
A.J. Allmendinger went door-to-door and fender-to-fender over the final two laps with Marcos Ambrose to muscle out a win in Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen at Watkins Glen International.
The win is Allmendinger's first in the Sprint Cup Series and will ensure he makes his first appearance in the Chase this season to compete for the series championship.
Kurt Busch finished third, Kyle Larson was fourth and Carl Edwards fifth.
Pole-winner Jeff Gordon took early command of the race, leading the first 29 laps.
Kevin Harvick, expected to be a contender for the win, was forced to pit within the first five laps of the race when he discovered a loose ballast bag (of weight) in his car. He had to pit under green to have it removed from his car.
Cole Whitt slammed into the tire barrier to bring out the race's first caution on Lap 10. On the restart on Lap 15, Gordon led the way followed by Ambrose and Jimmie ohnson.
Over the next 10 laps, several teams elected to make green-flag pit stops as they worked a two pit-stop strategy for the race.
During the pit stops, Kyle Busch was penalized by NASCAR for removing equipment from pit road (his gas can got stuck). Joey Logano's team was penalized as members of his pit crew came over the pit wall too soon.
By the halfway mark on Lap 45, Ambrose led the race followed by Gordon and Kurt Busch.
On Lap 51, Gordon began to slow considerably on the track and reported over his team radio that he had lost all power. NASCAR soon threw the caution as Gordon's No. 24 Chevrolet limped around the track.
On the restart on Lap 55, Johnson took over the race lead followed by Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Kasey Kahne.
On Lap 56, Greg Biffle and Ryan Newman made contact which triggered a five-car wreck that sent both Newman and Michael McDowell careening into two different parts of retaining walls.
Neither driver was hurt but NASCAR immediately red-flag the race to begin the extensive repairs necessary to return the track to racing condition.
The red flag was removed after one hour and 21 minutes. Most lead-lap cars pit when the caution flag was displayed and Edwards elected to remain on the track and took over the lead on Lap 61.
Allmendinger got around Edwards for the lead shortly after the restart.
With 20 laps remaining, Allmendinger continued to lead the way followed by Ambrose and Kurt Busch.
Josh Wise slowed on the track with a flat tire which brought out the fourth caution of the race on Lap 79. Most of the lead-lap cars elected not to pit and Allmendinger remained in the lead on the restart on Lap 82.
As cars drove through Turn 1, Johnson and Regan Smith got collected in a wreck to bring out the fifth caution of the race. On the restart on Lap 86, Allmendinger remained in the lead.
Ambrose and Allmendinger traded bumps on the restart and Ambrose briefly moved into the lead before Allmendinger got back around him just before another caution was displayed on Lap 87.
Denny Hamlin spun and slammed into the barrels filled with sand and dirt at the entrance of pit road which required another red flag period to clean the track.
On the restart on Lap 89, Allmendinger held the lead followed by Ambrose and Edwards
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AJ Allmendinger wins NASCAR's Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen
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