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Ambrose nipped at the end at Watkins Glen

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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. (AP) — Oh-so-close for Marcos Ambrose.

Desperate for a win to get both Richard Petty Motorsports Fords in the Chase for the Sprint Cup title, Ambrose lost a late-race duel with AJ Allmendinger on Sunday at Watkins Glen International in another fender-banging thriller.

Allmendinger survived three restarts with the man who has been dominant at Watkins Glen ever since he drove from last to third in one of his first Cup races at The Glen.

“I know there was a lot of door banging going on,” said Ambrose, who had won the race twice in three years and had the dominant car last year before being foiled by pit strategy. “On a lot of corners we went round side-by-side. I got my tires really hot during that, and I slid coming off turn 11 after I got the lead, and he was able to get it back before the caution dropped.

“That was probably the difference between winning and losing the race right there.”

With four races to go for the Chase for the Sprint Cup title and no career victories on an oval, the odds are stacked against Ambrose to join teammate Aric Almirola for a breakthrough victory. All seven of Ambrose’s NASCAR triumphs have come on road courses, two in Cup and four in Nationwide at Watkins Glen, and one in Nationwide at Montreal.

Still, he sits 16th in the points as the so-called regular season winds down with races at Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond. That’s 33 points behind rookie Austin Dillon, the next driver without a victory. Sixteen drivers will be in the Chase field, which is set by wins. Drivers with at least one win and in the top 30 in points automatically qualify, and AJ Allmendinger’s win made that list 12. That leaves four slots to be filled, and if there are no more first-time winners, four drivers will get in on points.

“I haven’t thought about points,” Ambrose said. “We’re in decent championship position. We’ve got to obviously score points, but we need to focus on winning.”

That he was beaten by the 20-year-old one-car team he once drove for made it a bittersweet moment for Ambrose, whose NASCAR future remains in doubt.

“I’m really pleased (for them),” Ambrose said. “We threw everything we could at it. We just came up a little bit short.”