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Ambrose won his third straight Nationwide race over the 11-turn, 2.45-mile Watkins Glen layout on Saturday. He was poised to capture his first Sprint Cup victory at Sonoma in June when things went awry. He stalled his No. 47 Toyota while leading under a late caution, was unable to keep pace, had to restart seventh when he couldn’t get it refired, and finished sixth.

He seemed destined to finally break through at The Glen, but the handling on the last set of tires was off and Kurt Busch slipped past him late.

“It hurts,” said Ambrose, who announced recently that he was leaving JTG-Daugherty Racing after the season. “It doesn’t feel nice. That last set of tires cost us the race.”

Montoya was able to pull away on every restart, but each time Ambrose reeled him in. When the race restarted for the final time with 15 laps remaining, Kurt Busch passed Ambrose as Montoya took off, pulling away as Busch kept Ambrose at bay.

Ambrose got past Busch in the first turn of lap 77 and began the chase again as it became a two-car contest. This time, Ambrose was unable to cut into the lead as Montoya steadily pulled away, increasing his lead from 1.7 seconds to 4.2 seconds in five laps.

“We lost the handle on it on the last stop,” Ambrose lamented. “We tried hard all day. Juan drove a heck of a race. He wasn’t giving me anything. I just wore out everything trying to pass him.”

A third of the way into the race, Ambrose was on Montoya’s back bumper and stayed there as Montoya was hard on the brakes, often smoking the tires. They nearly touched on lap 39 and were side by side in the inner loop at the top of the high-speed esses the next time around. Ambrose finally made the pass on the 41st lap in turn one, a hard downhill right-hander, forcing Montoya onto the runoff area with an aggressive inside move.

“I even said on the radio, ‘Why is he trying so hard? Just ride for a little,’” Montoya said. “I’ll tell you what _ I was surprised.”

Both pitted together with 30 laps remaining, and Montoya beat Ambrose out before a caution flew for debris.

Two more cautions _ there were five altogether for 13 laps _ erased any worries about fuel in case of overtime.

“He’s driving a great race,” Ambrose said of Montoya during one of the cautions. “He’s really hard to pass. It’s going to be a big battle. I’m going to see if I can force him into a mistake.”

He never got the chance.