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Although Gordon’s last victory at The Glen was in 2001, he’s been in contention since, most memorably in 2007. Gordon led 51 of the race’s 90 laps and was two car-lengths ahead of Stewart with just two laps remaining, but a classic battle between NASCAR’s two most successful road racers disappeared in the blink of an eye. Gordon spun off course on his own entering the first turn of lap 89 and finished ninth as Stewart celebrated in Victory Lane.

A strong sixth-place run in June at Sonoma, the other road course of the Cup series, has given Gordon renewed enthusiasm for Watkins Glen.

“We sort of lost that edge and great performance that we’ve had in the past when we were winning there at Watkins Glen,” Gordon said. “I’m really optimistic because I feel like we made some great gains at Sonoma this year, had a nice finish there, qualified good there, as well.

“Sonoma and Watkins Glen are different, but we feel like the test we did at Road Atlanta earlier in the year, the things we’re finding to improve the car in performance is going to pay off at Watkins Glen.”

Marcos Ambrose won last year’s race, besting Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski in a fending-banging, green-white-checkered finish that ended in caution when the cars of David Reutimann and David Ragan were crushed in a violent collision coming out of the first turn of the final lap.

Ambrose is bringing that same No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford back this weekend for the Finger Lakes 355 and expects to be in contention. The affable Australian has won all three Nationwide races he’s entered at Watkins Glen. In his three other Cup starts, he has one second and two thirds, including an impressive drive from last to third in 2008, giving him an average finish of 2.3.

“I’m confident,” said Ambrose, 17th in the standings. “We need to turn our season around.”

Just like the 24 has with five races remaining before the Chase begins at Chicagoland.

“For us, we’ve been building momentum for several weeks with great finishes, as well as just really solid runs,” Gordon said. “That’s the difference from the start of the season. We had great runs and just weren’t putting any kind of results together, so we put ourselves into this hole that we’re in.

“But the last eight weeks, even with a few glitches along the way, we’ve been getting ourselves out of it. I hope the next five weeks we continue to do that.”