Watkins Glen, N.Y. • Marcos Ambrose was blunt and to the point as he contemplated the twists and turns of Watkins Glen International.
"I don't know much about what's going to happen, but I do know that I've got Tony Stewart covered," said Ambrose, who has won the past two Cup races at the storied track in upstate New York. "I don't think he'll be a challenge this weekend."
Stewart likely would have been a factor. He has a Sprint Cup-record five victories at The Glen, the last coming four years ago when he easily beat Ambrose by nearly 3 seconds. But the man known as Smoke is out indefinitely with a broken right leg suffered in a sprint car crash in Iowa six days ago and will be replaced in the No. 14 Chevrolet by road racer Max Papis for Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at The Glen.
"It's an honor to be called to fill the shoes of Tony," said Papis, whose best finish in 35 Cup starts was an eighth here in 2009. "I feel I have a lot of confidence to go out there and give them a positive result. I love the opportunity. I love that you guys (the media) talk about it."
Track officials are expecting a near-record crowd, the exception for a series that has seen too many rows of empty seats since the economic downturn. Sunny skies with temperatures around 80 are predicted, and that's a big factor in the turnout, but anyone who saw the finishes of the past two Cup races here have to be thirsting for another Ambrose, Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski staged scintillating duels for the victory at the end of each race.
The victories continued the aggressive Australian's amazing record at Watkins Glen in five starts, he has an average finish of second. Though everybody points to him as the man to beat when the Cup series races on the road courses at Sonoma and The Glen, Ambrose knows he's been fortunate here.
"If the circumstances had fallen the same way again, I may not have won [last year]," said Ambrose, who will start from the pole for the first time in this race. "It was quite a lucky break to get that win. To be honest with you, I look at that race and I wish I had won it by eight seconds and not by one car-length."
With only five races to go before the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and the points standings so tight for the final four spots in the 12-driver field, a late caution will create another frantic finish.
Keselowski wins Nationwide event
Brad Keselowski won Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International.
It was the fourth win over five months in the series for Keselowski, who beat Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr. for his first victory at The Glen.
Hornish started from the pole and the Penske pair dominated the race, running 1-2 the final 16 laps with teammate Joey Logano in third until Logano ran out of gas at the end. Brian Vickers was third, followed by Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler.
Points leader Austin Dillon finished 11th and saw his lead shrink to three points over Hornish.
O Sunday, 11 a.m.
TV • ESPN