Regan Smith, who had finished fifth in the Nationwide race at Watkins Glen on Saturday, was secured by 8:30 a.m. to race the No. 14 Chevrolet and commuted via jet and helicopter from North Carolina with Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick.
A surreal scene developed around Stewart's garage stall, including onlookers, local and national news crews. When Smith finally arrived just more than an hour before the race, toting a black duffel bag and accompanied by Hendrick, who was carrying his seat inserts, local police, NASCAR officials and several SHR crew men oversaw his acclimation to the race car's seat and pedals.
Smith, who had not competed in Sprint Cup since the 2013 Coca-Cola 600, was involved in a late wreck and finished 37th.
Ambrose, a nine-year NASCAR veteran who could return to Australia to resume a championship career in V8 Supercars, congratulated the winner, grinning all the while on pit road afterward. He said the right things, expressed hope that he could still snatch a Chase spot with a less likely win at Michigan next week. But his glint seemed pained as the din and smoke from Allmendinger's burnout began filling the air.
"I can't remember much of it, but I know there was a lot of door-banging going on, a lot of corners we went round side by side," said Ambrose, who has two Cup wins and four Nationwide wins at Watkins Glen. "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."