In terms of the unintended consequences file, the last lap of Sunday's Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen made a major impact.
The decision – whether you believe was right or wrong – by NASCAR to not throw caution despite several drivers complaining there was oil down on the track from Bobby Labonte's blown engine created one of the most thrilling finishes in recent history.
But when the checkered flag flew, the fickle finger of fate influenced many a driver.
Kyle Busch went from a potential second win of the season and firming up a Wild Card spot to dangerously close to now missing the Chase with four races left in the regular season.
After sliding while leading when the white flag flew and then getting passed by Brad Keselowski, eventual race winner Marcos Ambrose and others, Busch finished fifth and fell behind Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman in the race for one of the two Wild Card spots.
"It was just a wild set of circumstances,” Busch team owner Joe Gibbs said. “It just makes everybody sick. I don't think there's much you can say about it. It was an unbelievable set of circumstances is the way I would put it.”
Ditto for Jeff Gordon, who after his Pocono win last week was thrust right back into the Wild Card picture and came to Watkins Glen with a ton of momentum.
The four-time champ battled back from early race handling issues to get inside the top 10, only to spin in the final wildness and cough up the Wild Card lead in the process.
“I went to the outside and hit it (oil on the track) and just spun right out,” said Gordon, who was credited with a 21st place finish. “I'm just really disappointed because we fought hard today to come back to get what was going to be a pretty nice finish. The thing is, I'm just disappointed at how hard we had to fight for the position.
“The points are going to be what the points are going to be. We can't control what other people do. We can only control what we do. And today, we took back control when we got off, and we were coming. It's just unfortunate that that gets taken away from you because NASCAR doesn't want to end the race under yellow (caution). I understand. You want to keep it entertaining and give the winner a shot at it but there are a lot of other things going on our there too. I think they completely disregarded that and hey, it's over now.”
But for race winner Ambrose it's anything but over. His thrilling win put him right in the middle of a potential playoff run and the Richard Petty Motorsports driver is up to the challenge of trying to find another win over the next four weeks.
Not surprisingly, Ambrose had no issues with how the final circuit played out Sunday.
“Big shout out to NASCAR, a lot of people saying, ‘should they have thrown a caution or not.' No one wants to see these races finish under caution, bunched back up in these two-by-twos, make it a random finish,” he said. “We had the three fastest cars duking it out for the win. That's the way it should be and I think they made the right call.”
No doubt some fans agree with the race winner and some don't.
But with some much needed buzz about Sunday's finish, for NASCAR “oil's well that ends well.”
Sam Hornish Jr. – Came home fifth in the wild finish and helped his cause in securing the full-time Shell/Pennzoil Dodge seat for 2013. Capped a solid weekend at The Glen that also included a good run in Saturday's Nationwide Series race.
Regan Smith – Another good week for the Furniture Row Racing team as it prepares for the next phase in its existence for 2012 and beyond. Smith needs to end the year on an upswing and has been impressive of late.
Martin Truex Jr. – Came back from early problems as well as an incident with Kasey Kahne to post a top 10 finish. After MWR teammate Brian Vickers and fellow Toyota pilot Denny Hamlin experience engine problems, there were no doubt some nervous folks inside the No. 56 camp.
Kyle Busch – Looked as if victory number two of the season was within reach until the fateful last lap on Sunday. Busch slid and was bumped by Keselowski and just like that the Joe Gibbs Racing driver fell even further behind in the race to make the Chase.
Juan Pablo Montoya – After taking his second straight pole Montoya's day went downhill from there. The 2010 Watkins Glen winner was sidelined by a steering malfunction that took Montoya from any chance of competing for another win and continued his frustrating season.
Brian Vickers – The storybook limited schedule season with Michael Waltrip Racing ended before it even began Sunday when Vickers was knocked out of the race with a blown engine. Still hoping to land a full-time ride next year, Vickers does have a few more audition opportunities in the No. 55 ride this season.
RADIO WAVES (Choice comments and communications from drivers and crew chiefs)
"It's like there's no brakes! It's metal on metal. The pedal is to the floor!" – Boris Said
"On the downshift, maybe I over-revved it. I'm not sure. It's really frustrating." – Brian Vickers
“I'm sorry guys. We're just not very good. The car just does not like the transitions." – Jeff Gordon
“I saw the fire right by my feet.” – Denny Hamlin on why he stopped on track after blowing an engine
“Well, that (expletive) sucks.” – Tony Stewart after crashing with 20 laps to go
"I've pushed so (expletive) hard, I have nothing left.” – Brad Keselowski after his late race battle with Marcos Ambrose for second
On a scale of one to ten "Pistone Pistons," I'll give Sunday's Finger Lakes 355 at The Glen an eight. You can argue about whether there was oil down on the track, if NASCAR should have thrown the caution or if the sanctioning body made the right decision to swallow the whistle on the closing lap. But no matter the view, what Sunday's race did more than perhaps any this year is provide conversation about racing and an exciting finish. The 2012 campaign has been punctuated with a mediocre on track product more weeks than not and conversation about restarts, failed substance abuse policy tests and manufacturers pulling out of the sport. For one part of a Sunday afternoon anyway all of that was put on the back burner and what was happening between the people behind the wheel mattered most. NASCAR needs more of it over the next fourteen weeks of the season.
DOWN THE ROAD
The Sprint Cup circus returns to the Irish Hills of Michigan for next Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway. It was an eventful first trip to the two-mile track back in June with lightning fast speeds on new pavement, a tire controversy when Goodyear changed left side rubber the night before the race and Dale Earnhardt Jr. ending a more than four year winless drought. This time around the speeds won't be quite as high and Goodyear has its arms around the tire compound after a test two weeks ago. But who will be standing in victory lane next Sunday afternoon is still a pretty big unknown.