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Ambrose has clear path with Stewart missing

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 Sprint Cup races at the storied track in upstate New York. ‘‘I don’t think he'll be a challenge this weekend.’’

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Stewart likely would have been a factor. He has a Cup-record five victories at The Glen, the last coming four years ago when he easily beat Ambrose by nearly three seconds. But Stewart 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.’’

The consecutive victories continued the aggressive Australian Ambrose’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. ‘‘

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. The top 10 drivers in points automatically make the Chase and the two drivers from 11th to 20th in points with the most wins get wild-card berths.

Brad Keselowski, the reigning Cup champion, is 12th, just 7 points behind Greg Biffle in 10th, but does not have a victory. Right in his rearview mirror are winless Kurt Busch, Sonoma winner Martin Truex Jr., and Stewart’s teammate, Ryan Newman. All will gain something because of Stewart’s absence; he’s 11th in the standings with one victory.

If the intensity is ratcheting up for the Chasers, it’s no less on Ambrose. He knows a win would vault him into the top 20 and at least move him into contention for a wild card.

.   .   .

Keselowski won the Nationwide Zippo 200 on Saturday, his fourth straight win over five months in the series. Keselowski beat Penske Racing teammate Sam Hornish Jr. for his first victory at The Glen.

Brian Vickers was third, followed by Regan Smith and Elliott Sadler.

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