An interview with: Marcos Ambrose
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, and welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. Today's guest is Marcos Ambrose. Marcos will also be competing in Saturday's NASCAR Nationwide Series race in Montreal.
On Monday, Marcos earned his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory, joining Mario Andretti, Earl Ross and Juan Pablo Montoya as the only international winners in series history. With the win, Marcos became the fifth first-time winner in 2011, gained eligibility in the Sprint Summer Showdown and the 2012 NASCAR All-Star Race, as well as becoming a player in the wild card battle for this year's Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
I feel like I just need to lead the last one this year, not lead the most laps.
Marcos, we'll start with a question from Twitter: How redeeming is it to get this win under your belt after what happened in Infineon Raceway last year?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, I try hard to forget about Infineon Raceway. I have to say winning for the first time in the Sprint Cup Series is incredible, a huge achievement. Very thankful for the opportunity that I've been given here at Richard Petty Motorsports, with the help of Stanley and DeWalt, it's been a dream weekend for me. I've totally erased my memories of Sonoma from this moment forward.
THE MODERATOR: We'll go to the media for questions for Marcos.
Q. This is not standard double duty for you. You're going to have to change cars, change countries, go through customs. Talk a little bit about the challenges of doing that and what is the expectation of trying to balance a weekend like this coming off of the high and obviously the added attention you will get at Michigan, then coming up to Montréal where we know the track finally owes you a win?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, it sure does owe me a win. I think this year is going to be the hardest year because I have to start off the back of grid. We're doing the practice at Michigan Saturday morning. We're flying with Carl Edwards to get to the track in time. It's going to be really tight.
The way we predict, it's going to be roughly a 20-minute gap between arriving on time and being late for the race. So I think we just have to play our strategies right. Hopefully everything goes to plan getting through customs, weather with the plane, making sure the helicopter gets us to where we need to be at the track.
It should be okay. Looking forward to the race. We have our big push with Stanley sponsoring the car, Canadian Tire, supporting us there. We're donating $100,000 dollars to the Canada Tire Jump-Start Program, a program designed to help kids participate in sports, on behalf of Stanley. We have a lot of reasons to try to, you know, turn up on time and win the race, to be honest with you.
Forgetting about, of course, the track does owe me a win. I've tried four times. I've led more laps than anybody else. I feel like I just need to lead the last one this year, not lead the most laps.
Q. You've been so dominant in Montréal. No chance anybody running up here, a Nationwide regular, has done anything with customs to try to slow you down to prevent you from getting to the starting line on time?
MARCOS AMBROSE: That depends. I just hope that the customs control doesn't like Jacques enough or Patrick Carpentier too much and slows us down.
Q. What do you feel like you need to do now to win on an oval?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Not much different really. I think getting the first win out of the way at Watkins Glen was a big weight off my shoulders to finally win in the Sprint Cup Series. It's huge. I've been feeling that pressure for some time.
I hope that I'm able to drive a little more relaxed, a little freer, and the wins will come more often. We've come close this year at tracks like Vegas, Texas, Charlotte. We were very fast. I led 100 laps at Martinsville last year, as well. So I feel good about that track. I've come close to winning at Bristol and Dover as well. We've got some great tracks coming up with a chance to win.
Our focus right now is these last four races. If we can snag a second win before the Chase starts, it gives ourselves an opportunity to make the Chase.
There's a lot to race for and hopefully the wins will come more consistently for me now I've got the first one out of the way.
It's really tough, this sport, no doubt about it. To be able to call yourself a race winner means a lot. But it's only one race win. You got to get more of them to feel like you're a real star in NASCAR. Ovals is where it's at for me. I think it's only a matter of time before we get one.
Q. Has there been anything that's happened in the last couple of days since the win that you would say would be unexpected or that you didn't realize about what would happen, reaction to a Cup win?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, the state government from where I'm from, Tasmania, put out a press release to celebrate the win. That was pretty awesome. The roll out in Australia for national print and media was massive, more than I could have expected.
I think the biggest thing, biggest shock to me was how many drivers, how many people inside NASCAR congratulated me, were joyful of the victory as I was. Mike Helton and Robin Pemberton came to Victory Lane to say, Well done, which means a lot. The other drivers out there were fantastic.
To be respected by your peers, I think, is the most important to me. Winning races is great, but to feel like the other drivers around you respect you and feel like you deserve to win, as well, it means an awful lot.
Q. With a race in Canada this weekend, you have yourself and Juan Pablo with wins in Sprint Cup, a couple Brazilians driving in the Truck Series, do you think the international aspect of NASCAR is accepted and no longer a curiosity?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, it's tough to win. When you come from overseas and you come into this sport, it takes years to get to where you really want to be and be a contender.
I haven't had any flack or blowback at all as being international and winning in NASCAR. The only feedback I've gotten has been positive. I don't think anyone cares. A NASCAR fan doesn't care where you're from, they just want to see the best drivers out there competing and winning. Doesn't matter where you're from.
I wish anyone else from overseas, international areas that want to come in and have a go at NASCAR, I wish them the best, but it's definitely not an easy road. I think myself and Montoya have been pioneers to compete in NASCAR and also win. It's awesome to be part of that group. But I tell you what, it hasn't been an easy road.
I don't expect there to be a huge influx of international drivers trying to come and take race wins away from North Americans.
Q. What do you expect for the Nationwide race in Montréal this week?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, it seems the last few years we've always been fighting the weather, rain showers coming across. I'm going to be watching the radar, the weather forecast closely.
My race in particular, I'm starting from the back, as will Carl Edwards. It's going to be a real challenge to get to the front. We've got some great drivers from Canada racing in the event. Jacques Villeneuve, Alex Tagliani, Patrick Carpentier come to mind. They're going to be starting at the front. They're going to be looking after their brakes and tires. They've got a real chance to win the race.
We have to rely on myself and Carl on some cautions to get track position. I think it's possible to win from the back, but it's going to be a real challenge.
I think the fans are in for a spectacular race. You have two races going on at once. You have the guys that have been there all weekend racing the front and you've got myself and Carl starting from the back trying to get track position and be there at the end.
It's going to be interesting.
Q. Jacques Villeneuve didn't make any friends in Road America earlier this summer. Do you expect any fallback in Montréal?
MARCOS AMBROSE: I'm not sure, but I know that Jacques is a very fierce driver. He has a lot of talent. He's very fast in these stock cars. Every time he jumps in one, it's like he's got a chance to win. If they want to have payback, they're going to have to catch him first.
Q. I wanted to get your thoughts on the wild card format. As a driver, does it add a little more excitement and pressure these last four races knowing that you can clinch a spot in the Chase if you're able to win again?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Absolutely no doubt. The changes that NASCAR has put in this year for the points system and also the Chase format have been big winners for the drivers and the fans.
I think that it was just very satisfying for all my family and immediate friends.
As a driver, I'm sitting 22nd in points. I know if I go out in the last four races and win another event, I've got a chance to make the Chase. This time last year, I was pretty much done for. I was only racing for pride.
So there's a lot at stake for the drivers. That means that the drivers are building to a frenzy here towards the end. You have the Sprint contingency program where in Atlanta we can win $3 million as well, $1 million for your team, $1 million for a fan, and $1 million for your chosen charity. Huge incentive for the drivers who have won races during this contingency period.
You have the points system, as well, that now, if you can finish top 10, you get a lot more points than the old system. So you've got a lot to race for. You have a lot to try to win for.
I think the fans know that. I think the drivers definitely know it. Definitely the races this year have been more frantic than last year. Drivers are taking more chances. There are bigger crashes because guys are trying to get greedy and get to the front as fast as they can.
I think it's been a great initiative by NASCAR, all the things they've done here, to make the Chase uncertain up to the end.
Q. What was your family's reaction after your win?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, it was absolutely amazing. I have obviously my wife and two kids here in North America. They weren't there for the race. They were up on the Sunday when we got rained out. Had to take them back to Charlotte, take the eldest, Tabitha, to school for the first time. They were celebrating the win back in Charlotte.
My family in Australia were up in the middle of the night popping bottles of champagne, celebrating as well. They understand the sacrifice and commitment I've made to be a NASCAR Sprint Cup driver. I think that it was just very satisfying for all my family and immediate friends.
Q. Does that mean now that you have the win under your belt you're even hungrier to get that oval win?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, I thought about halfway through the whole Victory Lane celebration that it was a lot of fun and I want to do it again (laughter). Definitely I've now had a taste of it and I want more.
Q. How do you share that triumph with your friends and family back home when home is so far away?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, I got to celebrate with my team. Let's face it, you spend as much time with your crew chief and your team as you do with your wife. I had plenty of people to celebrate. That wasn't a problem.
I really would have loved my family to be there on the day. It's just how racing works. We try to have everyone up there. We thought it was going to be a good weekend for me to win. With the weather delay, the way it went down, there wasn't the opportunity for them to be there on the Monday.
It's a good compromise. I'll take the win if they're at home any day. I can always bring the champagne and the trophy back.
Q. As far as your friends and family back home in Australia, how best do you share that triumph with them?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, they just watched on TV. The phone's been running hot. I think after the race, by the time I got to my phone after Victory Lane, there were around 150 text messages plus phone calls and everything else. So it's been a big week trying to keep track of everybody.
I thank them for their support. Not just my friends, but fans as well. It's been a huge reach-out, just a great problem to have, having the phone running hot.
Q. You have people trying to follow you around on the road courses trying to figure out what you're doing. Does any of that kind of adapt to the ovals at all? Do you take something with you that others might not quite have?
MARCOS AMBROSE: In my recent form, not much. I've been having some issues the last month or so on these ovals.
The oval format is very different. It's something that you have to really adapt to and get comfortable with. I think it's a matter of car feel and the driver feeling what's happening so he can make the adjustments and guide the team into getting a better-handling racecar.
I'm actually asking others about what they do around those tracks, while on road courses it seems like everyone is coming to me.
Q. You have been a twice Australian V8 Super Car champion. When you came over to NASCAR, how much more difficult has it been for you for this win, or has it?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, it's taken me 105 starts to win a Sprint Cup race. I think that pretty much answers that question for you. It's been an incredible challenge. There's no certainty of success in NASCAR. You can't back into a win or get lucky. You have to have everything going for you. You're up against the best competition out there as far as teams go. As far as the formats, the race length, the difficulty of the machine you're driving, the circuits we use are incredible challenges.
All those things combined, it's been the toughest thing I've ever done in racing, no doubt.
Q. How much does this bolster your confidence to know that you can possibly win at Montréal?
The big thing about Montréal is I have to be very careful...
MARCOS AMBROSE: It makes a big difference to me. I needed to win this year. I felt the pressure for quite a long time to get to Victory Lane for Richard Petty Motorsports, Stanley, DeWalt, Ford, everybody involved in our program. I feel like going to Montréal is going to be more of a celebration.
I think that will help my driving. It's going to keep me more relaxed. Hopefully it will be the right ingredient to get me to Victory Lane.
The big thing about Montréal is I have to be very careful, careful in traffic, careful on my brakes, really just manage my stuff to the end. Hopefully, you know, the race runs the right way for us to have some late cautions to allow us to get close to the leaders of the race with not too many laps to go. If that can happen, then you never know. With my relaxed attitude, a bit of luck with the race strategy, it could work out.
Q. Would you have seen anything of the Ragan-Reutimann mess in your mirrors? Did you have any comment at all on the Boris-Biffle situation in the garage area afterwards?
MARCOS AMBROSE: I've got really nothing to add about the Boris Said confrontation. I tell you what, the hits that Ragan and Reutimann took, they were vicious. Just pleased they got out of the cars. Just thankful they got out of those cars somewhat unscathed. Just a testament to the safety changes and the safety thought that NASCAR has for the drivers. Just vicious crashes like that are never nice to watch. Glad everyone got away.
Q. When you come up here to Montréal, do you have any time after the race or do you immediately jump back in the helicopter and head back down to Michigan?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Depends if we win the race. I'll be hanging around for a little while. Primary focus of course is to get back in time to have a good sleep to get ready for the Cup race on Sunday.
Obviously racing two countries in one weekend is a challenge. We're not going to be in one spot too long anywhere.
Q. When you win in Watkins Glen, some of us forget that Australia is not exactly in our time zones. Were you up around the clock doing live shots on their hours back home?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, we try to balance out press releases and footage from the U.S. We open it up for Australian media to make it a little easier on me. The phone has been running hot, no doubt. A lot of phone calls at inappropriate times, to be honest with you. That's just part of winning. It's a good problem to have. We're trying to service the Australian media as best we can. Been big news down there, no doubt. I'm happy to oblige with phone hookups, radio interviews and TV shots.
THE MODERATOR: Marcos, congratulations on the win. Best of luck in both races this weekend. Thanks for your time with us today.
MARCOS AMBROSE: Thank you. Appreciate it.