Marcos Ambrose (No. 9 Stanley Ford Fusion) has finished second or third in all three of his Watkins Glen starts at the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series level. Ambrose, who is still looking for his first NSCS victory, spoke to the media before today’s practice session.
CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THIS WEEKEND? “I’m looking forward to it. We’ve had a tough month on the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports car, so we’re looking forward to having a really strong weekend here. We’re a contender, no doubt. We have done some testing earlier in the year for road course racing. We haven’t tested recently and really didn’t feel there was a need to considering the tire that we’re racing on here and the trouble that we had at Sonoma getting mislead by early testing and then racing a different tire. So I think we just have to be ready as best we can here to start practice. I like the format of the weekend. I think having practice today and getting ready for qualifying will keep me a little calmer. When you qualify on a Friday sometimes it’s quite a challenge to feel like you can use practice for getting ready for the race, you tend to get it ready for qualifying, so I think we just have to be smart here and tune the car as quick as we can. Hopefully, we’re close when we roll off the truck, but it’s gonna be a fun weekend for us and I’m looking forward to it.”
...it’s really about managing tires, about carrying momentum around the whole track.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THE TWO ROAD COURSES? “Sonoma is like a bullring – you’re in everybody’s face all day and you’ve got to try and knock them around to try and pass, you’re bouncing off curbs and the corners are short, the track is low grip and there’s not a lot of banking there in most of the corners, so it really is a difficult place to get around. You never use top gear, it’s all about low speed, forward drive and just trying to pass without damaging your car too much. This place is different. It’s more about finesse. You’re usually using third or fourth gear a lot around this place, so it’s really about managing tires, about carrying momentum around the whole track. You don’t need to be perfect on getting the throttle down, you just need to carry a lot of momentum through the corner. I like this place, but I like Sonoma too. They’re both very unique as far as road racing goes and I think it’s a good balance we have in NASCAR between the two.”
WHAT’S IT LIKE THE LAST 5-6 LAPS HERE? WHEN DO YOU BECOME MARCOS AMBROSE RATHER THAN TRYING TO PLAY TO THE END AND PLAY IT CAUTIOUS? “Part of my problem has been that I’ve been Marcos Ambrose from the start of the race and I wear my brakes and gear box out, so you really have to manage your stuff for the first half of the race and give yourself a chance at the end. Everybody picks up again at the end of the race because you have to. This is NASCAR. This is serious business. Late cautions bunch up the field and you know every position counts, so you have to be super-aggressive. It’s no different here or Martinsville or Daytona. The end of the races are the most frantic part of the day as it should be. Road racing traditionally is different. Standing starts and getting off the line is normally the most important thing and then the race sort of settles down and you can manage it. In NASCAR, the way the race is really run it builds up to a frenzy at the end, so I’m very conscious of just looking out for my brakes and gear box and getting ourselves to that last section of the race in good position and just seeing what you can do. You’re up against the best drivers and they know what to do and they know how to get you out of the way if you give them a chance, so it’s aggressive – dangerous as far as getting in accidents and incidents and spinning off and losing track position – so the end of the race is all about 100 percent. The first half of the race you still drive aggressively and keep track position, but you’re trying to manage your stuff.”
BEFORE SONOMA THERE WAS A LOT OF TALK ABOUT WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU THE YEAR BEFORE. DID THAT BOTHER YOU AND DO YOU WISH THAT WOULD HAVE TOTALLY BEEN AVOIDED AND COMING INTO THIS WEEKEND THERE’S TALK ABOUT HOW YOU SHOULD CONTEND TO WIN. DOES THAT AFFECT YOU? “It’s actually been fairly low key this week, which has been nice. We had a lot of build-up to the Sonoma race. Stanley had a huge program with $1 million to win for sick kids, plus the pressure of losing last year’s race, so there was a lot going on. I don’t think it necessarily affected me, but it was added responsibility during the week. Here, you’ve just got to run the race. We’ve finished no worse than third here, I think. I’ve finished no worse than third in my three tries, so, naturally, you want to win and you want to win badly, but I don’t think there’s any added pressure this weekend. I actually felt more relaxed when I came here this week because I know what I need to feel from the car and I know what I need to do to be a contender.”
IS IT BETTER TO BE IN THE SPOTLIGHT? “If you’re in the spotlight it’s good job security, no doubt. Yeah, I want to be talked about. I want to be up here every week if I could, but it’s a tough sport. We’ve got a chance to win. I feel good about standing up and driving my team forward on weekends like this to give ourselves some confidence and some inspiration to keep lifting our game. As a driver, when you’re in contention to win like this you have a leadership role to try and carry that forward and I’m looking forward to the opportunity.”
HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT MISSING THE NATIONWIDE RACE AND WHY AREN’T YOU IN IT? “I’m gonna go fishing. I don’t really want to be here on Saturday to watch someone else win my race. I’ve won it three years in a row, so I’m very disappointed I didn’t get a chance to do it, but I think it’s a combination of the economy and just bad timing. I had opportunities to do it, and we worked hard with RPM to put a team together and a sponsorship package together and it just didn’t work out. We were pretty close, but it just didn’t play out. We’ll just try to forget about watching the Nationwide race. Whoever wins I’ll congratulate them, but I want to be a long ways away from the track because it’s a race I wanted to do and thought I had another chance to win.”
WHEN YOU FIRST SHOWED UP YOU WERE LIKE THE TASMANIAN DEVIL AND PUSHING GUYS OUT OF THE WAY. THIS SEASON YOU SEEM TO BE LOOKING BIGGER PICTURE AND IT SEEMS YOU’VE CHANGED YOUR MINDSET TO FOCUS ON THE OVALS. IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE LESS AGGRESSIVE OUT THERE. TRUE? “No, maybe I’m just a bit smarter. The first year here I was racing for the Wood Brothers and I was trying to make an impression so I could get an opportunity in the Cup Series, so you naturally drive differently than what you do when you’re in the main game full-time, so I was not really caring about a result the first year here I just wanted to look good so I could get an opportunity like I have today. As you mature in racing and in the Cup Series you’re working with other drivers on the race track all year, not just one weekend, so, naturally, you have to keep in mind that if you rough them up here, they’re gonna get you back somewhere else. We’re racing for points and we’re racing for success for Stanley and DeWalt and everybody else involved with our program over there at Richard Petty Motorsports, so you naturally have to balance everything out. This sport doesn’t help the meek. If you’re not aggressive and you’re not after it, you’re not gonna last very long, so I wouldn’t say I’ve changed my style, I may have just gotten smarter at it.”
HOW SURPRISED ARE YOU SOMEBODY DIDN’T ASK YOU TO DRIVE FOR THEM HERE WITH THE SUCCESS YOU’VE HAD HERE IN NATIONWIDE? “They did, but I just wanted to do it the right way. I wanted to do it with Richard Petty Motorsports and wanted to field a car to do it that way. I think it was the right thing to try to do and it just didn’t work out. We’ll look at it again. There are plenty more races, big picture stuff, and I’m excited about the Cup race. At the end of the day, the Cup race is what pays and what really keeps us all going. To do a Nationwide race would have been great, but we didn’t want to make it mess with our Cup program.”
WHO IS THE BEST ROAD RACER OUT HERE NOW? “Me not included, I guess? Because I’m gonna say me, right? There are a bunch of them. Kurt Busch did an incredible job at Sonoma and he finished second here last year, just an incredible driver no matter where he goes. Tony Stewart is the same, Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon – those guys really stick out to me. AJ Allmendinger, my teammate, he finished fourth here last year. Carl Edwards has beaten me quite a lot up in Montreal, so there are a lot of great drivers. There is no guaranteed success. At this level, you’ve got Juan Montoya who won it last year. I didn’t even think about him, so the talent is deep and any one of those guys I mentioned could win and you wouldn’t be surprised on Sunday, and there are probably 10 more that you could mention. I don’t think you have to rely on who is the best out there to win the race, it’s like who has the best combination on the day, who has the best setup, who has the team around him, who has good pit stops, who has track position, how does the caution fall and who has the right luck, so there are a lot of talented drivers here in road racing. Don’t kid yourself, it has been years and years since a road race ringer has challenged for the victory. It’s been years. Since I’ve been here it hasn’t happened.”