NASCAR's King of the Road

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Marcos Ambrose hopes Sonoma win is ticket to the Chase

SAN FRANCISCO – Marcos Ambrose clearly stands to benefit from the new Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup format.

While there is no such thing as a lock in auto racing, Ambrose is the closest thing to a sure bet on a road course.

And with the Cup tour rolling into Sonoma Raceway this weekend, Ambrose has a solid chance to change history for himself and Richard Petty Motorsports.

“We know that the race here this weekend in Watkins Glen, the two road races, are our best chance to win a race this year,” Ambrose said. “That will automatically lock us into the Chase.

“Clearly there's a lot to race for at these two tracks for us. We've put a lot of energy and effort into Sonoma. We went out there and did the Goodyear tire test earlier in the season. We've done some road course testing as well, so we feel we're as ready as we can be.”

Among current Cup drivers, only Jeff Gordon (8.2) and Clint Bowyer (9.1) boast better average finishes than Ambrose’s 11.2. However, if you throw out his first race at Sonoma, where the transmission broke on the No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford, Ambrose’s average finish would be 5.8 – even better than his 6.8 at Watkins Glen where he won in 2011 and 2012.

Victory lane: race winner Marcos Ambrose celebrates
Victory lane: race winner Marcos Ambrose celebrates

Photo by: Adriano Manocchia

Although Ambrose has yet to score a breakthrough victory on the 1.99-mile course, he’s certainly come close.

“My natural skill set obviously is road racing,” Ambrose said. “I'm quite confident on the ovals but haven't had the same success I've had on the road courses. Really it's just the years of training. It's my niche. I feel very comfortable road racing. I feel like I can apply myself well on the weekend.

“The biggest thing I try to do on a buildup to a weekend like this, there's pressure building, there's a chance to lock yourself into the Chase, which would make your season, you get a chance to win a Sprint Cup race, which you don't get to do very often. What I do this weekend is not try to think about it, be normal, try to relax leading into this week. It's always a pressure filled environment. The more you think about it, the worse you tend to go.

Marcos Ambrose, Ford
Marcos Ambrose, Ford

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

When Ambrose participated in the Goodyear tire test at Sonoma Raceway on March 25-26, a new tire was selected in hopes of offering more durability and grip for the competitors. That’s a bonus as far as Ambrose is concerned. Despite the new rules package on the Generation 6 cars, Ambrose said the course “didn’t feel much different” than before.

“I know there is more downforce in the car, but the balance is the same, the struggles are the same around there,” Ambrose said. “You're always looking for grip. You're always looking to get good ride quality over the curves.

Marcos Ambrose, Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
Marcos Ambrose, Richard Petty Motorsports Ford

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

“The biggest thing for us is tire loss. I've had the fastest car out there the last two years, but not for 10 laps in a row. We've always been fast for a few laps, but I always wear the tires out fast. Our focus this year is to really look after those tires. The downforce I thought was really going to help that, but the test, it didn't feel like it was much different.”

Ambrose understands there are many factors that play into a complete race on a road course. In his last few attempts he’s learned that tire management is the key to maintaining speed and a successful end run. But that consistency has eluded him throughout his Sonoma experience.

“Certainly the car has got a lot of power so it's really hard to keep the rear tires,” Ambrose said. “You can burn them up so quick. Second thing, the car is really heavy, one of the heaviest racecars you'll ever see. We don't have enough tire patch on the ground. The tires are probably too small for the weight we're carrying. The brakes are small, so we get a lot of temperature in the brakes which gets transferred into the tires.

“You have a lot of factors in the car itself to burn tires up. Then you combine that with the track at Sonoma. It's one of the tightest, most challenging tracks you can go to which is very hard on tires, too. It has an exceptional level of grip. You have all these factors coming together that make tire life a real challenge around there. I haven't found the magic to make our tires last there. Certainly it's the biggest question mark going into this year's race for me.”

Marcos Ambrose
Marcos Ambrose

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

The No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports team shook down its road course car at Carolina MotorSports Park last week in Kershaw, S.C. With a preview of his Stanley Ford, Ambrose has the added confidence of knowing “we're going to go fast” and that he has “the ability to qualify on the front row”. Still, the road course ace continues to ask whether “we have enough durability to make the tires last for a full fuel run?”

“I think you saw last year only a handful of teams were able to get that,” Ambrose said. “Every year some team seems to have a clear advantage than others. Hopefully we can be that team this year. It's certainly a gray area going into the race and I'm concerned about it. If we're going to lose the race, it will be because we can't keep the tires underneath us.”

Marcos Ambrose, Richard Petty Motorsports Ford
Marcos Ambrose, Richard Petty Motorsports Ford

Photo by: Action Sports Photography

Ambrose is currently 23rd in the point standings. Despite his earlier accomplishments, a win this weekend would likely guarantee Ambrose one of the 16 Chase spots. But in what Ambrose describes as “the toughest road racing I've ever been a part of” he’s well aware that beating the best stock car racers in the world won’t be just any Sunday drive.

“Cars are really gnarly and the talent from the drivers is exceptional,” Ambrose said. “There's 20, 25 drivers that can win the race on the weekend. You saw the last couple years Kurt Busch and Clint Bowyer, real surprise packages to go out and win the race there. So really anyone can win these events. You just see the depth of talent when guys like that can shine and win a race out there.

“That's the biggest thing I try to explain to people when we're talking about road racing in the Sprint Cup Series, is there's nowhere to hide. These cars are really tough. If you don't have skill, you can't get them around the track. The talent is so thick, if you have any issues at all, you're going to have a really, really tough day.”

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About this article
Series NASCAR-CUP
Article type Preview
Tags clint bowyer, jeff gordon, kurt busch, marcos ambrose