Sears Point: Marcos Ambrose qualifying report

AMBROSE QUALIFIES SEVENTH FOR SPRINT CUP DEBUT Australian NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose has qualified a sensational seventh for his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California ...

AMBROSE QUALIFIES SEVENTH FOR SPRINT CUP DEBUT

Australian NASCAR driver Marcos Ambrose has qualified a sensational seventh for his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut in the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California today.

Ambrose's effort behind the wheel of the #21 Little Debbie Honey Buns Ford Fusion of Wood Brothers Racing makes him the highest qualified rookie in the field, the highest qualified Ford and the only driver in the top 10 that is not a full time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver.

As well as being the highest-ever qualifying position for an Australian in Sprint Cup competition, this performance is the first top 10 qualifying performance for the #21 Wood Brothers Racing Sprint Cup entry this season.

This is the best qualifying performance for the #21 Wood Brothers entry since Bill Elliott also qualified seventh for the Infineon Raceway Sprint Cup race last season.

Ambrose was the fastest of the drivers required to qualify on speed for this weekend's Sprint Cup race, the next best being Terry Labonte in 11th place. Dario Franchitti, JJ Yeley, Scott Riggs and Brandon Ash were the four drivers who failed to qualify.

Ambrose was the fastest driver in first practice earlier in the day in only his second ever Cup practice session. Ambrose completed one practice session at Watkins Glen last season in a Robby Gordon Motorsports entry before qualifying was rained out and the driver from Launceston, Tasmania was denied the opportunity to qualify for his Sprint Cup debut.

This time around Ambrose has easily qualified for his first race in the top division of NASCAR, and coincidentally, Ambrose will start alongside none other than Robby Gordon in Sunday's race, with Gordon qualifying his Dodge in eighth position.

Ambrose will have two further practice sessions in the Wood Brothers Ford Fusion tomorrow before jetting more than 2000 miles east to Milwaukee, Wisconsin to race in the Camping World RV Rental 250 in the #59 STP Ford Fusion for JTG Racing in the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series.

Back-up driver Robert Pressley will practice and qualify the #59 at The Milwaukee Mile before Ambrose takes over for the race, pending his travel plans are not delayed, in which case Pressley will race.

He will then return to Sonoma, California to make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut on Sunday at the 1.99-mile (3.20km) 10-turn Infineon Raceway road course in the famous #21 Wood Brothers entry, aiming to emulate the feats of the legendary Dan Gurney, who won at the now-defunct Riverside road course in California in the #21 Wood Brothers Ford in 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1968.

WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY --

Marcos Ambrose - #21 Little Debbie Honey Buns Ford Fusion

"I'm just pumped," said Ambrose.

"I'm so happy for the Wood Brothers, and I'm so proud of the Little Debbie folks and the McKee family for giving me the chance to step up to Cup.

"It's just an awesome opportunity. I feel like today is one of those days where you know in your life that you've done something special.

"The Wood Brothers, you know, have had a tough couple of years. We bounced back here today with being on the top of the time sheet in practice and qualified probably in the top 10. It's just an awesome, awesome day for us."

Q: HOW WILL YOU FEEL ON SUNDAY BEFORE THE RACE?

"I never even thought I was going to be here on Sunday. I was just so negative all through the day, so anxious and nervous, just because you can't afford to get confident, because if you get confident, you're going to make mistakes.

"I'll sleep well tonight. I've had a lot of worry and stress this week. I had a lot of expectation, ambition and desire to really make a difference here today, and we've just had a fantastic day."

Q: HAPPY? RELIEVED? OR BOTH?

"Just relieved, man. Just like a huge weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I hear these guys, they qualify in every week, saying, 'Oh, it's pressure.' It is. It's just massive.

"It was harder to qualify than what it was to line up with one race to go to try and win a championship in Australia. The pressure was just intense.

"One lap, three corners to warm up, go or go home. Four thousand miles. First Cup race, all that kind of stuff.

"Even going fastest in practice, I mean, it added more, because you expect to get in there. It's just been an awesome day. I feel like I've just survived a marathon of stress and anxiety.

"I'm just going to enjoy it from here on in for the rest of the weekend. We're going to go to Milwaukee tomorrow -- it's going to be a blast.

"We're coming back here Sunday to race in the Cup race -- starting in the top 10. Just absolutely awesome."

Mike Smith -- Crew Chief, #21 Little Debbie Honey Buns Ford Fusion

Q: WHAT DOES TODAY MEAN TO THIS TEAM? A BOOST?

"Yeah, this is the biggest boost we've had in a long while," said Smith.

"This was needed. It's hard to explain, really."

Q: WHAT ABOUT TONIGHT? CELEBRATION OR THINKING ABOUT THE NEXT TWO DAYS?

"It's going to be a celebration until about 9:30, and then we'll hit the sack and try to get our stuff together so we can get a good race car for Sunday."

Len Wood - Co-Owner, #21 Little Debbie Honey Buns Ford Fusion

Q: MARCOS SAID THAT BEING FASTEST IN PRACTICE ADDED EVEN MORE PRESSURE? THERE HAD TO BE SOME RELIEF, AT LEAST FOR YOU, WHEN YOU SAW THAT TIME.

"Yes, there was," said Wood.

"He was pretty uptight. He was sitting in the car, and was getting hot just waiting. I think he was pretty relieved to get it over with, especially being his first one.

"Like he said, if he could go out right now without any pressure on him, he feels like he could run a .70 or an .80 and be right up there, like right at the pole."

STATS AND FACTS

- the last Australian driver to start a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race was Geoff Brabham in 1994 in the inaugural Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway on 6 August 1994

- the last Wood Brothers Racing win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series came in 2001 with Elliott Sadler driving at Bristol Motor Speedway on 25 March 2001

- the last Wood Brothers Racing pole position in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series came in 2004 with Ricky Rudd driving at Talladega Superspeedway on 25 April 2004

- Wood Brothers Racing has 97 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series wins and is the oldest team in NASCAR

- Ambrose became only the sixth Australian to qualify for a Cup race. Dick Johnson is the only other Australian to race a Cup event at Infineon Raceway, qualifying 11th and finishing 32nd in Sonoma, California on 11 June 1989.

- Tony Spanos holds the record for the highest finish by an Australian in NASCAR Sprint Cup Series competition, finishing 18th at Martinsville Speedway on 26 April 1987.

- in practice tomorrow, the #21 Ford will run without Little Debbie signage, as McKee Foods, owner of the Little Debbie Snack Foods brand, is a company owned by the McKee family, who are Seventh Day Adventists. The McKee family observes its Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown Saturday and while their products may be sold on their Sabbath, the business of promoting sales stops for one day each week.

- Ambrose will have Robert Pressley as a back-up driver at The Milwaukee Mile in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Pressley has worked closely with Ambrose since the Australian moved to the United States to race in NASCAR in 2006. As well as being a driver coach for Ambrose, Pressley is also a former driver for JTG Racing and is a 10-time NASCAR Nationwide Series race winner.

- Ambrose has entered one previous NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event, at Watkins Glen International last season in the #77 Camping World/Kingsford Ford Fusion for Robby Gordon Motorsports. Ambrose completed a solitary practice session before qualifying was rained out and Ambrose was denied his chance to qualify, as his entry was not in the Top 35 in Owner's Points.

-credit: wbr/bam media

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Terry Labonte , Robby Gordon , Robert Pressley , Dario Franchitti , Scott Riggs , Dan Gurney , Marcos Ambrose , Elliott Sadler , Brandon Ash , Dick Johnson , Geoff Brabham , Mike Smit
Teams Wood Brothers Racing , Robby Gordon Motorsports