NO TESTING BUT FANS STILL SEE AMBROSE PRE-SEASON IN DAYTONA; MEANWHILE, NEWS LIMITED~RS CARS GUIDE RATES MARCOS ...
NO TESTING BUT FANS STILL SEE AMBROSE PRE-SEASON IN DAYTONA; MEANWHILE, NEWS LIMITED~RS CARS GUIDE RATES MARCOS #1 FOR 2008
NASCAR fans have greeted Marcos Ambrose on his return to the United States as the Australian finalises preparations for his first full season in the top division, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
After spending Christmas back home in Australia with his family in his hometown of Launceston, Tasmania, Ambrose was not at his US base in Charlotte for very long before he jetted to Daytona International Speedway in Daytona Beach, Florida.
But with NASCAR ceasing all testing at sanctioned venues, including the traditional Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona, it was the fans who kicked off Ambrose~Rs 2009 NASCAR season, with the annual Daytona Fan Fest still going ahead despite no testing taking place on the 2.5-mile superspeedway.
The Australian ace was joined at the fan activities by the likes of Sprint Cup stars Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt Jr, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Jimmie Johnson, Matt Kenseth, Mark Martin, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick as well as ~Qstable-mate~R Michael Waltrip.
Waltrip, a two-time Daytona 500 winner, is the co-owner of Michael Waltrip Racing, the team that will build, prepare and maintain Ambrose~Rs #47 JTG Daugherty Racing entry this season.
"Getting back here and seeing the excitement and anticipation in everyone~Rs faces really makes you appreciate the fans of NASCAR," said Ambrose.
"It~Rs good to be here in Daytona and have the time to give something back to the fans. There~Rs no testing, so they are truly why we are here.
"Coming down here to Daytona has really got me excited. To have the Daytona 500 as the first race of the season is just huge. That race is as big as they come and it is impossible not to be excited in the build up to it."
Ambrose signed autographs for hundreds of fans, participated in media conferences, appeared on both EPSN~Rs ~QNASCAR Now~R and SPEED TV~Rs ~QTrackside Live~R programmes and even took questions from some Australian NASCAR fans as part of a fan question and answer session.
Ambrose has a full schedule of media activities this week. Monday kicks off the week with sit down interviews for ~QThe Road to Daytona~R, which is a one-hour show that will air on FOX leading into Daytona 500.
On Tuesday, Ambrose will be in SPEED TV~Rs new HD studios in Charlotte as a guest for the Preseason Thunder show. Following that, he will participate in a NASCAR video teleconference.
Ambrose is also on a commercial shoot this week before a Toyota photoshoot on Thursday afternoon. NASCAR is shooting a national commercial at Lowe's Motor Speedway featuring the Australian driver.
Ambrose will become the first Australian to race in the world-famous Daytona 500 when he takes the start for the opening race in the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series next month.
Ambrose says that having raced in selected Sprint Cup events in 2008, he knows just how tough this season is going to be and wants to ensure he is well-prepared and able to raise his game to the level required for ultra-competitive Sprint Cup Series, which features 38 races in just over 40 weeks.
"I had the opportunity to race in 11 Sprint Cup races last season and that gave me the chance to experience what it~Rs like to be at that top level," said Ambrose.
"It showed me that to sustain that intense level for a full season over 40 weeks, I have to go to the next level in just about every aspect of my racing.
"Mentally, as well as physically, it~Rs just a massive, massive challenge. Even logistically it~Rs very gruelling, but it~Rs what I~Rm here to do and this is my big chance at it.
"The Sprint Cup level of the sport is just so tough. I got a taste of it last year so I~Rm doing everything possible to be prepared for it and be able to raise my game a few notches."
Ambrose will be on-track at the 2.5-mile superspeedway in Daytona Beach, Florida when the first Sprint Cup practice session for the season kicks off on February 7.
Qualifying for the Daytona 500 will be held on February 8, the Gatorade ~QDuel~R 150-mile qualifying races will be held on Thursday February 12 and the 51st running of the Daytona 500, the Great American Race, will be staged on Sunday February 16.
AMBROSE VOTED NUMERO UNO FOR 2008 IN CARS GUIDE
The Cars Guide section in News Limited newspapers throughout Australia has voted Marcos Ambrose as the best Australian racer for 2008.
This follows on from Auto Action magazine naming Ambrose as the Australian Driver of the Year for the second consecutive year.
The News Limited group is the largest newspaper group in Australia, including mastheads such as the Herald Sun (Melbourne), Daily Telegraph (Sydney), Courier Mail (Brisbane), The Advertiser (Adelaide) and The Gold Coast Bulletin.
News Limited National Motoring Editor Paul Gover gave Ambrose a score of 90 out of 100 for his third season in NASCAR competition, which included his Sprint Cup debut and a breakthrough win in the Nationwide Series at Watkins Glen.
"The blazing intensity that took him to two V8 Supercar championships, unseating Mark Skaife in the process, paid off in NASCAR," wrote Gover.
"Ambrose showed the speed, stamina and commitment so essential in the world~Rs toughest motorsport arena.
"He became better and better through the season and eventually earned a promotion to the top-level Sprint Cup. His move to the US was a huge gamble, but his hard work on and off the track paid off. 90 / 100."
Ambrose topped the list ahead of IndyCar driver Ryan Briscoe (87/100), V8 Supercar Champion Jamie Whincup (87/100), World Superbike Champion Troy Bayliss (85/100), Formula Renault standout Daniel Ricciardo (83/100) and Ambrose~Rs former team-mate in V8 Supercars, Russell Ingall (83/100).