Ambrose Comes from Rear of Field to Score Best Finish of Season at Infineon Raceway Marcos Ambrose rallied back from an engine change to cross the finish line third in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the 1.99-mile Infineon Raceway road course. It is...
Ambrose Comes from Rear of Field to Score Best Finish of Season at Infineon Raceway
Marcos Ambrose rallied back from an engine change to cross the finish line third in the Toyota/Save Mart 350 at the 1.99-mile Infineon Raceway road course. It is his second top-five of the season and best finish of the year in his No. 47 Little Debbie Toyota. The third-place finish matched his career-best finish at Watkins Glen International Raceway last season.
"I was hot, I was mad, I was happy and I was sad all together," said Ambrose, who came to Sonoma with expectations to win. "I'm just proud of my JTG-Daugherty Racing team. They trusted me to drive their car and took a chance on putting me in the car. No one really knew what I was all about and I just have to thank all of them It's just an awesome combination and a great group of guys.
"We had a bad day on Saturday and we were in the hole pretty good," Ambrose continued. "They just rallied around me and gave me the support I needed, the confidence to go out there to just get aggressive and not skip a beat."
"We did the same thing at Watkins Glen last year - - started in the rear and drove up to third - - and took chances and got lucky," Ambrose said. "This race we burned up the tires and couldn't get forward bite. But, we know we are doing it right when we are racing next to a two-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion (Tony Stewart) and a Formula One and Indy 500 winner (Juan Pablo Montoya). I just love racing with Smoke (Tony Stewart). I think he's one of the best road course racers out there. I'm just proud to be here and be able to race with all the guys. It's a privilege for me."
After being first in two out of three practice sessions and qualifying third, Ambrose was forced to start in the rear of the 43-car field due to an engine change on Saturday. His engine blew near the end of second practice. Ambrose was sidelined the majority of final practice and was only able to make a couple laps. In the final moments of the last session, Ambrose and Jimmie Johnson made contact with one another causing the JTG-Daugherty Racing team to have to work feverishly and repair right front end damage Saturday afternoon.
"It was unfortunate that happened," Ambrose said. "I'm not superstitious, but we had a lot of bad things happen to us on Saturday. I attended a function for Infineon Raceway the night before and they put me at table 13. I asked them if they thought that was a good idea. The next day, we had all those things happen to us. I even cut myself shaving this morning. That's how bad this weekend has gone. We've just got a resilient attitude; a never say die attitude. Thank goodness at the end of the day, we were able to make our own luck."
It was more than just luck for Ambrose and his JTG-Daugherty Racing team. It was Ambrose racing smart, taking care of his equipment and his team having a good pit strategy that played out the way they needed it to in the end.
Recapping the event, Ambrose took the green flag and moved up to 33rd on the first lap. He was the second fastest car on the track according to his crew chief Frank Kerr.
"Even though we were really fast, the No. 47 Little Debbie Toyota Camry was stiff in the front and soft in the rear," Ambrose said. "We were not losing ground to the leader, so we just hung out for a while."
Once Ambrose was mired in traffic and running in the top 25, Kerr stuck with their strategy to pit. The No. 47 Little Debbie Toyota entered pit road on Lap 12 for a green flag stop. After the team changed four tires, Ambrose returned to the track in 40th-place and was faster than leader Brian Vickers (polesitter) by a couple of seconds.
Still faster than the leader -- this time Kyle Busch -- Ambrose was running 39th when another caution happened at Lap 20. As cars ahead of Ambrose pitted, Kerr told him to stay out for track position even though his car was too soft in the rear and hitting the track arm. They restarted 17th on Lap 24. One after another Ambrose picked off positions.
"I felt like I passed 200 cars during the race," Ambrose said.
With teams having different pit strategies, Ambrose showed up on the top 10 scene at Lap 27 for the first time. Continuing his march forward, he was fifth at Lap 29 as leader Tony Stewart and others headed to pit road.
The new leader and eventual winner was Kasey Kahne and second place was occupied by Ryan Newman while Ambrose hooked his claws into third place. On Lap 40, Ambrose gave up third place and headed to pit road under green.
"They put on four tires and put a round in to get it off the ground," Ambrose said.
Reentering the track in 32nd-place, Ambrose went to work again and was faster than the frontrunners.
"We still needed grip," Ambrose said.
When the yellow flag was displayed at Lap 52 for debris the team did not lose sight of their strategy.
"We were sticking to our game plan," Kerr said. "We stayed out. I told Ambrose to shut the motor off or do whatever he had to do to save fuel just in case. He was doing an incredible job out there. It was fun for us to watch. He's really talented. There's no doubt about it."
Not pitting placed the Australian in 13th place when the field returned to green flag racing on Lap 56. The 32-year-old was back inside the top 10 on Lap 57 and climbed to fifth place four laps later. At that time, he was the fastest car inside the top five.
On Lap 68, Ambrose told Kerr all he needed was a little track bar adjustment. Two laps later he moved into third-place again. On Lap 75, he was in second place entering pit road for four fresh Goodyear tires and the track bar adjustment he called for to improve handling.
Ambrose tried to blend in with other cars exiting pit road, his car and the No. 96 car of Bobby Labonte made contact bringing out the third caution of the race. There was slight damage to the No. 47 Little Debbie Toyota's right front fender, but Ambrose insisted he did not need it repaired since it was not rubbing his right front tire.
"I didn't mean to get into him," said Ambrose, who exited pit road in 12th-place.
"When that happened we were trying to see how much damage there was and whether or not we needed to bring him in," Kerr said. "Fortunately, he was alright. I told him to turn his car off to save fuel. Marcos and Tony (Stewart) had the best tires out there."
Cautions breed cautions and there were four more in the closing laps. Caution laps 84-87 involved an incident with the No. 71 and 77 cars in Turn 11 and 91-93 was for Kurt Busch being spun around near Turn 8. After a debris caution for Laps 98 and 99, the field restarted at Lap 100 with Kasey Kahne leading, Tony Stewart in second and Ambrose is third.
"With all the cautions and double-file restarts at the end, all you're thinking is that you've worked so hard to be in the top three and instead of finishing in one of those spots there's a chance you can be wrecked and finish 33rd instead," Ambrose said. "We had just worked so hard to get there."
It continued to be challenging as Ambrose was faced with a green-white-checker scenario after Scott Speed's No. 87 Toyota spun around in Turn 7. Everyone lined up for one last double-file restart. Kahne was still first, Stewart in second and Ambrose was tucked in behind him in third with Jimmie Johnson at his door. As the green flag waved for the final time, Ambrose was in the hunt for his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victory. Coming to the checkered flag Kahne scored the win, Stewart finished second with Ambrose in tow. Jimmie Johnson finished fourth and Denny Hamlin rounded out the top-five.
This week the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series travels to New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Live coverage on Sunday begins at 1:30 p.m. ET on TNT. The event will also air on PRN Radio and Sirius XM Satellite.