HEARTBREAK FOR AMBROSE IN IMPRESSIVE CUP DEBUT Marcos Ambrose has starred during his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut only to suffer a heartbreaking finish to the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California today. Ambrose ran...
HEARTBREAK FOR AMBROSE IN IMPRESSIVE CUP DEBUT
Marcos Ambrose has starred during his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut only to suffer a heartbreaking finish to the Toyota/SaveMart 350 at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California today.
Ambrose ran as high as second and was one of the fastest cars on the track throughout the race around the 1.99-mile (3.20km) road course, but luck was not with the Australian and his #21 Little Debbie Honey Buns Ford Fusion.
Ambrose suffered a gearbox failure on lap 84 of the 110-lap race as a result of an impact from behind from the #19 car of Elliott Sadler, ending what was a sensational performance by the Australian.
The hit came just as Ambrose was engaging first gear under braking into Turn 7, breaking the gear and putting a hole in the gearbox casing. With oil spewing from underneath his Ford, Ambrose's day was done and he immediately parked his car in pitlane.
Before the incident Ambrose had been one of the cars to beat. The driver from Launceston, Tasmania started from seventh position and made a cautious start, dropping to ninth.
But once the dust had settled on the start Ambrose got to work and climbed up the order, up into fourth by lap 29 when a caution period gave the leaders an opportunity to pit.
Strategy by some other cars, who pitted just before the caution flag flew, meant that the field was jumbled for the restart, with the leaders set back into the midpack, Ambrose in 17th position.
Undeterred, Ambrose continued to charge and picked off cars lap after lap and by the halfway point the 31-year-old was back in the top 10.
Once up to sixth position the time came for Ambrose to make his last pit stop for four tyres and fuel under green flag conditions with 42 laps remaining. A caution compressed the field immediately after this pit stop, working in the Australian's favour as he closed right up onto the tail of the top three.
At the restart Ambrose made a run down the inside of fellow Ford driver Jamie McMurray, who did not make things easy for Ambrose, squeezing the #21 Little Debbie Honey Buns Ford Fusion right to the inside of the circuit entering the hairpin.
Ambrose slipped down the inside of McMurray but in doing so clipped the rear bumper of Juan Pablo Montoya, which sent the Colombian into a half spin and elevated Ambrose into second position.
At the restart with 33 laps remaining, Ambrose was right behind leader Kyle Busch, only to be jumped by McMurray, dropping him to third. David Gilliland and Tony Stewart also took advantage and made their way past, putting in Ambrose in fifth.
Just as Ambrose consolidated and prepared for another charge to the front, with ample laps remaining, the contact from Sadler ended his day.
Busch went on to win the Toyota/SaveMart 350 ahead of Gilliland and five-time Infineon Raceway winner Jeff Gordon.
Ambrose will again pull double duty next weekend, attempting to qualify for his second NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in the #21 Little Debbie Ford Fusion, as well as racing in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in the #59 STP Ford Fusion for JTG Racing, also at the Loudon, New Hampshire venue.
WHAT THEY HAD TO SAY --
Marcos Ambrose - #21 Little Debbie Honey Buns Ford Fusion
"As he (Sadler) hit me I was just downchanging into first gear," said Ambrose.
"I'm not sure exactly what broke it, but the impact was at just the wrong time and enough to break a gear.
"I was downchanging to first and I heard it go 'crunch, crunch'. It put a hole in the gearbox casing and we were spraying oil everywhere. I didn't want to oil the track and make a mess so I just came in and parked it.
"It's a sad end to a great day. I'm just really proud of the Wood Brothers and this whole team. They gave me a great car today. I'm so grateful to Little Debbie and the McKee family for giving me this opportunity.
"I had a great time out there today. It's just really unfortunate it had to end that way.
"It was a really good run for us. It was my first go at one of these Cup deals and we held our heads high. We didn't get to run right to the end but they certainly knew we were there and we showed what we're capable of in Cup.
"When I was going by (Jamie) McMurray he squeezed my right up to the apron. I was stopping it as much as I could. I'm not sure if his (Juan Pablo Montoya's) spotter hold him I was there, but he just came across my nose.
"I tried to get out of his way but that's what happens on those restarts, it gets a bit messy.
"My next run with Wood Brothers and Little Debbie in Cup is next weekend in Loudon. It will be a lot easier to run both my cars at the same place without all the travel. It will be another challenge to run Cup on an oval and have to qualify to get in the show but after today I'm really looking forward to it."
Ford Racing Press Conference -- Marcos Ambrose
"It's just very unfortunate," said Ambrose.
"We were racing really good there. The Wood Brothers and the whole crew gave me a great car. We were fighting with Elliott [Sadler] pretty hard; he got into the back of us, spun us out, but that wasn't the problem -- I was actually just selecting first gear on the downshift when he hit me.
"It's just unfortunate, one of those deals. But, we leave here with our heads held high. We raced hard and we raced well at the front there, and it was just a lot of fun."
Q: YOU MUST BE SATISFIED WITH YOUR DEBUT.
"I couldn't believe it, you know? Here I am passing Jeff Gordon and racing with Earnhardt -- it's just fantastic. It's what I dreamed about, dreamed what it would be like, and it's certainly like that. It's just fantastic. It's just a shame we couldn't finish the race."
Q: SO YOU FEEL YOU RAN WELL FOR YOUR FIRST CUP RACE?
"Yeah, I'm just so excited about it. I would never have dreamt that we would've run this well. I just wanted to try to get in the race and just race. We did that, we ran up front, raced some guys, with Gordon and Earnhardt -- just a blast. It was everything I dreamt it would be like."
Q: IS THERE A LESSON THAT YOU TAKE OUT OF TODAY?
"It's hard work. I wish I would've come over 10 years ago. I'm just so lucky to have this opportunity with Little Debbie and the Wood Brothers crew. I just want to thank them so much for giving me the chance. Road racing is my background, it's where I feel most comfortable. I'm not saying every week is going to be like this; this is definitely a race I'm going to remember for a long time."
Q: YOU MADE UP A LOT OF GROUND AFTER YOUR FIRST PIT STOP. DID YOU GET MORE DOWNFORCE?
"Not really -- just had to drive harder. We were just rolling around there through the first third of the race. The pressure's coming on there the last part of the race, and unfortunately we just didn't make it home.
"What happened in the incident when Elliott got into the back of me, I was just downshifting to first gear and the impact behind me just must've shoved the gearbox and broke the gears. We actually finished without first gear -- it put a hole in the gearbox casing. We didn't want to oil the track down for everybody else. We leave with our heads held high."
Len Wood -- Co-Owner #21 Little Debbie Honey Buns Ford Fusion
Q: HOW DID MARCOS DO IN HIS DEBUT?
"He did what we all expected -- to put it up front," said Wood.
"He managed to get up in the top five -- pretty much most of the time no worse than a sixth- or seventh-place car.
"It was just unfortunate the way it worked out. He just got hit in the rear wheel. I don't know whether -- when he went to change gears and go to first gear it must've broken first gear and thrown a tooth out of the side of the case. There's a hole in the transmission.
"Pit strategy was worked great and the car was good -- it just didn't work out."