In The Zone: Marcos Ambrose, NASCAR Now A Comfortable Fit * Jason Leffler Enjoys His Non-Racing Role: Father * Cale Gale Tops Monday Morning Speed Chart At NASCAR Preseason Thunder Testing DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 21, 2008) -- One year ago, ...
In The Zone: Marcos Ambrose, NASCAR Now A Comfortable Fit
* Jason Leffler Enjoys His Non-Racing Role: Father
* Cale Gale Tops Monday Morning Speed Chart At NASCAR Preseason Thunder Testing
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 21, 2008) -- One year ago, Marcos Ambrose (No. 59 Kingsford Ford) was hoping he would be able to stay competitive.
The native of Tasmania had moved to the NASCAR Nationwide Series from the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and realized the task ahead of him was daunting.
The series was full of young upstarts, talented regulars and double-duty drivers who, mixed together, formed what he figured would be quite an impenetrable group for a first-year, former open-wheel driver who was humorously called "Kangaroo Meat" by Kevin Harvick (No. 33 RoadLoans.com/Camping World Chevrolet) in a television commercial promoting the series.
"I remember at this time last year all I was worried about was making sure the car stayed in the top 30 in owner points," Ambrose said during Monday's lunch break for NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing at Daytona International Speedway.
He did a bit better than that.
Ambrose was able to settle the No. 59 Ford into the top 30 in the rankings, guaranteeing a starting spot each race, but he also finished eighth in the driver standings and was second to David Ragan (No. 6 Discount Tire Ford) in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year standings.
Ambrose captured his first career pole at Memphis last October and two months earlier, nearly won his first NASCAR national series race at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Montreal, but was relegated to seventh due to his well-publicized, late-race tangle with Robby Gordon.
"I've got that race and Robby circled on my calendar for this year," Ambrose joked.
Entering 2008, he's more comfortable, more confident and more prepared. He's working with a new crew chief, fellow Australian Walter Giles, and also brought a couple of countrymen to assist with JTG Racing's engineering program.
"It's man versus machine," he said. "That's the same whether you're racing golf buggies or NASCAR Sprint Cup cars. The art of driving ovals and the art of racing on these high-banked asphalt tracks has been tricky and I'll be the first one to admit that I've got plenty more to learn.
"I'm learning you've got to run these cars on the edge just to run fast and be more competitive. That's what makes this sport so great -- the drivers make a real difference. That's all you can ask for as a racer; to be in a sport where you can make a difference on the race track and I feel like NASCAR's the perfect (opportunity) for me."
"Big Daddy:" Leffler Enjoys Family Life ... Ask Jason Leffler (No. 38 Great Clips Toyota) what he likes to do in his spare time and he'll tell you he'd rather be racing or working on a race car. But he now has another favorite "occupation:" -- father to five-month-old son Charlie Dean.
"I try to race all the time, and when I'm not racing, I'm either working on a race car or working in the garage," said Leffler, who finished third in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings last season and captured Toyota's first series victory with his win at O'Reilly Raceway Park at Indianapolis. "With a new son, it's a whole new experience. Coming home and seeing him is really cool, and keeps me motivated."
Pit Stops ... It apparently didn't take Cale Gale (No. 77 Kevin Harvick Inc. Chevrolet) long to apply the lessons learned from his boss and teammate Kevin Harvick while spotting for the two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion during the first Preseason Thunder testing session. Gale turned in the fastest time during single-car runs on Monday morning at Daytona at 180.679 mph (49.812 seconds). Gale also posted the third-fastest time of the session 180.390 mph (49.892 seconds).
Session II: NASCAR Nationwide Series teams in even positions in car owner standings as of July 17, 2007.
What: NASCAR Preseason Thunder testing for the 2008 Camping World 300 presented by Chevrolet.
Where: Daytona International Speedway.
Track Layout: 2.5-mile tri-oval.
When: Sunday, Jan. 20 through Tuesday, Jan. 22.
Times: 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.
Who: Cale Gale, Chase Miller, Scott Wimmer, Steve Wallace, Jason Leffler, Erik Darnell, Mark Green, Tony Raines, Kelly Bires, David Stremme, David Reutimann, Jason Keller, David Ragan, Marcos Ambrose, D.J. Kennington, Michael McDowell, Donnie Neuenberger, Brett Rowe, Justin Ashburn.