NASCAR: Ambrose returns to site of last year’s blunder
Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 22, 2011
Marcos Ambrose has had a year to think about the mistake that cost him his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory.
Now, heís a bit tired of rehashing it.
ěIím trying to forget about it to be honest with you,î Ambrose said. ěRaces come and you make split-second decisions out there. Itís the closest Iíve been to winning a race so far and clearly itís on peopleís mind this weekend, but it doesnít matter.î
Ambrose was closing in on that elusive win at Infineon Raceway last June when he stalled his engine while trying to conserve gas under a late caution. His car came to a stop, and although he eventually restarted and tried to move to his spot at the front of the field, NASCAR ordered him back to seventh place for failing to ěmaintain reasonable speedî ó he finished sixth.
He returns to Sonoma, Calif., the site of that gaffe, still winless on the circuit. No matter how much he tries to put that unpleasant finish behind him, the affable Australian knows the questions are unavoidable this week.
ěWe were doing great in the race, we had a good strategy although the way it was running down, I was running out of tires, running out of fuel, and getting ready for a late restart,î he said. ěI donít need to look back on what happened last year. It is what it is. I couldnít get the motor refired for whatever reason. This year we have a brand new team, brand new chief, brand new sponsor and brand new carburetor, so I should have no issues. Just looking forward to getting out there and trying to win it.î
Not long after his Sonoma mishap, Ambrose said he would leave JTG Daugherty Racing at the end of the season. Heís now the driver of the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. He enters Sundayís race 21st in the points standings, up five spots from his finish last season, but he still hasnít won.
This weekend could be one of his best chances. Long considered one of the top road course drivers in the series, he finished third at Infineon in 2009 to go along with last yearís sixth-place showing. That 2009 finish was remarkable considering he blew a motor in practice and had to start at the back of the field and forfeit his third-place qualifying position.
Although he describes oval racing as ěthe pure form of NASCAR,î heís not about to shy away from his area of expertise. Courses like Infineon are where he has a chance to shine.
ěThereís a lot going on behind the wheel. Youíre obviously changing gears, youíre turning left and right, youíre managing front and left brake pressure, sometimes youíre doing it together. The track is undulating and thereís a lot of dust thatís thrown off by other cars that run across the track,î he said. ěThereís just a lot going on on a road course. You really have to stay very focused on your own car and not really worry about whether a guy is pulling away for a lap or two. It normally balances out.î
Ambroseís best finish of 2010 was on another road course at Watkins Glen. He finished third and might have won, but the handling on the last set of tires was off.
Now heís hoping for a breakthrough at Sonoma, and he wonít be the only one who benefits from a victory. Stanley Black & Decker, one of RPMís sponsors, will donate $1 million to Childrenís Miracle Network Hospitals if Ambrose wins.
ěAnd if I really mess it up and come dead last, we are still going to donate $100,000,î Ambrose said.
History suggests Ambrose will probably be closer to first than last. Of course, as he learned a year ago, coming close can make defeat even more agonizing.
ěJust when you think youíve seen the most of what NASCAR can throw you, something else pops up,î he said. ěIím pretty sure my car parked on the side of the hill last year trying to get restarted is one of those moments. Unfortunately, I was the one in that car, but it was a fairly surreal moment.î