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Ambrose’s Career Is Going Around In Circles

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 23 2009
Marcos Ambrose moves in on Jimmie Johnson from the inside lane at Bristol on Saturday night. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

Marcos Ambrose moves in on Jimmie Johnson from the inside lane at Bristol on Saturday night. (Photo by Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor

Saturday was a great day for Australian Marcos Ambrose, not just a G’day, mate.

See, there are few things which Ambrose wants more in racing than to be able to ditch the rep of being a road-race guy. And on Saturday night at Bristol Motor Speedway, Ambrose took a big swing at that as he showed 40 oval-race guys how to handle one of NASCAR’s most bizarre races.

Ambrose finished third behind winner Kyle Busch and Mark Martin in the Sharpie 500. It was the rookie’s best finish on an oval and it made him even more jovial than usual.

“Just a wonderful night for me,” he said.  “My first year in the Cup Series. To be racing with Mark in his 1,000th start, racing with Kyle Busch, who will probably go down in history as one of the best of all time, I just feel privileged to be out there and running with them.  Great day for me, great night for my sponsors – just really thrilled.”

Ambrose has stood on the podium before in Cup. But those podiums were located at the Infineon Raceway road course (he was third their this year) and at the Watkins Glen road course (he was second there this year).

And that is kind of to be expected as his background was racing stock cars in the V-8 Supercar series back home. Those races were on road courses.

Ambrose’ s introduction to NASCAR was as a road-course ringer, er, specialist.

He filled that role well, but, like most “specialists” who visit the series, he did not want to be a role-player. He wanted a full-time Cup gig and he wanted to trash his image of being a one-trick specialist.

It looks like that is happening.

He is driving a full season in a Toyota Camry for JTG-Daugherty Racing and that means he is driving ovals on top of ovals and. So far, he is doing it with decent success.

Earlier this season, Ambrose posted top-six finishes at Talladega (fourth), Pocono (sixth) and the summer race at Daytona (sixth).

And, he was 10th at the spring race at Bristol.

“I don’t know why I’ve run so well here,” Ambrose said. “Both races we’ve done really well. I just try to drive the race car.”

But Ambrose is the first to admit that he is far from being an accomplished oval guy.

“I don’t feel like I’m comfortable.” Ambrose said. “I don’t feel like I’m safe in the sport, I don’t.  Consistency is an issue for me.  I have good runs like this and then I’ll back it up like last week and run 35th. I don’t feel secure.”

He does feel proud, however.

“I didn’t ask anything from anybody,” Ambrose said. “I didn’t expect to be given any breaks. I didn’t want any special treatment. I knew I had to learn from scratch, fight my way up through the categories. I’ve finished top 10 both years in the Nationwide Series with a limited budget against the big Cup teams.

“We’ve kept growing, kept moving forward.  We haven’t finished. We announced a wonderful sponsor today in Kleenex. In a time where sponsorships are dropping and teams are reducing what they’re doing, we’re growing. It’s just very exciting time for us.”

Ambrose had a couple of shots to log an even better finish at Bristol Saturday night.

But, he said, rookie mistakes got in the way.

“Well, I just got greedy on a couple restarts there,” Ambrose said. “I wanted to win the race so bad 850 horsepower, hot tires, a concrete track. I just got greedy on the right foot and spun the tires. Last restart I just tried to baby it to make sure I just solidified my position. I managed to get past Greg (Biffle) on the inside there. He was pinched down.  That’s all I needed to do.  I’m learning as I go. When you get an opportunity to run at the front like that with six laps to go, you can’t learn that anywhere else but when you’re out there doing it. You’re up against the best”

Also getting in his way was common sense. He is a smart guy and he knows that as an outsider, he cannot afford to butcher insiders on the race track.

“I just tried always to keep my nose clean,” Ambrose said. “I don’t want to ruin anybody’s race.  I want to race as hard as I can.  When my night is on, I’m going to race as hard as anyone and take those chances, try to do it clean.”

Plus, he said, “If I was doing the wrong thing by Dale  (Earnhardt, Jr.), I was going to get lynched by 50,000 people trying to get out here. I didn’t want to mess him. I wanted to race him hard.  I wanted to race him.  You know you’re in very special territory up there.  I’m just thrilled to be up there and thrilled to finish like we did with good car speed.  I didn’t have anything for Mark (Martin) and Kyle (Busch), but just a great night.”

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

| Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Sunday, August 23 2009
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