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Ambrose heads to Sonoma looking for redemption

Marcos Ambrose has had a year to think about the mistake that cost him his first NASCAR Sprint Cup victory.

Now, he's a bit tired of rehashing it.

"I'm trying to forget about it to be honest with you," Ambrose said. "Races come and you make split-second decisions out there. It's the closest I've been to winning a race so far and clearly it's on people's mind this weekend, but it doesn't matter."

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 "maintain reasonable speed" -- 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.

"We 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," he said. "I don't need to look back on what happened last year. It is what it is. I couldn't 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."

Not long after his Sonoma mishap, Ambrose said he would leave JTG Daugherty Racing at the end of the season. He's now the driver of the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. He enters Sunday's Toyota/Save Mart 350 21st in the points standings, up five spots from his finish last season, but he still hasn't 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 year's 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 "the pure form of NASCAR," he's not about to shy away from his area of expertise. Courses like Infineon are where he has a chance to shine.

"There's a lot going on behind the wheel. You're obviously changing gears, you're turning left and right, you're managing front and left brake pressure, sometimes you're doing it together. The track is undulating and there's a lot of dust that's thrown off by other cars that run across the track," he said. "There's 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."

Ambrose's 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 he's hoping for a breakthrough at Sonoma, and he won't be the only one who benefits from a victory. Stanley Black & Decker, one of RPM's sponsors, will donate $1 million to Children's Miracle Network Hospitals if Ambrose wins.

"And if I really mess it up and come dead last, we are still going to donate $100,000," 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.

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