As arguably the best road course racer in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series today, Marcos Ambrose is stepping up to the plate this coming Sunday at Watkins Glen International, hoping to hit the NASCAR equivalent of a home run. A checkered flag in the Cheez-It 355 at The Glen will be the swing of the bat that lands the Richard Petty Motorsport driver into the all-important final 10-race Chase For The Cup, which begins next month.
Failure to cross the finish line first in Sunday’s 90-lap affair could find the popular driver suffering a strikeout by possibly not making this season’s Chase for The Cup. Ambrose has yet to make The Chase in his previous six season NSCS driving career.
This season, drivers qualify for the final 16 driver Chase for the Cup field by winning a race and placing 30th or better in points after the first 26 races of the season. If there are not 16 winners, then non-winning drivers who finish high enough in points will complete The Chase field. Ambrose is winless thus far in 2014 and at present does not have enough points to make the Chase with just five races remaining until The Chase begins. Already qualified for The Chase is Ambrose’s RPM teammate Aric Almirola, who won at Daytona in July.
One can imagine that Ambrose is arriving at The Glen this weekend with heavy pressure on him to produce a Chase qualifying victory. Ambrose however has a somewhat different perspective on the matter.
“I don’t feel the pressure so much,” said Ambrose who drives the No. 9 Stanley Ford. “It’s about being a professional. I don’t look upon it as a pressure situation but rather an opportunity to make something good happen.
“We try to do our best every week, every race. I guess that the expectations of so many people of me for this coming weekend are quite high. But I don’t feel I have any more pressure on me then when Jimmie Johnson has gone into the final race of many seasons and had to do well at Homestead to secure the championship. The Watkins Glen track has been very good to me.”
History at The Glen is certainly on Ambrose’s side. In six previous NSCS appearances at The Glen, Ambrose has two wins (2011, 2012), one pole (2013) and five top-five finishes. Ambrose is also competing this Saturday at The Glen for RPM in the NASCAR Nationwide Series Zippo 200, where he has won on three previous consecutive occasions in 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Ambrose, who is a native of Tasmania, captured the pole for last year’s Cheez-It 355 at The Glen and led 51 laps (the first 28 laps and 39-61) before pitting under caution on lap 61. After restarting in 15th position, his car developed mechanical issues and he exited the race by being involved in an accident, three laps from the race’s conclusion, placing 31st.
Last week, the RPM team entered into a two-day test session at Watkins Glen in an effort to bolster their chances for victory this coming Sunday.
“It was a washout because of rain the first day, but we got some good running in the second day,” said Ambrose of the test. “We were going through the motions to try to get the car to run well. We ran through what we had in the car last year at The Glen and then worked with the new no-ride height rules and other regulations that exist this year to try to make the car better.
“Without revealing all that we learned at the test, I can tell you that the car is definitely faster due to the new rules package. I believe the car drives in a similar way to last year but faster. I think that brakes will be a bigger issue this year at Watkins Glen for everyone, and also, because we are all going faster, we will likely burn up more fuel faster. That could change pit strategy. Typically at Watkins Glen most teams hope to map out a two-pit stop strategy for the race, but due to the fuel being used faster, many teams may have to go to a three-stop plan this year.”
Coming into this Sunday’s race, Ambrose, now in the midst of his seventh NSCS season, has competed in 212 races and has won twice (both at Watkins Glen). He is currently enduring a 71 race winless streak.
There is widespread speculation in the racing world that Ambrose will not return to NASCAR next season but will return to Australia, where he will compete for Roger Penske in the V8 Supercar Series full time, where he is a past two-time champion. If this is indeed Ambrose’s last race at The Glen, he hopes he will go out in style as a three time Glen NSCS race winner and at long last a participant in this year’s Chase for the Cup.