Australian Marcos Ambrose impressed last Saturday night by finishing third at Bristol's Sharpie's 500 purely on speed, claiming his best result on an oval at one of NASCAR's toughest venues.
“A great day for me,” he enthused. “Just really thrilled. First-year team, first-year driver. To be running up there like we did tonight is pretty special. Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. behind me, Greg Biffle beside me. If I was doing the wrong thing by Dale, 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.”
Ambrose couldn't explain why he ran so strongly at Bristol, a short track generally regarded as among the most challenging for newcomers.
“I don't know why I've run so well here. Both races we've done really well,” he noted. “I just try to drive the racecar. I don't do anything but rely on my instincts. I just love Bristol. I love NASCAR. It's the best form of racing I've ever experienced. The cars are hard to drive, way too much power, not enough tire, not enough brakes. It's a real challenge to survive out there. We're doing it.
“I don't think there's any track we can't do this. I've had trouble at places like Michigan and Atlanta, but I'm not sure whether it's me, I'm not sure whether it's the way I'm trying to set them up. I'll work it out over time. I just want to be here for the long haul.
Ambrose admitted that he had got “a little greedy” on some restarts, to his cost.
“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,” he said. “The last restart, I just tried to baby it to make sure I just solidified my position, and managed to get past Greg on the inside there.
“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.”
Ambrose acknowledged that he's consciously balancing his aggressive instincts with the need to prove himself to his peers in his first year as a full-time Cup racer.
“Well, racing is about controlled aggression. If we all go out there full of testosterone, none of us will ever finish,” the Australian noted. “There's a million ways not to finish a race. I just try to control my aggression as best I can and keep a level head and to race fair. That's my goal. When I came into NASCAR, I promised myself that I'd be happy every day, just be happy that I'm here and racing. I want to go to bed and wake up the next morning, not regret anything I've done. I've learned from experience.
“Like I said, it's my first year. I've got to be very careful about the legends of the sport that I'm racing around and respect them. I think that's a big key component of it – respecting who you're driving against. You're driving against the best in the business who have built this sport, who continue to grow it. I'm just happy to be part of the scene.”