Marcos Ambrose hopes to be able to break through in the Sprint Cup series as he arrives as one of the clear favorites to this weekend's race at Watkins Glen.
The Australian has the best finishing average of all drivers at the track, claiming two third-place finishes and one second, leading a combined 17 laps in his three Cup races at the venue. His Nationwide Series record at the venue is second to none, winning in three out of his four outings, underlining his speed at the 2.45-mile track.
Last year, Ambrose was Earnhardt Ganassi's Juan Pablo Montoya's only serious challenger all race long, but in the end he had to settle for third behind him and Penske's Kurt Busch. This year he will miss Saturday's Nationwide Series race, placing all his focus on the Cup event where he hopes to finally win for the first time at NASCAR's top level.
"We're a contender, no doubt," said Ambrose. "We have done some testing earlier in the year for road course racing. We haven't tested recently and really didn't feel there was a need to, considering the tire that we're racing on here and the trouble that we had at Sonoma getting misled by early testing and then racing a different tire.
"I've finished no worse than third in my three tries, so, naturally, you want to win and you want to win badly, but I don't think there's any added pressure this weekend. I actually felt more relaxed when I came here this week because I know what I need to feel from the car and I know what I need to do to be a contender."
Ambrose believes his chances of winning in the past have been compromised by him probably being too hard on his machinery. He says the key will be to be able to balance that out with racing aggressively from start to finish, while having good track position for the deciding final stint.
"Part of my problem has been that I've been Marcos Ambrose from the start of the race and I wear my brakes and gearbox out, so you really have to manage your stuff for the first half of the race and give yourself a chance at the end," Ambrose said. "Everybody picks up again at the end of the race because you have to. This is NASCAR. This is serious business. Late cautions bunch up the field and you know every position counts, so you have to be super-aggressive.
It's no different here or Martinsville or Daytona. The end of the races are the most frantic part of the day, as it should be. Road racing traditionally is different. Standing starts and getting off the line is normally the most important thing and then the race sort of settles down and you can manage it. The first half of the race you still drive aggressively and keep track position, but you're trying to manage your stuff."
Despite missing Saturday's Nationwide Series race, Ambrose will run again in the second-tier series at Montreal next week. The Tasmanian is currently 23rd in the Sprint Cup Series standings.