Marcos Ambrose is pinning his Chase hopes on race wins as he heads to Sonoma as a favorite to win the first road course event of the Sprint Cup season.
The former Australian V8 Supercar champion, who has already a Cup win under his belt claimed at Watkins Glen last year, has finished no worse than sixth in his last three outings at the 1.99-mile track, where he has previously been a victory contender. Last week at Michigan the Richard Petty Motorsports driver kept his hot streak rolling after claiming his maiden pole position while setting the lap record for the newly repaved track. During the race he went on to finish ninth, scoring his third top-10 finish in the last five races.
Ambrose currently ranks 17th in the Sprint Cup standings needs wins to become a contender for a wildcard entry into this years's Chase. Joey Logano and Kasey Kahne, both race winners this season and very likely wild card contenders, currently rank right ahead of him in points.
"I've achieved a lot just to make it to NASCAR, then to make it to Sprint Cup, have a pole position, have won a race, it feels very rewarding," saids Ambrose. "I'm content. But that being said, I'm in a great team, I'm in the best position I've ever been in the sport. I feel I have a competitive team each and every week. I have people around me that believe in what I'm doing...
"We have unfinished business. We want to win races on ovals, win more than one race a year. Right now as I sit here mid-season, we still feel we have a chance to make the Chase if we can win some races. We have speed. We have to convert them into results."
Jimmie Johnson, who claimed his first road course win at Sonoma two years ago after Ambrose stalled his car under caution while leading, believes the Australian will once again be the benchmark this weekend.
"Marcos has amazing talent and a ton of experience in the closed-wheeled sedan cars with all the racing he did in Australia," said Johnson. "He's just on it. The guy is going to be super-fast once again. I think going in there, he's the guy we're all focused on beating."
Ambrose's sponsors will donate $1 million to Children's Miracle Network Hospitals if he wins this weekend. Even if he can't, sponsors Stanley and ACE Hardware will team with the hospital network to donate at least $100,000. The Australian welcomes that extra pressure, which he says adds to an already more hefty driving challenge.
"Sonoma is a very twisty, tight, narrow racetrack with a lot of elevation change," Ambrose noted. "These cars are dinosaurs as far as racecars go. They've got way too much power – nearly 900 horsepower – they don't have enough tire drift, they're too heavy and they don't have enough brakes.
"So, you really have to manhandle those cars around the racetrack. They're not going to give you a lap time; it's not going to drive itself. You have to basically take it by the scruff of the neck and force it to go around. You're fighting physics at that point when you've got a car that heavy and that powerful, and it's really hard to get it around a tight and twisty road course. It's a tough assignment."