The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series moves onto Daytona this weekend for the Coke Zero 400 after a wild weekend at Sonoma’s Infineon Raceway. The 2011 Toyota/SaveMart 350 definitely left previous years in the dust and Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 Stanley Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, isn’t looking back.
In a recent interview Ambrose was asked to walk through what had occurred during the 2010 Sonoma race and he replied, “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. And 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.”
Marcos was quoted saying the following just prior to the Infineon race, “There’s a lot of expectation at Sonoma for me. It's obviously one of my best chances to win. I know what is required of me. I’ve got to go and deliver."
Although he may not have won Sunday's race, he came out with a top-5 finish and left Sonoma with the momentum the No. 9 team needs to take on Daytona this weekend.
With NASCAR’s new points system, the top-10 after September's race in Richmond are guaranteed to make the Chase. The final two spots will go to drivers with the most wins between 11th and 20th in the points. So there are many opportunities that remain for drivers to take a wild-card spot, and Ambrose's 21st position doesn't count him out just yet. As we know, anything can happen at Daytona.
With weather playing against them on Thursday, teams managed to get in a 45-minute practice that quickly showed RPM’s Marcos Ambrose in his DeWalt Ford Fusion as the one to beat. The car is running a new chassis, #721 for this Saturday night’s race, and it’ll be Ambrose’s sixth NSCS start at Daytona, as well as his 100th series start.
Right behind Ambrose in Thursday’s practice session was none other than RPM teammate AJ Allmendinger in the famed No. 43. The duo was also 1-2 in 10 consecutive lap average. Marcos’ best finish at the 2.5 mile tri-oval track came in 2009 when he crossed the finish line in sixth place.
Crew Chief Todd Parrot had this to say about Daytona, "Getting to the checkered flag in one piece has been our number one goal, as well as our main obstacle in restrictor plate racing this year. We've seen the checkered flag, but we want to see it on the lead lap this weekend. We need a car with a lot of power and with the least amount of drag possible. It's going to be all about teammates and tandems Saturday night."
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to speak with Marcos prior to the Sprint Cup practice Thursday afternoon and ask him a few questions. Below you will find the short but informative Q&A session we had via Skype.
Lindi Bess (LB): Having placed 5th in Sonoma this past weekend, great finish by the way. Now you're in Daytona for the Coke Zero 400, and it's your 100th NSCS start. How do you make Daytona the race to beat Marcos Ambrose?
Marcos Ambrose (MA): I didn’t know it was my 100th start so it’s a milestone for me. I never thought I’d make a hundred starts. But you know it also feels like I haven't won yet, you know, in 100 tries. I'd actually really like to get to victory lane this weekend and make it something special. We’ve had a really a good year and you gotta take the top-5s when you can get them. We've really got a chance this weekend to set the world on fire with the 2x2 draft along with AJ Allmendinger and with some of my friends I made out there, so I feel good about it.
LB: Do you expect Daytona to be as aggressive as Infineon was this weekend?
MA: Yeah, it will be - no doubt. But the driving standards this year have been relatively clear. I think you'll see some fireworks come out and some characters come out as people start to get a bit of payback. I don't think that's going to stop anytime soon, and the intensity of the racing on the ovals will be the same as Sonoma and Watkins Glen and all of those other road races.
LB: You have DeWalt coming on board as your primary sponsor. What pressures does that bring with it?
MA: None at all. Just really excited to have such a legitimate company sponsor me and they're a global brand. With Stanley and DeWalt the biggest sponsors I’ve ever had, I feel really privileged to be part of the company and want to represent them well on the race track.
LB: How would you describe your relationship with teammate AJ?
MA: AJ and I get along great and haven’t had any really serious issues on the racetrack. I’m a fan of his. He’s a great driver and a genuinely good guy. He comes from open wheel in California, which of course isn't a traditional NASCAR route. It's a little similar to me, you know, because I've come from a little different perspective as well. We get on good and we're building a relationship every race and I feel good about it.
LB: You're known for road racing, but the majority of the NASCAR tracks are ovals. How are you adapting to them and do you want to shake that road racing image?
MA: Yeah, I think I probably already have. I'm running well every week. That’s a good thing. I’m particularly fast on the road course races but I’m also leading laps and finishing in the top-5 and competing for oval wins as well. I think over the next six months we’ll probably get our first win and it’ll probably come on an oval and that man will be forgotten about and I’ll be known just like everybody else, as a NASCAR driver.
LB: You're coming up on on a year with RPM. Have you and Todd found your stride?
MA: Coming up on half a year and I fele like we’re getting along great. I think communication's improving all the time and we’re understanding each other. I’m really happy. I couldn’t be happier with my team. A lot of good people around me and a lot of support, and I’m excited to be here and looking forward to getting Richard Petty Motorsports back in Victory Lane.
LB: Coming from V8 supercars, was it difficult to adjust to American stock cars?
MA: Yeah, it has been really challenging. I hadn't grown up oval racing, so that's been the biggest challenge for me. The big heavy cars. The big, heavy cars on a road course aren't that much different to drive and control, but the ovals are something different. They're something very unique, and it's taken me several years to get to where I am today.
LB: Tell me a little about your reasons for starting Marcos Ambrose Motorsports?
MA: It's just there to give kids a leg up and give them an extra opportunity. I came through the sport, and I've done well. I've made it to the Cup Series, but I lost years and time and made mistakes because I wasn't connected like I needed to be to make it as smooth as it should have been. I just want to give kids an opportunity, especially from an overseas background, just to get them hooked up with the right people and answer their questions on the racetrack without them having to waste time and money.
LB: Did you find it difficult to gain respect from other NASCAR racers when you came into the sport?
MA: I'm still growing. It's really good now, and I feel like I'm on equal with the field. I've earned my stripes. I belong where I am and that garners respect. I run around feeling like I deserve to be there. It means a lot. You want to be respected by your peers, but it has been a serious challenge because guys come and go in and out of this sport in a hurry. Staying power is everything. I feel good where I'm at and I feel good being one of the lead contenders and lead drivers in the series. I think the respect has flowed well.
LB: It's an exciting time to be Marcos Ambrose right now. What are the fans back home saying?
MA: We get really good TV coverage these days. They're tuning into NASCAR like never before. There's a pretty big following overseas on NASCAR. It's garnered a lot of interest over the last couple seasons. Hopefully when I return in a few years' time, they'll still remember who I am.
LB: When in California, did you get a chance to do any gold panning?
MA: No, too busy. I want to get back there, that’s for sure.
LB: So how’s the family? Are the girls showing any signs of following in Dad’s footsteps?
MA: No, not really. I think they're going to be the world's fastest librarians. I want to keep them away from the racetrack as much as I can. They've been back in Australia for about four weeks on holiday, but they're back this week and it's nice to have them back. It's fun living on the road and living the NASCAR dream, and I think the family really enjoys it, too.
AJ Allmendinger, Richard Petty and Marcos Ambrose
LB: The last question: What’s it like working for the King (Richard Petty)?
MA: Pretty special. The King, he’s an incredible man. One of the most amazing human beings I’ve ever known, and the more I get to know him the more respect I have for him. He's just a real leader of our sport and it's great having him on your side. There is a little pressure driving for him; obviously you want to represent the team and company well and try to get him into Victory Lane is very important to me. I’m excited about it and feel like we got a chance to get in there pretty quick and show him thanks for all the good things he’s done for my career.
LB: Well good luck this weekend, Marcos and we’re gonna be right there rooting for ya. Thanks for taking the time out for the interview.
MA: No worries. Thanks!
I’d like to thank Andrea for making this interview possible.