Already enjoying one of his best efforts to date, Marcos Ambrose faces new pressure when the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads to Sonoma.
After all, he carries that road-course ringer label. And while the Australian has certainly made a name for himself on those tracks in his career, the fact of the matter is that this season he’s been more of a factor every week, on every kind of racetrack.
That just ramps up the expectations for Ambrose and his Richard Petty Motorsports team heading into this weekend.
Therefore, Ambrose is caught in that rather unenviable position of being tagged with a label that is a compliment to his talents on one style of track while trying to escape being pigeon-holed as a one-track (well, two tracks actually) wonder.
All the while, he’s enjoying a strong start to 2012. Ambrose is 17th in the standings – his career-best Cup finish is 18th – and has three top-10 finishes. In recent races, he has been running among the top drivers on a regular basis.
So for Ambrose, in his fourth full season of Cup competition, the weekend offers an intriguing element. While he has top finishes on several other tracks – including third-place runs at both Dover International Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway – to his credit, this weekend he’s expected to contend for the win. With finishes of third, sixth and fifth in the last three races at Sonoma, and the 2011 win at NASCAR’s other Cup road course at Watkins Glen, it’s no wonder he’s among the favorites Sunday.
And Ambrose knows it.
“The expectation of me succeeding at a road-course race is obviously very high,” he said. “But that doesn’t change. I’m driving the No. 9 Stanley Ford Fusion for Richard Petty to win every race, not just two road-course races.
“I apply myself the same every week. The pressure is not much different, it’s just the weight of expectation, I guess, this weekend and for Watkins Glen as well, the expectation of success is what we have to balance out. I can’t change the way I drive. I’ve got to keep doing my best out there. If I do my job well and the team does, we know we’ll be a contender for the race win.”
Ambrose says that he is in the best position of his NASCAR career to contend on a weekly basis. His Todd Parrott-led team has performed much more consistently this season and is picking up the pace week to week. Wins on road courses – or at any stop – could vault Ambrose into contention for one of the two wild-card berths in the Chase for the Sprint Cup.
For Ambrose, this season is just a continuation of what the team began in late 2011.
“The tail end of last year was great,” he said. “We had a whole bunch of top 10s in the last eight or nine races of the season. We carried that speed over into 2012. Unfortunately, we had a lot of bad luck, made some bad decisions that hurt our race performances.
“Since we got in the summer here, we’ve strung together some good results. We’ve shown our speed. People know we’re around. It’s good. I feel good about the team. I feel good about being part of the growth of Richard Petty Motorsports. I think that curve is continuing to go upwards. I think you have yet to see the best of us and you have yet to see the best of me.”
Parrott agrees and admits that the team looks forward to this weekend’s trip. After all, it expects to be not only running well, but the one others are chasing come Sunday afternoon.
“We are really looking forward to going to Sonoma because we know it’s a track where we can win,” he said. “We’ve got one of the best road-course racers behind the wheel of the Stanley Ford this weekend and that will definitely play to our advantage. … Fuel mileage will also come into play at Sonoma, so it’s very important we keep a close eye on that and have good strategy.”
Ambrose’s strategy is uncomplicated: Run well everywhere and continue to move through the ranks.
For him, winning this weekend would be just a step along that path.
“I feel like I’ve done a lot in the sport. I feel like I’ve come from a long way from behind,” he said. “I’ve come from a country that doesn’t have any oval racing, I come from a state at the other end of the world. 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. I’m content.”
Yet he is still hungering for more.
“That being said, I’m in a great team,” he said. “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 midseason, we still feel we have a chance to make the Chase if we can win some races. We have speed. We have to convert (that) into results.”