A road-course ringer finally returned to NASCAR Sprint Cup Victory Lane at Watkins Glen International.
Marcos Ambrose took advantage of a mistake by Kyle Busch on the final restart to take the lead with two laps remaining and masterfully held off Brad Keselowski to win his first Sprint Cup race in his 105th start.
While Marcos Ambrose has slowly acclimated to ovals in NASCAR over the last six seasons, there’s no doubt that the 34-year-old Australian’s strongest performances have come on the two road courses on the tour — Watkins Glen and Infineon Raceway.
He nearly won at Infineon, located in Sonoma, Calif., last season before he shut off his car and couldn’t re-fire the engine going uphill late in the race, resulting in a seventh-place finish.
But Ambrose exacted his revenge on Monday by capturing his first Cup win.
“I’ve sacrificed so much to get here and to finally win and be here in Victory Lane in the Cup series is a dream come true,” Ambrose said. “For me to drive for Richard Petty in the first place is an unbelievable opportunity and to get into Victory Lane is just incredible.
“Mrs. (Lynda) Petty is not doing so well at home. She’s having a tough time of it right now. This win is for her and the whole family.”
Entering Monday’s rain-delayed race, Ambrose’s best career Cup finish came here, a second-place finish in 2009. But before the win on Monday, he had not finished worst than third at the track. Sure, Ambrose has posted top-fives at Las Vegas and Dover this season, but road racing is in Ambrose’s DNA — as evidenced by his championship success in V8 Supercars in Australia.
“He’s smooth, he’s smart, and he’s experienced,” Keselowski said. “You know, we only do this two times a year. I counted on my finger the amount of times I’ve raced at road courses in my life … and he’s got to have 10 times that at least, maybe more.
“So he’s got experience. He’s a good driver with experience with a competitive car, where the rest of us are probably okay drivers, and he’s a cut above right now, and I would expect him to stay that way with his experience level for quite some while.”
While Ambrose’s talent is unquestionable, the evolution of Richard Petty Motorsports makes his victory even more amazing. After Ambrose agreed to move from JTG Racing to Richard Petty Motorsports last season, he didn’t even know whether there would be an RPM in 2011. Team owner George Gillett bailed and the only thing left was the Petty name.
“There was a time I was sitting around the boardroom table and I was the only one there,” Ambrose said. “Who knew what was going to happen, it was completely out of my hands. Richard Petty and his team around him, with the help of (new team co-owners) Doug Bergeron and Andy Murstein, helped save the team.
“To see it pare down from four to two (teams), get rebuilt, I think it’s helped us. I think it’s helped all of us who have been through it to have the glue. We know what we went through. We’re thankful for what we’ve got and we’re now helping rebuild Richard Petty Motorsports to where they want to be.
“There were days and weeks where I was very anxious, but you’ve got to roll the dice sometimes and be patient and turn the phone off, play golf for a while and it all worked out.”