Ambrose wins first NASCAR race
Marcos Ambrose has scored his first NASCAR win with victory in the Zippo 200 at the Watkins Glen International road course in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in New York state today.
|Marcos Ambrose celebrates his first win|
|Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR|
Ambrose is the first Australian to earn a NASCAR victory and his historic feat on the 2.45-mile road course lifts him into the top 10 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series standings.
Tomorrow, Ambrose will look to repeat today’s effort when he races in the top-tier NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen in the #21 Little Debbie Ford Fusion of Wood Brothers Racing.
Since leaving Australia to pursue a career in NASCAR, Ambrose has made 83 NASCAR starts – 22 in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series, 59 in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and two in the top-flight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
Next year Ambrose will race full-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with JTG Daugherty Racing. Today’s win is the first for this team since former NBA star Brad Daugherty bought into the team and the first victory for the operation since 23 August 1996 when Jeff Fuller won the Food City 250 at Bristol Motor Speedway, also in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
The Australian qualified in 12th position in the #59 STP Ford Fusion, and steadily made his way through the pack. He eventually got to the lead on lap 48 but immediately gave the lead up to pit.
With 12 laps to go Ambrose was in third position, but as the two cars ahead – Jeff Burton and Jimmie Johnson – ran low on fuel and were forced to pit in the latter stages, Ambrose’s combination of car speed and smart pit strategy came to the fore and the 31-year-old from Launceston, Tasmania collected his debut NASCAR win.
Of the three road course event in the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series, Ambrose has been the dominant driver, collecting third last weekend in Montreal, Canada, second earlier in the year in Mexico City and victory today in Watkins Glen.
Ahead of tomorrow’s Centurion Boats at The Glen NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race, Ambrose was fastest in the first practice session held today and third fastest in the other, a positive sign for Ambrose as he looks to carve through the field from the 43rd and final starting spot in the #21 Little Debbie Ford Fusion of Wood Brothers Racing.
Ambrose won today’s Zippo 200 over four seconds ahead of Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth. Next weekend the NASCAR Nationwide Series holds its 25th event of the season at Michigan International Speedway.
RACE WINNER’S PRESS CONFERENCE
“Just a huge relief. It feels like a big relief off my shoulders, I’m sure it is for everybody in this room, standing next to us, because we’ve committed a lot to it. I’ve come along way, I’ve dragged my family halfway around the world, away from my dad and mom, and everybody who needs me back in Australia, and today it just feels like it’s worthwhile. It feels like I’ve conquered a huge mountain, and it’s just a great day.
“Gary’s [Crew Chief Gary Cogswell] come on board and turned our Nationwide program around. He came on after six races, we were in a real mess, and here we are, halfway through the year, with a win. So, I’ve got to thank Gary, Tad and Jodi [Geschickter, team co-owners] for plucking me out of nowhere.
“I met them at a hot, dusty day at IRP, I was hanging around like a bad smell until they gave me a test, and here we are. Brad’s [Daugherty] come on board. We’re a team that’s moving forward, and I feel like we needed to win to justify moving forward like we’re going to in 2009. That’s just a real weight off my shoulders. I feel like we’re ready to really do something special and it’s just a great day.”
GARY COGSWELL [Crew Chief]:
Q: ON SOME OF THE CALLS HE MADE AND WHAT THE WIN MEANS TO THE TEAM.
“It’s pretty tremendous. It’s been a long time for me. I happened to have the opportunity to be in this Victory Lane a long, long time ago, and everything’s changed so much. The race was just like a storybook race. It’s hard to just beat people. There’s just so many good cars. And we were just able to put ourselves in the right position to win the race. Everything went the way it needed to for us to win, and we won.
“The car was good, there were a lot of good cars. The race ran the way it needed to for us, and we took the checkered flag, and we’re all here, extremely happy about it.”
TAD GESCHICKTER [co-owner, JTG/Daugherty Racing]:
“It’s been about 12 years – we’ve finished second about 12 times in that time and have come so close. You know, it’s important to note that Kingsford and Clorox and those folks that stuck with us through all of those 12 years, and I think that’s the most special thing for me, is we’re finally going to send a trophy to Oakland, California, to all of those guys and thank them for being so loyal, for believing in Marcos, for believing in us, and we’re excited to just, now that we’ve got some momentum, to keep doing it.”
JODI GESCHICKTER [co-owner, JTG/Daugherty Racing]:
“I echo Tad’s thoughts. We were just at a Kingsford sales meeting – Kingsford and Clorox sales meetings – about two weeks ago. They have embraced Marcos and he loves them, and he said, ‘You know, the relationship that we have, we have to win for these people, we just have to do it.’ And, true to his word, here we are a couple of weeks later, and we’re doing it. And I couldn’t be any happier.
“I guess nine laps from the end I saw the guys in the pits, and they said, ‘We may have a tire going down.’ And I thought, ‘I just can’t believe it. I can’t believe it. No way.’ But, he stayed out, it wasn’t a flat tire, guys started running out of gas, I thought, ‘Maybe the cards are going to fall our way this time. Maybe it’s going to happen.’ Not until he takes the checkered flag do you really believe. We’re really thrilled to be here. You just can’t imagine what it’s like.”
BRAD DAUGHERTY [co-owner, JTG/Daugherty Racing]:
“I want to thank Jodi and Tad for the opportunity to be a part of this team. It was a great race for us today; Marcos did a great job. He had a top-five race car – I don’t know whether he had a winning race car – but Gary made some great calls from the box, and Marcos really believed.
“When Jimmie Johnson ran out of fuel there, I was sitting there watching the race and I had my little calculator going in my head and I knew that Jeff Burton couldn’t be far behind. So, it was going to come down to the last lap for us. Marcos saved us some fuel when those guys ran out of gas. It was just a great job, everyone did a super job today, and we’re fired up. It’s a great win for this organization.”
Q: DO YOU FEEL ABOUT THE WINS THAT GOT AWAY THAT YOU GAVE THEM AWAY OR THEY WERE TAKEN AWAY?
“It feels like a weight off my shoulders, it really does. I felt like I’ve been trying so hard to win, I’ve been tripping over myself. Montreal was a classic example, last year, and we’ve come close and run fast but haven’t been able to close the deal. I knew that the road races this year was my best chance to win, and I’m just really pleased. I’ve had to be patient. Two and a half years here in America – I was pretty used to winning down home, I was a two-time champion and won a lot of races – so you had to eat a little humble pie when I came here and just learn the craft. It’s a very different discipline, NASCAR racing, even on a road course. The cars are very difficult to drive and set up. You have to be very aggressive the whole day. You’ve got to forget about getting a car to handle well; you’ve just got to race the heck out of it, and I did that.
“I just raced hard every lap. I tried to force positions when I could. It was a treacherous race out there. There were a lot of slow cars that seemed to be in the way. You’ve got to be careful out there, and at the same time you can’t be soft because people take advantage of you. We’ve got some damage there late in the race, about 15 to go, side-swiped a lapped car and bent the steering, that’s when I thought the tire was going flat. It was pulling hard to left. I was just trying to keep it straight there on the brakes, but we survived that, and here we are, we’re in Victory Lane.
“You’ve got to commit yourself to try and win, you’ve got to use all the car up, you’ve got use all the track up, and sometimes other people. But, here we are, it’s our day, and we’ve been waiting plenty long enough for this day to come, and we’re going to enjoy it.”
Q: ON THE FINAL LAP, WERE YOU CONCERNED ABOUT PASSING THE 52 CAR?
“Of course I was concerned; I wouldn’t have said that. I try to watch all the traffic and pay attention to what’s going on, and I called to him the last few laps what his interval was to second place. In the course of finishing laps there, we were on full screen on the camera so I had a pretty good idea of what was going on on the whole lap. Yeah, I told him that, just so he knew there was no need to take any chance, because he had a significant enough lead there that he just needed to get back over here.
“So, communication’s good. He knew I meant it when I said it, or I wouldn’t have said it. Just a fantastic working relationship that we have here, and it just couldn’t be any better. If I would’ve told him to lock the brakes up and he was still going to win, he probably would’ve done it. So, that’s just the way we work together.”
Q: WHAT TIME IS IT BACK HOME, AND HOW DO YOU THINK THIS IS GOING TO BE PERCEIVED THERE?
“Well, it’s 14 hours in front, and Tasmania doesn’t get the telecast this race because it’s an ABC event, so I guess the phone is going to be running pretty hot for the next 15 hours because I’m going to have to explain the race for the 25,000 people down there. My dad caught the race. He was in the capital city where they get the telecast, and it’s 14 hours in front, so it’s Sunday morning his time, so he’s feeling pretty good for a Sunday morning right now.
“So many people have an interest in what I’m doing over here in America, a lot of Australian fans. Every time I go home, or catch up on emails or whatever, they’ll ask me why can’t I win. So, at least now I can say, ‘I have won and just shut up.’ I need this win to really justify my move over here to the U.S. I’ve come from a winning deal down home; big fish in a pretty small pond, to be honest with you, and I’ve come across and taken on the best in the business here in NASCAR. And today’s field was a tough field. There was a lot of really good drivers and really good cars, and a lot of Cup teams in this race. So, we didn’t luck into this, we deserve it. We worked hard for it, and we do deserve it and we should feel proud of it.”
Q: ANY SPECIAL SIGNIFICANCE THAT THERE WERE 20 CUP DRIVERS IN THIS FIELD?
“As far as the field goes, it was a real tough field, and you couldn’t have asked for a tougher field to compete against. We’ve got the best open-wheel drivers competing here, we’ve got the best sports-car guys competing, and the best Cup guys. So, yeah, it’s a tough field and every lap we had to push hard because it was a strong field. It does field when you race against those guys. It really does.”
Q: WHEN YOU CAME HERE, DID YOU THINK IT WOULD TAKE TWO AND A HALF YEARS TO WIN? IF YOU KNEW THAT WOULD BE THE CASE, WOULD YOU STILL HAVE COME HERE?
“I was prepared to sit on the sidelines for two years. And when I came to America, luckily I had enough smoke and mirrors for Tad to sign me up before I came across, but I was prepared to come over here for two years without a ride and just turn up in NASCAR world and try and forge my way into the sport. I was committed. It’s no secret that our team has been moving forward. We’re now a team that’s in Victory Lane, but when I first joined, we’ve come along way since then. So, I feel liked I’ve learned a lot, and the team’s grown.
“We’ve grown into each other, and that’s what you have to do; you have to start at the bottom and work your way up. There’s no miracle for me, there never has been. No one’s ever picked up the phone and given me the magical ride. I’ve had to do it the hard way. And that’s the way I enjoy to do it, too, is start from the bottom. I know that this sport is really tough. I expected it to be really tough before I got here. I wanted to win; I didn’t know whether I was able to. So, I guess I can tick that box now and move on to the next one.”
Q: WHAT WAS GOING THROUGH YOUR MIND DURING THE CLOSING LAPS?
“Tad is my team owner, he’s also my spotter. And that’s good job security when you do a good job – not so much when you have a bad day. Anyway, I could tell he was at the end of his rope because he told me there was one to go when there were four laps to go, so I really had, like, four one-laps-to-go. I was hoping and praying that the gearbox was going to hold together, the motor was going to hold together, the tire really wasn’t flat, that a caution wasn’t going to come out, and I saw guys starting to run out of fuel, and I had three corners to go before I got the white flag, and I just knew that I had to try and compose myself and treat it like any other lap. And it’s very hard not to. You start to tense up. It was probably my worst lap of the race, the last one, just because I was so anxious to get it done. You know, I’ve been in this position before – maybe not this height of competition and competitiveness that it is in North America, so I just kind of relied on my previous experience, and brought it home. But, it is a blur, no doubt, that last lap. It’s not nice. You just want to get it over and done with.”
Q: YOU HAVE ANOTHER RACE TOMORROW, AND YOU WERE PRETTY GOOD IN PRACTICE TODAY.
“I’m going to have a clear view of probably 1 o’clock in the morning. I just really have got to keep a lid on it. The Wood Brothers and the 21 and Little Debbie, who have given me the chance to go Cup racing, I owe it to them to give it my very best tomorrow, so I’m going to get to bed nice and early, and try forget about today, and go in and race as a whole new day tomorrow. Cup racing is a big level, and I just want to give it the best I can. We’re starting in the back, I’m going to have to pass a lot of cars if I want to put myself in contention. The car is a great piece, we’ve got a really good car over there in the Cup garage.
“I just hope I can make the most of it. It is very special to drive for the Wood Brothers. They’re historically one of the most famous teams. I remember them growing up. I read a lot about them with their race wins here in NASCAR, and I want to do well for them and play my part in getting them back on track. They’ve had a tough year and they need some momentum to move them forward, and I hope I can help them do that.”
PRE-RACE Q & A with Marcos Ambrose
“It’s not every day you can say you topped the charts at the Cup level. We’re really pleased with that. We had a good test last week, we felt we had something for them.
“That’s pretty cool running for the Wood Brothers, the Air Force, Motorcraft and Little Debbie, who are supporting this program. It’s a real privilege to drive for the Wood Brothers, and I just hope I can play my part in getting them back on track.”
Q: YOU’RE STARTING 43RD TOMORROW. YOU HAVE A FULL DAY AHEAD OF YOU.
“Yeah, I said to the guys right now to forget about lap times, make it comfortable because I’m going to have to be aggressive to drive past some cars. And, we might not have the fastest piece tomorrow, because we’re going to set it up to be more comfortable, so I can race it well. We’re going to have to be smart out there. I want to finish the race for them, and get them some momentum.”
Q: WHAT YOUR THOUGHTS ON WATKINS GLEN INTERNATIONAL?
“I’ve had very little experience here; I raced the Nationwide car here last year. It’s a great track. It’s an old-school track. It’s rough, it’s got some good banking and high-speed corners, so it’s a lot of fun.”
Q: YOU HAVE ONE OF THE FASTEST CARS TODAY, BUT WILL BE STARTING FROM THE BACK TOMORROW. WILL PATIENCE BE A PROBLEM?
“Well, I’m not very patient anyway, so we’re in trouble.”
RESULTS: Zippo 200 at Watkins Glen International
Race 24 in the 2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series
1. #59 Marcos Ambrose
2. #92 Kyle Busch
3. #17 Matt Kenseth
4. #33 Kevin Harvick
5. #40 Dario Franchitti
6. #88 Brad Keselowski
7. #20 Joey Logano
8. #38 Jason Leffler
9. #6 David Ragan
10. #27 Brad Coleman
RESULTS: Nationwide Qualifying
1. #40 Dario Franchitti 1:12.696
2. #55 Robby Gordon 1:13.078
3. #48 Jimmie Johnson 1:13.105
4. #32 Denny Hamlin 1:13.188
5. #88 Brad Keselowski 1:13.300
6. #33 Kevin Harvick 1:13.328
7. #92 Kyle Busch 1:13.443
8. #12 Sam Hornish, Jr. 1:13.446
9. #22 Ryan Newman 1:13.611
10. #64 Max Papis 1:13.734
12. #59 Marcos Ambrose 1:13.861
2008 NASCAR Nationwide Series Standings – After Race 24 of 35
1. Clint Bowyer 3448
2. Brad Keselowski 3320
3. Carl Edwards 3274
4. David Reutimann 3158
5. David Ragan 3147
6. Mike Bliss 3068
7. Kyle Busch 3003
8. Mike Wallace 2845
9. Jason Leffler 2784
10. Marcos Ambrose 2776
RESULTS: Sprint Cup Series Final Practice
1. #48 Jimmie Johnson 72.405
2. #7 Robby Gordon 72.420
3. #21 Marcos Ambrose 72.579
4. #29 Kevin Harvick 72.602
5. #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr 72.735
6. #24 Jeff Gordon 72.866
7. #20 Tony Stewart 72.915
8. #12 Ryan Newman 72.953
9. #2 Kurt Busch 72.957
10. #11 Denny Hamlin 72.981
RESULTS: Sprint Cup Series Practice 2
1. #21 Marcos Ambrose 72.598
2. #48 Jimmie Johnson 72.886
3. #42 Juan Pablo Montoya 72.904
4. #11 Denny Hamlin 72.918
5. #12 Ryan Newman 72.984
6. #16 Greg Biffle 73.023
7. #10 Patrick Carpentier 73.031
8. #29 Kevin Harvick 73.055
9. #19 Elliott Sadler 73.056
10. #70 Max Papis 73.083
STARTING LINE-UP: Sprint Cup Series at Watkins Glen
1. #18 Kyle Busch 1st in 2008 Owner’s points
2. #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr 2nd in 2008 Owner’s points
3. #99 Carl Edwards 3rd in 2008 Owner’s points
4. #48 Jimmie Johnson 4th in 2008 Owner’s points
5. #31 Jeff Burton 5th in 2008 Owner’s points
6. #24 Jeff Gordon 6th in 2008 Owner’s points
7. #9 Kasey Kahne 7th in 2008 Owner’s points
8. #16 Greg Biffle 8th in 2008 Owner’s points
9. #20 Tony Stewart 9th in 2008 Owner’s points
10. #11 Denny Hamlin 10th in 2008 Owner’s points
43. #21 Marcos Ambrose 43rd in 2008 Owner’s points