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Preview: Ambrose ready to mark off oval win from to-do list

August 19, 2011, Sporting News Wire Service, NASCAR.com

Win at Watkins Glen last Monday has Ambrose eyeing first Chase birth

Marcos Ambrose has said in the past that he would really, really like to win a Sprint Cup race on an oval. The way it looks right now, the road-racing ace from Tasmania will really, really need to win at an oval -- and soon -- if he is going to make this year's Chase.

Can do, Ambrose said. Perhaps as soon as Sunday's Pure Michigan 400 at Michigan International Speedway (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).

"I think that getting the first win out of the way at Watkins Glen was a big load off my shoulders. I've been feeling that pressure for some time, so I hope that I'm able to drive a little more relaxed and a little more freer and the wins will come more often."

--MARCOS AMBROSE

"Ovals is where it's at for me and I think it's only a matter of time before we get one," Ambrose said this week.

Ambrose will start Sunday's race 22nd in points and 83 out of the 10th and final Chase berth which will be awarded on points. So, with just four races remaining until the Chase starts at Chicagoland Speedway, the traditional route to the postseason appears closed to him and his Richard Petty Motorsports team.

But with the points system altered this year to include two wild-card entries -- which will go to drivers ranked 11th-20th who have the most victories -- Ambrose will be a strong contender for a berth if he can win one of the next four races; all of which are on ovals.

Ambrose's victory last weekend on the Watkins Glen road course gave birth to his Chase hopes. For a couple of reasons.

First, there are now only three drivers ahead of him in the wild-card hunt and only one of those, Brad Keselowski, has two wins. A victory at Michigan -- and/or the ovals at Bristol, Atlanta or Richmond thereafter -- would make him a strong contender.

Second, it gave Ambrose momentum and confidence in his quest to get that second victory of the season -- and first oval victory of his career.

"I think that getting the first win out of the way at Watkins Glen was a big load off my shoulders, to finally win in the Sprint Cup Series is huge," Ambrose said. "I've been feeling that pressure for some time, so I hope that I'm able to drive a little more relaxed and a little more freer and the wins will come more often."

Also boding well this weekend at the wide, flat, 2-mile MIS oval for Ambrose are such things as past performance (he's had two top-15 finishes in his last three races at MIS) and use of the FR9 engine that has powered six Ford victories this year.

The FR9 under Ambrose's hood has powered him to big-oval finishes of fourth at in Las Vegas, sixth at Texas and sixth at Charlotte.

He finished 23rd at Michigan earlier this season but still felt pretty good about that run and thinks it will serve him well Sunday.

"We did well there earlier in the year and I feel like we've got a chance to run in the top 10 and contend for another win," he said. "The track gets really wide and the speed is going to fall off in the corners. I have to use the race track and I can't be scared to run up on the fence or down on the apron.

"We've got to have car speed and then manage the aerodynamics so that we don't get stuck out of the draft. I've just got to be smart about how I race this weekend so we have a chance at getting in Victory Lane two weekends in a row."

Who's Hot / Who's Not

Hot
• Brad Keselowski has scored top-10 finishes in the past three races and has finished first or second in the past two. Keselowski has jumped nine positions in the past three races, from 23rd to 14th.
• Carl Edwards has finished in the top 10 in 12 of his 14 starts at Michigan. His 6.21 average finish is tops among active drivers.
• Denny Hamlin has five consecutive top-10s at Michigan, the longest current streak.
• Brian Vickers has finished in the top 10 in his past six Cup races at Michigan.
• Jimmie Johnson has posted top-10 starts in 11 of the past 12 Michigan Cup races.
• David Ragan has dropped from 13th to 23rd in points in the past three races due to finishes of 23rd, 34th and 28th.
• David Reutimann has just one top-10 in his past 10 races.
• Clint Bowyer hasn't finished in the top 10 in his past six Cup starts.
• Kyle Busch has just one top-10 finish in the his past five Michigan Cup starts.
• Jimmie Johnson has just one top-10 in his past six Michigan Cup starts.

And get an oval victory which would allow him to shake the tag of road-racing specialist.

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