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Ambrose ready for slower, more difficult Sonoma

June 20, 2012, Joe Menzer, NASCAR.com



Ambrose ready for slower, more difficult Sonoma
After setting fastest qualifying lap in 25 years, looking for redemption in Calif.

Just when Marcos Ambrose was getting used to going faster than everyone else and turning left on an oval, it's time to slow down and throw in some right-hand turns on a road course.

Perhaps no one in NASCAR is better equipped to handle the transition.

Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports, won the pole for last Sunday's Quicken Loans 400 with a lap of 203.241 miles per hour that not only was a record at Michigan International Speedway, but also was NASCAR's fastest qualifying lap in 25 years.

""We feel great about Sonoma. We feel great about our team. Our team has come strides since this time last year and we're getting stronger and stronger as a group. We are working well together and it is exciting times."

--MARCOS AMBROSE

"That's going to sound great at the bar when you have had about six too many," Ambrose said. "It is good bragging rights, I will give it that."

Ambrose followed the record-breaking qualifying run with a ninth-place finish in the race that was his third top-10 finish of the season. He had hoped the pole-winning effort was going to translate into an even better finish, perhaps even a victory, at Michigan. But now he's gearing up for Sunday's decidedly different challenge -- going from a fast, 2-mile oval to the tight turns, narrow, short straightaways and up-and-down elevation that comprises the tricky road course at Sonoma.

Sound Off: Ambrose explains the challenges of Sonoma

No one needs to remind Ambrose he almost won at the track two years ago -- in fact, he should have and likely would have won had he not shut off his engine to save fuel and then encountered difficulty re-firing it under a late caution. The mistake cost him what would have been his first Sprint Cup victory at the time (watch video).

Ambrose made up for that somewhat when he finally reached Victory Lane last August in the Cup race at Watkins Glen International, the only other road course on NASCAR's top national touring series. But now he wants more. He wants to capture more road-course victories, of course, but he also wants to win more than a single pole on the ovals as well.

"I promised myself after winning Watkins Glen that I was going to win on an oval before I got to the next road course race because I wanted to get that monkey off my back and prove to the world that I'm an oval driver and road-course racer," Ambrose said.

Ambrose admitted the pressure was on, then, at Michigan and he came up short. But he feels great about his chances at Sonoma, where a victory also could put him squarely in the hunt for one of the wild-card spots in the Chase that go to the drivers with the most victories who are highest in the point standings between 11th and 20th after 26 races. Ambrose currently sits 17th in points.

"We feel great about Sonoma. We feel great about our team," Ambrose said. "Our team has come strides since this time last year and we're getting stronger and stronger as a group. We are working well together and it is exciting times. I have been on a team like this before where you continue to improve and it is limitless when you get the ingredients right. I'm excited to be a part of that."

Asked to describe what makes Sonoma such a challenge even for a road course expert such as himself, Ambrose added: "Sonoma is a very twisty, tight, narrow race track with a lot of elevation change. These cars are dinosaurs as far as race cars go. They've got way too much power -- nearly 900 horsepower -- they don't have enough tire drift, they're too heavy and they don't have enough brakes.

"So as a race car driver, these cars are really hard to handle and you really have to manhandle those cars around the race track. They're not going to give you a lap time; it's not going to drive itself. You have to basically take it by the scruff of the neck and force it to go around. You're fighting physics at that point when you've got a car that heavy and that powerful, and it's really hard to get it around a tight and twisty road course. It's a tough assignment."

If he can get to Victory Lane, Ambrose's sponsors will donate $1 million to Children's Miracle Network Hospitals. Even if he can't, sponsors Stanley and ACE Hardware will team with the hospital network to donate at least $100,000.

"There's nothing like added pressure, of course, and to win a race and $1 million for sick kids is definitely up there to as far as increasing the stakes of just trying to win the race," Ambrose said. "We did this last year and came up a little bit short, so I'm doubly determined this year to try and win the race and help those kids and help our race team see the success that we all hope for. ... We've got a huge effort this weekend to raise awareness for them and shed a bit of sunshine on their day. They're having a tough time, so we're going go to a children's hospital on Thursday and bring a race car out there and do some pit stops for them. We've also got some carnival activities to give them a bit of fun and help them try to forget about why they're in the hospital in the first place."