Ambrose still looking for oval answer
February 02, 2013, Kenny Bruce, NASCAR.com
If Marcos Ambrose has grown weary of the question, he hides it well.
One of NASCAR’s most talented road-course racers, Ambrose has yet to deliver for his Richard Petty Motorsports team on the oval tracks that dominate the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series landscape.
Almost as soon as he won his first Cup race -- at Watkins Glen International in 2011 -- the question arose. Can he win on an oval?
Ambrose, now twice a winner at the Glen, says he can and insists he will. It’s the “when” that’s a bit unknown.
He’s closer than ever as he enters the 2013 season, he said.
"Short tracks are our bogey tracks -- we’ve got to really work on that for 2013 and get better there."
-- Marcos Ambrose
“I’ve just got to wait until the (Daytona) 500, that’s all,” said Ambrose, the driver of the No. 9 RPM Ford. “I’ve already got my name on the trophy. We’re ready.”
Maybe it happens in the season-opening race, slated for Feb. 24, and maybe it doesn’t, but where better than in the season’s premier event?
“We’ve got opportunities every single week,” Ambrose, 36, said. “We ran great on intermediates (last year), we have done that as a company for a couple of years. We’ve run good on superspeedways; road courses are always really good for us. Short tracks are our bogey tracks -- we’ve got to really work on that for 2013 and get better there.
“We can win any week, and we need to feel that way to be competitive.”
Stability has been as much of a concern as anything for the RPM group, which was under financial duress in previous years. Able to weather that particular storm, the bigger issue of late has been simply being competitive on the track. To that end, a personnel shake-up late in the 2012 season saw veteran Todd Parrott move from the No. 9 team to that of teammate Aric Almirola. Mike Ford, who had overseen Almirola’s No. 43 entry since April 30, was named crew chief for Ambrose.
Less than two months after the swap, which included crews as well as crew chiefs, Drew Blickensderfer replaced Ford. The initial changes hurt his own team, Ambrose said, “but we’ve come through all that.”
His 18th-place points finish was seemingly short on highlights and long on disappointment, with the bright spot being the lone win at the Glen, followed by consecutive fifth-place finishes at Michigan International Speedway and Bristol Motor Speedway. Ambrose did not finish higher than 12th in the remaining dozen races, but did qualify on the outside of the front row at Homestead-Miami Speedway at season’s end, and led 14 laps before finishing 13th.
Looking past the statistics and considering what Ambrose has seen from the inside, “I think as a company we’re a lot stronger,” he said. “I’ve got Drew … as my crew chief; to get him into our team has been a huge plus. We’re lucky to have him.
“We’re a pretty tight-knit group (and) we need to keep that run going that we finished with in 2012.”
Petty, the series’ leader in career victories, has been less than successful since stepping out of the car two decades ago. Former RPM driver Kasey Kahne remains the only Chase participant for the organization, finishing 10th in 2009.
Petty said he believes better days are ahead as well, and that last year’s late-season changes showed promise and hinted at potential.
“We thought we qualified better; we ran better in some of the races,” Petty said. “Some of the finishes might not have been better but sometimes that’s our fault.
“I kind of hated to see the season end because we felt like we were finally getting our feet on the ground and getting going.”
Ambrose said the organization has “all the resources in place,” highlighted by the addition of Blickensderfer. A former Roush Fenway Racing crew chief, Blickensderfer helped guide Matt Kenseth to back-to-back wins in the 2009 Daytona 500 and Auto Club 500 while at RFR, and won again at Daytona in July of 2011 with RFR driver David Ragan.
“We’ve turned a corner and have Drew on board, I feel really great about that,” Ambrose said. “He’s a similar age to me. Very similar in chemistry and the way we go about our business. I’m lucky to have him.”
And that’s because once you get past the resources, the cars, engines and other assorted parts and pieces that make up the sport, “racing is all about people,” Ambrose said. “A team is nothing without good people.”
As for winning on an oval?
“It’s coming this year. It needs to; it’s time,” he said. “If we can win on an oval and win on a road course … we’ve got a chance to make the Chase (for the NASCAR Sprint Cup) just on wins alone. We know we can’t rely on the road courses just to make the Chase, we’ve got to win somewhere else and 2013 is the year it’s got to be done.”