Ambrose loses cool, regroups, then wins pole
August 10, 2013, Kristen Boghosian, NASCAR.com
Road course vet didn't have the highest confidence in his car, but his team got it to where it needed to be
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WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- Marcos Ambrose thanked his pit crew in every possible answer during post-qualifying interviews. He didn't believe in the car he practiced in during opening practice sessions at Watkins Glen International, even though it earned him position to qualify in the final group. His discomfort made him "lose his cool" on Friday, he admitted.
"I was just frustrated with the second practice,” he said. “It just didn't feel like we made enough progress and I was just worried for the race and for qualifying. I know we were fast during the practice, but I just didn't feel like it was feeling right for me."
The two rain-shortened and delayed practices only added to Ambrose’s stress level, which, in turn, should have added more stress to the team. Instead, the yellow No. 9 strode into Victory Lane bearing a driver with a much different attitude.
"They did a good job to calm me down and not overreact to what I was saying and made some small adjustments for today and they've worked out really well, so we were just short on time yesterday," Ambrose said. "…It's an emotional thing and you work together as a team. I had a bad afternoon, but the guys regrouped around me and supported me and I came back and delivered for them today, so it's a good thing for us to be able to have that communication."
The starting position for the Stanley/DeWalt Ford will be Ambrose's third career pole and first at The Glen. His lap of 68.777 seconds at a speed of 128.241 mph broke the track qualifying record of 127.02 mph set by Juan Pablo Montoya in 2012. With two victories on the road course as well, Ambrose comes to the track as a heavy favorite -- even among his fellow drivers. Jeff Gordon reasoned what hinders Ambrose most of the season may be a help on the 2.45-mile track.
"What makes him so good, not to mention his road racing experience over the years, is his aggressiveness," Gordon told the NASCAR Wire Service. "He’s just so aggressive. While I think sometimes that holds him back on the ovals, it pays off big time here. That’s going to be tough to beat."
Clint Bowyer, often a joker in the media center, took a broader view of why Ambrose is the driver to catch this weekend.
"Well, his background is in road racing," Bowyer answered matter-of-factly. "We don't even have curved roads in Kansas… we have gravel roads. It's literally go to the end of the mile; if you're lost, go a mile and turn left or right, and another mile.”
"Apparently they have a lot of road racing in Australia. I've never been there before, but I've watched some of those cars that he grew up in… I don't think they have a lot of circle tracks there. Hence, why you wouldn't expect a pole on an oval," Bowyer added sarcastically. "Would you think? I mean, it's just 101."
It hasn't been so simple for Ambrose. While his two wins at The Glen show his strength here, he was yet to win a pole before Saturday. He started fifth last year, and his concern after Friday’s practices belied his qualifying run.
“For anyone that wanted to look at the stats, this has not been the best qualifying track for me, so I’m proud of today. I think that getting the pole was awesome," Ambrose said. "The car certainly felt great and felt like it was up to the challenge, so I think that bodes really well for tomorrow. …We just have to see how it plays out. There are no guarantees in racing."
In five starts at Watkins Glen -- the track where he had his first Sprint Cup win -- Ambrose has the best average finish at 2.000. While Ambrose is proud of his road racing background, with eight top-10 starts on a tour with only two road course stops, he is quick to remind he doesn’t just have skills where right turns are involved.
"I'm actually not a road ringer because I do the Sprint Cup Series full time, so I know these cars well, I know the competition well. ...I use all those skills to my advantage, and days like today really make me feel good about what I'm doing and what our team's doing for the future."
For now, Ambrose’s team is working with their driver to make him as comfortable in the car as possible -- even if he may have temporarily had more frustration than faith in them.
“I had a bad afternoon, but the guys regrouped around me and supported me and I came back and delivered for them today, so it’s a good thing for us to be able to have that communication,” Ambrose said. “It’s not cool that you can get upset, but it’s good that we can get it back together and keep the whole program moving forward. That’s what racing is all about.”