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With spin out, Ambrose's Chase chances wrecked

August 12, 2013, Kristen Boghosian, NASCAR.com

Driver couldn't take advantage of road-course races

WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- As the laps went on in the Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International, Marcos Ambrose looked indestructible. His No. 9 DeWalt Ford dominated the first 51 laps of the race, leading the pack and springing ahead on each restart. The day before, Ambrose’s team had taken a car the driver was unhappy with and turned it into a race-winning car.

But by the time a caution hit later in the race, Ambrose was left with a car he wasn't sure about, and the Aussie road racing veteran restarted 14th with 27 laps to go. What appeared to be minor involvement in a wreck that took out Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. turned out to be a much bigger problem than anticipated.

“I’m just really disappointed for my Stanley team,” Ambrose said. “Something was wrong with the car there and I just couldn’t get going. I could feel on the roll-around lap that something had broken, but I just feel bad for the guys who got caught up in all that mess. That’s not the way we wanted our day to finish.”

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Ambrose was unable to weave through traffic once he fell back, and stagnated there until he began noticing issues with his car. The driver had expressed concern over a tire before the restart, but after some discussion and examining the car from a distance, the team decided to continue without pitting to better judge the situation.

“I thought something was wrong,” Ambrose said. “I was talking to the guys about it on the radio and we decided to stay out there just to see if it was gonna be drivable, but it wasn’t. I was in the way heading up to the hill and got dumped by somebody. I’m not sure who it was and I just ended up in the fence.”

Ambrose spun and hit the wall head-on, with more damage to his car than could be repaired in the remaining laps. After tossing down the window net and exiting the remains of the yellow and black No. 9, Ambrose threw his helmet and neck support into his car and sat on the rail before being summoned to the ambulance to the care center, as is mandatory when a driver wrecks.

His departure from the race with six laps to go left the No. 9 with a 31st-place finish. Ambrose came into the race with the Coors Light Pole position on a track where he feels very comfortable and had a car he believed was capable of winning.

“When you go road racing, it’s more about just getting the car even and not doing anything crazy… for me, when you go road racing it’s not so much about setting the car up to the very edge, it’s more about just making it easy to drive and then I’ll do the rest.”

As that easily maneuverable car began to get away from Ambrose, so did his opportunity at winning three races in a row at a track where he is a favorite. But the bigger issue the team now faces is the result’s impact on their hopes in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.

A win would have bumped Ambrose up in the standings -- likely to 20th with 548 points -- but more importantly would have put him the third in line for one of the two Wild Card positions, assuming Tony Stewart does not return to his car this season after breaking his leg in a sprint car crash last week. The gap between Ambrose and Ryan Newman would have closed significantly; instead, Newman, the final Wild Card position and Ambrose’s first appearance in the Chase are now 90 points away.

And without a win on either of the season’s road courses -- Ambrose finished seventh at Sonoma -- the team’s strongest tracks have passed. His recent showings at the remaining four tracks don’t bode well for the team. With a 19th-place finish at Bristol, 42nd-place at Richmond and 23rd at Michigan earlier this year, and 17th last year at Atlanta, the team’s biggest opportunity to drive their way into the Chase also has passed them by.

“We put on a strong showing and I’m proud of my Stanley team and everybody at Richard Petty Motorsports for giving me the opportunity to run well,” Ambrose said. “It wasn’t our day, but we’ve had plenty of good days here. We just need to reflect on this and we’ll wake up tomorrow and just press on and go to the next one.”

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