Marcos Ambrose is the man of the moment in NASCAR after his remarkable last lap victory at Watkins Glen.
The victory has given has the Australian a lot of local attention, but more importantly, a huge chance at making ‘The Chase.’
This weekend, NASCAR returns to Michigan for the second time in 2012. On Ambrose’s last visit to the track in June, he sat on the pole with a track record qualifying lap of 203.241mph and finished ninth.
Ambrose was subject of NASCAR’s weekly teleconference. Here is what he had to say …
QUESTION: Marcos, I understand what you’re saying about getting the win, that really being what you need to do to get into the Chase. I’m wondering if you could speak a little bit about not only would that be huge for you but it would mean three top 10s in a row which isn’t something you’ve had a lot of the last couple years. It feels like there’s some momentum there. If you would speak to that.
AMBROSE: Yeah, I mean, we have to be careful because we’ve just come off a road race. Top 10s for me at road races are the normal. That’s what’s expected.
We had a good one at Pocono to get a top 10 there. We have momentum, there’s no doubt about that. We’ve got to keep that going.
But our team has had a lot of really great runs this year, we’ve had a lot of speed. We’ve had trouble converting that speed into results. Small issues, mechanical problems, driver error, wrong strategy, you name it we’ve done it. We have to stop all that.
Our focus has to be being aggressive on our strategy, being aggressive with the car, and me on the racetrack being aggressive, too, trying to get that next win. Without that we’re just going to be racing for 15th, 16th in the championship. That’s not what we’re after. We’re after more than that.
It’s exciting for us to be in this position. After the lead-up to Watkins Glen was, Okay, we’re in striking distance, but we need to make some strikes. Definitely winning at Watkins Glen helped us get some momentum and definitely gets us closer to where we want to be, but there’s a lot of work to be done yet.
QUESTION: You mentioned that your father was not feeling well. I wanted to see how things were with him.
AMBROSE: Yeah, he was in Tasmania, Australia. It’s the middle of wintertime down there. A lot of stuff going around. He got himself a kidney infection. He checked himself out of hospital to go home and watch the race. I think he’s doing really well. He hasn’t checked himself back into hospital. I think he’s going to be on the road to full recovery and he’s going to be just fine. I spoke to him last night and he sounds really good.
QUESTION: I wanted to find out at what point during that final lap did it occur to you that it might be a little slipperier than normal out there with the oil?
AMBROSE: Well, for me it was probably four laps to go I started really struggling with my car. It was inconsistent. I thought I had a tire going down. I could see that Kyle was slipping away. I was getting pressure from Brad Keselowski from behind. I think that was the start of the issues for me.
Once we got to about two laps to go, I could see the other cars start to slide around a lot as well. I thought, man, this race, it’s going to come to us here, anyone can win it.
We got down to the final lap, the track was getting pretty nasty. There was a lot of oil you couldn’t see.
The car would take off on you and you couldn’t really predict when it was going to happen. I knew it was anyone’s race at that point.
It was really a lap and a half to go I realized this was anyone’s race.
QUESTION: Brad Keselowski has two second-place finishes on the road courses. Has he ever come to you for advice?
AMBROSE: No, I don’t think he needs to. He’s getting really hard to beat these days. Even if he did come and ask me, I probably wouldn’t give him a straight answer.
He’s a great road racer, as is Kyle Busch. There’s a whole lot of Cup regulars you cannot discount on those road courses. They are seriously talented drivers, can drive anything at any track at any time.
Brad has done a great job. I feel like I’ve stolen two wins away from him at Watkins Glen the last two years. He’ll get his turn. This race on Sunday was all about the No. 9 Stanley team. That’s the way we want to keep it.
QUESTION: Are you bringing the same car back to Michigan and how realistic is it for you to keep the speed up?
AMBROSE: We’re really optimistic about this weekend, think we got a great shot at it. Really, really excited about our chances there.
We need to win another race to make the Chase. There’s no easier formula than if you’re not first, you’re last. That’s the way we’re approaching this weekend and the next three. We have to go out there on full attack mode, really concentrating on car speed, being aggressive in our strategies, to try to get us that next win.
QUESTION: I had a conversation with a driver about how it always seems that some guys were really good at saving fuel and other guys weren’t necessarily, maybe had to try to do things to work on it. He’s one of those who wasn’t very good. He said that it seemed to him with the fuel injection, it’s not as much of an issue anymore. Maybe it was more about tuning the car, carburetor and whatnot, rather than a specific skill being the difference. Do you have any thoughts on that?
AMBROSE: Yeah, I guess there is definitely technique in saving fuel. There’s no computer system in the car that’s telling you if you’re doing a good or bad job. You just have to learn from experience. Experience usually comes from running out of gas a few times to work out where you’re weak, what you need to work on.
The manufacturers of the engines, the car engine builders, they’re allowed to see what’s happening to those engines through the EFI data. They can really tell, okay, different drivers with different techniques that is making it easier for the drivers to learn what works well and what doesn’t work as far as saving fuel goes.
But it’s still very, very difficult to gauge how much fuel you’re using, how much fuel you have in the car when you do your pit stops. It’s very much a gray area for us to work under. You don’t know how full you got the car when you pitted. You don’t really know how much the can weighed at the end, if you had any fuel slash, so fuel went on the ground and doesn’t get weighed. Then the drivers have to get a feel for how much fuel they’re saving.
All those things under the pressure of a race environment make it very, very challenging for the teams and drivers to make the right choices on how they’re going on their fuel mileage.
I feel personally at Watkins Glen we weren’t going to make it on two stops from the get-go. We committed to a three-stop strategy and built our race around that.
QUESTION: It seems as if every year there’s a case of either driver and team or team and manufacturer, there’s a situation where they have to work together even though they know they’re going to split at the end of the season. We’re seeing that this year with Matt Kenseth and Penske with Dodge. Is that difficult? Is it a challenge? What sort of things go into that driving with a team knowing you’re not going to be with them in a few months?
AMBROSE: That’s a really tough position to be in. All the team players, drivers, crew chief, team owners, I mean they have to be respectful of each other to finish off the job the right way.
A couple seasons ago I was in that position with JTG Racing, knew I wasn’t going to return the following season. Knew the 10 or 12 races we had to go we had to work really hard. I worked really hard at being as committed as you needed to be, and the team committed to me. That’s what makes our sport challenging is that nothing stays the same forever. It keeps moving, shifting, things happen.
I guess we all have to be big boys, be respectful of each other, knowing that we’re dealing with people’s careers, livelihoods, families, all affected by changes. You want to do things the right way and it takes effort to do that.
QUESTION: You seemed to have success with it at times. Did you find anything that worked? Was there a way that you found to avoid any sort of awkwardness and get the results?
AMBROSE: Well, I think you had to be honest and factual and truthful at all times if you can. If you get any doubt or you feel like you’re being double-crossed, you feel like you’re not being told the whole truth, that’s when trouble starts.
So my objective in life is to be a good dad, a good husband, and a good person. For me being a stand-up guy, straight-shooter, if you like, is the only way to go. That’s how I approached my world with JTG when it was changing, and I feel like (indiscernible) the family and also the team did the same coming back to me. I think that’s how things work really well and be respectful of each other, everybody’s objectives and goals and what they’re trying to do.
QUESTION: Marcos, I don’t know if you’ve had to be around your team since the win. I’m curious if you have any sort of feeling of how different is the feeling this week when you know you have a shot to make the Chase compared to a week ago where you knew maybe making the Chase was a little bit longer of a shot?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, sure, I mean, it really helps that we’re having this discussion because we’re all talking about it as a team. It’s starting to sink in. We’ve won another race. It’s our first this season. It gives ourselves a chance to make the Chase. It’s very exciting for us.
We’ve got to stay really focused. The question that keeps coming back to my mind again and again and again is, just like I did this time last year, you know, I can be so commanding and in control on a road course race, competitive all weekend. We knew going into that weekend we had a chance to win and pulled it off. How do we get that same mindset, feeling and result on ovals? How do we do it straightaway?
Part of my chitchat with the team, I had lunch with them today, had a breakfast with them as well, part of a Sprint package when you win they give you breakfast, which is awesome. Had a chance to chat with them. Had a chance to look at the racecar we used for Watkins Glen, the changes we would make going back.
Most of our talking has been about how we’re going to make the Chase, what we have to do with the team to get there. That’s what we’re focused on. I’m excited about it. Like every week in NASCAR, things are changing, things are moving. Just because you win a race last week doesn’t change anything we’re doing. We really have to keep applying ourselves and hopefully get it right here at Michigan to take the pressure off of the last three races.
QUESTION: Was this maybe one of the reasons why you aren’t doing Montral, thinking you might be in Chase contention? Were you not able to put something together for it?
AMBROSE: No, we’re not that smart to make a decision like that. It just really is the way it’s worked out for us.
I would have done the Montral race. But we didn’t have the same level of support to go back and do that event as we did last year. So, you know, just wasn’t on the schedule.
I plan to watch the Montral race from the comfort of my motor coach up in Michigan. That’s probably how I’ll do it, and feel good about that. I’ve got a chance here to make the Chase. It’s down to me, down to my team to do it. We’ve got the tools. We just have to apply ourselves and get it right.
I think being fully focused on that is the key.
QUESTION: How much confidence does the win give your team?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, it gives us a lot of confidence. Absolutely it gives the team confidence. As a racecar driver, you tend to be a pretty nervous individual. You always feel like the world is on your shoulders, you have to really deliver.
You get a win, feel that breath of fresh air, really we’re going to use that to really try to make these last four races before the Chase a fun time for us with a lot of upside if we have the weekend that we hope for.
QUESTION: What are your thoughts about Dodge leaving NASCAR?
AMBROSE: Well, as a NASCAR fan, it’s disappointing to lose a manufacturer. It’s been great that we’ve had four manufacturers in our sport for such a long time. I can understand the reasons. There was a lot of talking about what RPM are doing. We can really focus on the rest of 2013 knowing what Dodge are up to. We can solidify the deal with RPM to move forward in 2013.
I think it’s good it’s all out in the open, good that Dodge made the decision. As a race fan I’m disappointed they didn’t want to stay in the sport. I hope they come back soon on behalf of NASCAR and everybody at Dodge, they really helped make the sport what it is. We enjoyed our time racing against them and beating them on occasions.
QUESTION: Can you explain to the race fans how you get your mind all set up after coming off a course like Watkins Glen now going to a fast track like Michigan? Does it all come back to you? Being on a totally different track, do you run a few laps before you get that feeling back in you?
AMBROSE: Well, at the Sprint Cup level you have to be ready on the very first lap of practice. I think all the drivers will switch straight into Michigan super high-speed oval mode on the first lap and get after it. We’re all pro racecar drivers. We have a good feel behind the wheel. We know what’s going on.
I don’t expect any concerns about switching from road racing onto ovals. It’s a different discipline, no doubt about it. You’ve got to really carry so much speed on these high-speed ovals. You’ve got to know what you’re doing at those speeds to get the car around, especially in the first few laps when you get back to a track like Michigan.
I don’t see any troubles. We’re all pro racers out there. We know what we’re doing. From the first practice, you’re really working on the car setup and your technique to try to get ready for the race, and that won’t change.
QUESTION: Marcos, after the race Brad Keselowski said, This is racing as it should be. Is it realistic to think with all the points on the line, that that can be racing as it is?
AMBROSE: I think that lap was one of the best laps of my racing career. I’m sure Brad will tell you the same thing. It was just a thrill to be in that position, to be able to duke it out for a Sprint Cup win in those conditions.
It’s meant to be the toughest sport in the world, in racing, and it is. I know it was a safety issue that some drivers said about the randomness of not knowing where the oil was, not being able to see it. I’ve raced on road courses where there’s been 10, 15 cars broken down on the side of the road, rubber and oil still on the track late in a long-distance race, and they keep that race running to crown the winner worthy of the day.
Definitely at Watkins Glen you had the fastest three cars of the race duking it out for the win on the last lap. That’s the way it should be.
QUESTION: At this point in the year where you’re needing wins, people can gamble. With points racing the way it is, is it unrealistic to think that drivers can be that aggressive and take that many chances for a full season?
AMBROSE: Well, for me there was less risk of not finishing that race, finishing the way we did, compared to a green-white-checkered finish on a side-by-side restart.
Kyle spun out and still finished seventh. If he would have spun out on a green-white-checkered restart, he would have finished 23rd or 24th. For me, as far as gambling goes, the side-by-side restarts on a green-white-checkered is as big a gamble as you would ever want to take. I disagree with you a little bit, but we all have our opinions.
QUESTION: The #9 and #2 team were so thrilled by the ending, they were high-fiving each other. I don’t know if you were aware of that, but that doesn’t happen very often. Could you make a comment on that.
AMBROSE: Well, firstly, it shows you what kind of guy Brad Keselowski is. What a stand-up guy. He came over to my team down pit lane, was high-fiving my crew for us winning the race off him.
He’s a great person, a great racecar driver, and a huge talent. I think firstly, being so gracious in defeat is a credit to Brad and the guy he is.
As far as our team goes, we were just thrilled to be in the mix there at the end, to win the race, to get the victory for Richard Petty. Just a dream come true for us again there at Watkins Glen.
Yeah, it was exceptional circumstances the end of that race, and I think that last lap was as good a last lap as you’ll ever see. To have two teams celebrating their drivers like they did, that was great. That’s what racing should be.
We race under a lot of pressure. We have a lot at stake out there. We race for a lot of money. We have a lot of pressure from the sponsors, fans, TV ratings. With a finish like that, it was more a sense of just general relief and jubilation that we made it to the checkered flag.
QUESTION: Does a win like that wear off right away? Is the team still pretty up as far as coming off that win?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, our team’s up, no doubt about it. Wins are hard to come by at the Sprint Cup level. Whenever you get them, you need to savor them as long as you can.
There’s a race coming up this weekend at Michigan. We’re getting our car ready for it. There isn’t a lot of time to sit back and relax. You’ve got to stay on your game and keep moving forward. This weekend’s race, it’s as big a race as what Watkins Glen was. Probably more at stake now. We got ourselves a chance to make the Chase. We really have to deliver on that. You don’t know what’s around the corner.
I think the moment in time of a Sunday like we had, Richard Petty in Victory lane, my good friends from Stanley were there, Jack Roush from Ford and Doug Yates were celebrating with us. To be able to be there with my team in Victory Lane, with my family, too, a special day, a special moment in time. It’s those snapshots in time that really make a career. It’s only a few fleeting moments of success over a long period of duress is what racing is generally about so you have to enjoy the good times.
QUESTION: Iowa Speedway last couple weeks, following the Nationwide race, some people said they need a Cup race. Would you like to see Iowa get one if they make the proper improvements?
AMBROSE: That’s a good question.
I think a lot of the racetracks that NASCAR Sprint Cup goes to, they work really well. You have to keep looking at new venues, find out where the crowd likes the races.
Is not for the drivers to really choose what tracks should or should not be on the schedule. I think the track up there is fantastic. But NASCAR has to go where they feel they’re going to reach the most fans and put on the best racing.
I’m going to dodge that question the best I can because it’s not really the drivers’ choice to decide where they want to race.
QUESTION: With the pole last time at Michigan, knowing that you ran really well there last time, does that add any pressure to you or your crew?
AMBROSE: I don’t think it adds pressure. It probably relieves a bit of stress going to the track. You don’t really know what you got until you get started in practice, then you can start formulating how your weekend’s going to look, what to expect from it.
So we know we had a good car there in the first race. It was as fast as anybody’s. We ran top five the majority of the day until some issues late. I think that’s really where we need to focus. We need to focus on where we left and get our car just that little bit better that we can pull away from the pack.