Make it or Break it Weekend for Marcos Ambrose
Marcos Ambrose needs a victory. There is no way around it. In order to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup, he must get rid of the egg in the win column, or he will need to move up a few spots in the standings.
This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series hits the road course in upstate New York. The only track where Ambrose has recorded victories in NASCAR’s top-tier division, Watkins Glen has by far been his top track. In six races at the Glen, Ambrose has five top-fives.
“We both know we have a chance to win this race to lock into the Chase and that is a big thing for our team and would make our year,” Ambrose said in a press conference on Friday morning. “It is an important weekend no doubt. You have to try to downplay that as best as you can coming in. We are excited. We had a good test up here last week and felt like the car was a repeat of last year and we had a fast car last year too. We have our fingers crossed that it comes off the truck here pretty quick and we can get back down to business and work on starting in the front.”
Arguably, this is going to be the most important weekend of the 37-year-old’s NASCAR career. With rumors circling around Roger Penske and Dick Johnson teaming up to form a V8 Supercar team in Ambrose’s home country of Australia, he might just be on the move. Although he claims to have not made a decision on his future, it appears as if he is leaning away from leaving NASCAR competition on a full-time basis unless his Richard Petty Motorsports team can find some consistency before the season concludes.
“It’s going to be up to Marcos. I don’t know if he’s made a complete decision as far as where he is going to be. I know he wants to run some, but I don’t know if he wants to run all the time or not. We ain’t got a clue yet,” said team co-owner Richard Petty. “It (the season) is a little bit better than it was last year. We got a long way to go. We have one car in the Chase, but we still have to run well. Just because you are in the Chase doesn’t mean much.”
If he opts not to return to full-time competition in NASCAR, Petty said the team might run him on a part-time basis. The V8 Supercar season starts around the same time that the NASCAR season does, but the season continues on until early December – leaving very few options for Ambrose if he wants to do both.
“You know what you need from the race car to get to victory lane and that inner confidence to do what you need to do,” Ambrose said. “My past history is no guarantee at the future. That is the way I look at it. Each weekend is unique to itself and this weekend in particular, already there are some different angles that we haven’t had to deal with before like the new ride height and downforce rules as well as fuel mileage and how that comes into play which will be different compared to last year.”
In a wild race at the Pocono Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr. was able to come out on top once again. After taking the victory in the June race at the 2.5-mile triangular-shaped speedway, Earnhardt Jr. was able to capture his third victory of 2014 in Sunday afternoon’s GoBowling.com 400.
Leading 14 laps on Sunday, he was able to take the lead at just the right time. With less than 15 laps remaining in the 160-lap race, Earnhardt Jr. passed Greg Biffle to take the top position. However, Kurt Busch hit the wall with just eight laps to go – forcing a late-race restart that created an added level of excitement to the race. The victory is his third of the season – marking the most he has recorded since 2004 when he had six triumphs.
"Steve's strategy was perfect at the end and I don't know if anybody knew what was going on, but that was pretty awesome. I can't believe we swept Pocono. I think the 24 had a great car. The 41 was fast all weekend, but we definitely went home from the last race and made our car better. They went back and didn't sit on what we had. They wanted to get better, faster cars so we didn't have to rely on luck to win," Earnhardt Jr. said after the race.
Besides marking his first multi-win year since that 2004 season, this is the first time the 39-year-old has swept the races at a track in one season since Talladega of 2002. This is also the fifth straight victory at Pocono Raceway for Hendrick Motorsports. Heading into the Chase for the Sprint Cup, the No. 88 team will be seeded at the top position if no one else reaches three or more victories leading up to the regular-season finale at Richmond.
“It’s too far from the Chase. This is just a win. It’s a win at Pocono. It’s a great win. It gives you an advantage at Pocono, but if you think it gives you an advantage at Chicago – you are sadly mistaking. You have to go to every race like you are good enough, and if you have that mind set – you need to continue to try to stay ahead. The garage is full of great competitors, and the Chase is going to be something that you have never seen. No one knows how it is going to be. We all have our predictions, so we will so who’s right,” Earnhardt’s crew chief Steve Letarte said.
Kevin Harvick was able to come home in the runner-up position, and gave Earnhardt Jr. a run for his money in the concluding laps of the race. However, he was caught up in a 13-car wreck that took out several contenders. Harvick’s car was damaged in the incident, but it actually helped him move away from a tight condition.
“The left-front splitter was gone,” Harvick said in a post-race press conference. “Both fenders were caved in on the tires. I was loose most of the day and a touch tight in all of the corners. It definitely affected us some, but it definitely made us looser. It wasn’t very much fun before that when it was loose, but it was still really fast.”
Hamlin got loose under Clint Bowyer and saved it, but Brian Vickers got loose as he tried to avoid Hamlin – hitting Kenseth in the process. Tony Stewart went low but got hit from behind and landed on top of Paul Menard’s hood. Brad Keselowski received major right side damage in the accident as his No. 2 team spent multiple minutes trying to fix the damage on pit road. 13 cars were involved in the accident – Aric Almirola, Kenseth, A.J. Allmendinger, Keselowski, Menard, Stewart, Vickers, Justin Allgaier, Hamlin, Michael Annett, Truex Jr., Harvick and Edwards.
“The first one, I got tight off turn one and got in the fence,” Johnson said after the incident. “It pushed the rear quarter panel into the tire and got the first flat, so my bad. There on that one, I am clueless. It didn’t act like a tire went down and I am not exactly sure if it did. Normally when they go down that quick they explode and there was no explosion, the tire did not come apart, it just went straight. We are trying to get in there and look at it, obviously the tire is flat now from the impact.”
“It started far enough ahead of us that we couldn’t see it. We were just coming off of two there and somebody got sideways and started wrecking in front of us and we got caught up in it. I ended up on top of Paul Menard’s hood so it wasn’t where we wanted to end up by any means,” Stewart said.
After the incident, Allmendinger and Almirola attempted to go back on trap although their cars were severely beat up. Allmendinger smashed the wall in Turn 1 to bring out the caution with 21 laps remaining in the race. Greg Biffle took the lead on the restart, but Earnhardt was able to pass him with just 14 to go.
With just 31 laps left in the race, Jamie McMurray started the final green-flag pit sequence after a hectic day for teams in terms of strategy. Multiple drivers came in for two tires, but the majority of the cars on the lead lap took four tires. In order to save fuel in case of the possibility of a green-white-checkered finish, drivers stopped shifting.
On the second lap of the race, Brad Keselowski made an incredible save after nearly getting into the wall coming out of the tunnel turn. As Lap 10 came by, Jimmie Johnson experienced a flat right-rear tire coming off of Turn 1. Johnson came into pit road – forcing his No. 48 team to change up their strategy as they went one lap down. During the caution, multiple teams came down pit road – moving away from their original strategy.
Danica Patrick had problems with her No. 10 Chevrolet early in the race. On Lap 17, she slammed the wall just seconds after she radioed in that she had a tire going down. Patrick went a lap down, and never fully recovered as she finished 30th – four laps down.
Kyle Busch was running inside of the top-10 when the engine on the No. 18 Toyota expired. When that happened, multiple Toyota teams expressed concern for the reliability of their engines. Busch finished in the 42nd position during the Gobowling.com 400 at Pocono.
“Something in between the frame rails just doesn’t want to operate correctly right now and it’s so unfortunate because I thought we had a good car this weekend,” Busch said. “The car in practice was strong and it feel good and we were biding our time here early. We pitted early to get off sequence a little bit to see if we couldn’t do something different than the leaders and it obviously bit us here.”
As McMurray and Kasey Kahne were making green-flag pit stops, Landon Cassill’s No. 40 car collided with the wall. Cassill’s car was done for the day as he came home in the 41st position. The accident spiced up pit strategy even more as some teams came down pit road, while others stayed out.
Jeff Gordon led 63 laps on Sunday afternoon. Just after the halfway mark, Gordon became the first driver in the history of Pocono Raceway to lead 1,000 or more laps. Later in the race, he also led the 24,000th lap of his career.
Gordon continues to hold the championship lead over Earnhardt Jr. by 17 points. Keselowski, Kenseth, Ryan Newman, Johnson, Logano, Edwards, Bowyer and Ky. Busch round out the top-10 in points.
Here are some notables from the GoBowling.com 400:
-Clint Bowyer his third top-five finish of 2014. He made the jump from 10th to ninth in points.
-Joey Logano finished third in Sunday’s event. The top-five marks his eighth of the year, and marks his best finish in a race that he did not win this year.
-Jamie McMurray earned his sixth top-10 finish this year. McMurray raced inside of the top-five throughout the race, but fell to seventh after the final caution flag. He sits 20th in points and is still lacking a win.
-Pole sitter Kyle Larson came home in the 11th position. He was unable to lead a lap, and stayed inside of the top-five for a brief period of time before dropping back on the long runs. Although he was outside of the top-15 at certain points, his crew chief Chris Heroy and he were able to bounce back to earn a solid finish – remaining 12th in points.
-Casey Mears finished in the 12th position during the 400-mile event. Mears was on a strategy similar to McMurray’s as he was racing inside of the top-five in his No. 13 Chevrolet during multiple stages of the race. This is his best finish at a non-restrictor plate track since finishing seventh at Charlotte in 2009.
-The Front Row Motorsports cars of David Gilliland and David Ragan finished 17th and 19th, respectively. This is the first time both cars have finished inside of the top-20 since the pair earned sixth and seventh-place finishes at Talladega in October.
-Ryan Truex finished earned a 20th-place finish. His previous best career finish was 30th at Martinsville Speedway earlier this season. Truex spoke to Speedway Digest after the race: “It’s a big deal. Our car wasn’t very good all day, we just got lucky and Joe (Williams – crew chief) made the right call there. For once nothing broke and everything went our way. That big wreck happened far enough ahead of us, so luckily we were able to stop and after that – we had to save fuel. We had to run around some laps and just save fuel. We just have to get our cars driving better – get them turning and get them to carry more speed in the corners. I think we’re gaining on it. This is our best finish and we have been getting better and better throughout the year.”
-Travis Kvapil finished in the 25th position. His previous best finish of the season was 29th in the June race at Pocono.
-Dave Blaney came home in 26th-place. Blaney was reunited with Tommy Baldwin Racing after starting 2014 in the No. 77 car for Randy Humphrey Racing. The finish marked Blaney’s best result since finishing 25th at Talladega in October.
-Alex Kennedy finished a career-best 28th at Pocono on Sunday while running for Circle Sport Racing.
-There were 15 lead changes with 10 different drivers taking the top spot throughout the 160 laps. Eight caution flags were thrown on Sunday with an average speed of 127.411 mph.
What to Watch for in the Gobowling.com 400 at Pocono Raceway
The NASCAR Sprint Cup Series returns to the Pocono Raceway for the second of a pair of trips this year. In the midst of the Pocono mountains in Pennsylvania, the track has been infamous for its history of having rain within the area on a frequent basis.
This year, it is 50/50 on whether or not the poor weather will show up for Sunday’s Gobowling.com 400. For the second straight year, the company is the title sponsor of the event, and they also have their colors on Aric Almirola’s No. 43 Ford. During Saturday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race, the rain was able to hold off, and the Sun came out for a large portion of the 150-mile spectacle. The forecast is similar for Sunday’s race as 43 Sprint Cup Series teams are prepared to race at the ‘Tricky Triangle’ for 400-miles.
Kyle Larson, the newly turned 22-year-old, set a new track record on Friday afternoon during qualifying for the Gobowling.com 400 at Pocono. Larson led the field to the green flag at Richmond International Raceway, but that was due to qualifying being rained out and set on practice speeds. The pole locked him into the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona International Speedway for next year as it was his first career pole.
After winning the first race at Pocono this year, Dale Earnhardt Jr. is looking to take out the broom stick. Earnhardt Jr. is second in points behind last weekend’s winner Jeff Gordon. After struggling to begin the weekend, the No. 88 team has picked up speed as they were fifth quickest in final practice. With 14 top-10s this year, he will be a factor in Sunday’s event. However, with Gordon coming off of his 90th career victory – he is expected to be strong once again this weekend. He will start fifth in his No. 24 car, but he has been one of the top-three fastest cars over the course of the weekend.
Brad Keselowski was extremely close to winning the June race at the triangular-shaped speedway. But with debris on his grille – Keselowski had to drop back behind Earnhardt Jr. with a handful of laps remaining in the race. On Saturday evening, the former Sprint Cup Series and Nationwide Series champion captured his 30th career race in NASCAR’s second-tier division. He dominated the race at Iowa Speedway – leading 146 of the 250 laps as he held off a hard-charging Michael McDowell after a late-race caution to score the victory. Keselowski flew back to Pocono as he will pull off the double for possibly the final time with Ryan Blaney possibly moving up to that ride in 2015.
Denny Hamlin will be racing without his crew chief Darian Grubb this weekend. Grubb was suspended for six events due to multiple rear firewall covers having issues following a third-place finish at Indianapolis. Hamlin’s replacement crew chief will be Mike Wheeler, whom of which has worked as the No. 11 team’s car chief since 2006. The driver of the No. 11 Toyota won his first pair of races at NASCAR’s highest level at Pocono back in 2006, and has been quick all weekend. Hamlin will start the Gobowling.com 400 from the 13th position, but was ninth in Happy Hour and 15th in Saturday’s first practice session.
Stewart Haas Racing was strong in the June Pocono race. However, none of their four drivers were able to close the deal. Team co-owner Tony Stewart was leading the race, but had a pit road speeding penalty which dropped him back to the 13th position after pacing the field for 24 laps. Kurt Busch was the lone driver from the organization to finish inside of the top-10 after leading five laps in the 160-lap event.
Michael Waltrip Racing is looking for their first win of 2014. Clint Bowyer sits 10th in points and hasn’t finished outside of the top-15 at Pocono since the August race in 2012. His teammate Brian Vickers made his return to Pocono in June – finishing 19th. Moreover, he sits 17th in points and needs a solid run this weekend.
The green flag will take place at 1:05 p.m. ET as NASCAR moved up the start time by 13 minutes due to the pending weather.
The Target Chevrolet will be a moving target for 42 racers on Sunday afternoon. Kyle Larson will lead the field to the green flag for the Gobowling.com 400 at the Pocono Raceway after setting a lap time of 49.063 seconds – a new track record. This is the 15th time in 2014 that a driver has broken a track record in 21 races.
Larson, making his 25th career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start this weekend, won his first career Coors Light Pole Award on Friday afternoon. With rain approaching during qualifying, the No. 42 team was able to improve from the fourth position during the first practice session of the weekend. In doing so, he becomes the first driver to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series pole award after graduating from the Drive for Diversity program. The pole award also locks Larson into the Sprint Unlimited at Daytona in February, and it is the second time this year that a Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates driver will lead the field to the green flag.
“It seems like we are back on track, running inside of the top-10. Hopefully, all of that bad luck is out of the way and we can contend for some wins here. If we can get a win before the Chase – it would be great,” Larson said in a post-qualifying press conference.
Joey Logano barely missed out on Logano’s lap time by just .008 seconds. His runner-up starting position marks the sixth time this season that the No. 22 Ford will start on the front row. Logano’s Team Penske teammate, Brad Keselowski, will start in the third position after being the second quickest car during practice.
During qualifying, Carl Edwards slid up into the wall. The right rear quarter panel of the No. 99 car received cosmetic damage. Due to not being able to complete his second attempt, he will start 26th, which is his third worst start of 2014. Moreover, Edwards’ car also received minor damage while sliding through the infield grass.
“We got knocked out of the top-24 and I think we have a pretty good car here, but we went back out. It just got away from me off of (Turn) 2 and I just blew the rear tires off. We ran the right rear into the fence and then, we had just enough time – I thought we would come down and stab it into the water and get another run. I ran it into the dirt and that just added insult to injury. I don’t think it tore up the front end, but we do have some cosmetic damage in the right rear,” Edwards said after his qualifying run.
After making the second qualifying session by the skin of his teeth, Jimmie Johnson qualified his No. 48 Chevrolet in the 17th spot. Johnson started 20th in the June race at Pocono, but worked his way up through the field until he had a collision on pit road with Marcos Ambrose.
“We’re getting there. We’re getting better. Unfortunately we didn’t make it to that next round, but there is still a practice session tomorrow and then the race on Sunday. And we didn’t have a ton of speed in qualifying when we were here in the spring race, but we raced just fine. So, we clearly wish we were faster, but that’s just how it is,” Johnson said.
With 43 drivers entered for the 400-mile spectacle, no drivers missed the race.
Marcos Ambrose Possibly to Run Part-Time in 2015
It might be a time for change. Marcos Ambrose appears to be leaning on leaving Richard Petty Motorsports for a deal in Australia with Team Penske in a partnership with Dick Johnson.
Prior to racing in NASCAR, Ambrose raced in the Australian V8 Supercar division, and was extremely successful in the process. However, a decision has not been made by the 37-year-old, and the team is set to prepare for the 2015 season.
“It’s going to be up to Marcos. I don’t know if he’s made a complete decision as far as where he is going to be. I know he wants to run some, but I don’t know if he wants to run all the time or not. We ain’t got a clue yet,” said team co-owner Richard Petty in the garage area on Friday afternoon.
With Aric Almirola's victory at Daytona International Speedway, the entire team has high expectations for both drivers. As they move forward, the team hopes to contend for a win. Possibly, his future might be determined based on how the No. 9 Ford races at Watkins Glen next weekend - Ambrose's best track.
“That was just a good deal for all of RPM. It helped the No. 9 car and the 43 team. We know we could do it. Winning breeds winning. Hopefully, this will get everybody up and going.”
This year, Ambrose has two top-fives and four top-10s. But he sits 19th in points with an average finish of 18.6, which ranks as his third best in that category since making the jump to full-time Sprint Cup Series racing in 2009.