Marcos Ambrose is not thought of as an oval racer. Or at least he wasn’t until this season where he’s inching ever closer to winning at tracks that don’t include right hand turns. The Australian driver who joined Richard Petty Motorsports for the 2011 season finished third Sunday at Dover where entering the day he had never finished higher than 14th.
[media-credit name=”Brad Keppel” align=”alignright” width=”230″][/media-credit]“I get good feel on these concrete tracks,” said Ambrose who also finished third at Bristol in March. “Some of the issues for me when I’m having a bad day, I have trouble feeling each tire. I feel like the whole car is slipping around but I can’t feel which one it is. On concrete, steeper banking, vertical load, I think it helps me feel the tires better.”
Keeping the tires under the car would be an important issue on Sunday. Ambrose started 18th after qualifying was rained out and the grid was set by practice speed. But it didn’t take long for many to notice that the No. 9 DeWalt Ford was one to contend with. Upon driving to the top 10 and then the top five, Ambrose gave the dominant cars of Jimmie Johnson and Carl Edwards a run for their money. He would get as high as second but never made it to the lead or led a lap.
“Today was a tough day,” he said. “The track was changing every run throughout the run. The rubber was picking up. My car was getting really slick on that rubber. There wasn’t much you could do. You couldn’t ask for many changes on the car because you knew it was going to be that way all day. You have to keep changing and keep searching.”
The changing track played havoc with many teams. Rain throughout the weekend led to a mostly green conditions. But when rubber did lay down cars began to slide around, something Ambrose fought along with many others. Searching for a line, which wouldn’t make the car loose, became priority. In the end it came down to pit road strategy, much like it did last weekend in Darlington.
Some, including eventually winner Matt Kenseth and second place Mark Martin, took two tires with Ambrose coming off pit road fifth, also with two tires. It proved to be the right call as those who took four were stuck in traffic but those up front had clear sailing. When the race restarted with 34 laps to go, Ambrose quickly climbed back to third where he would eventually finish, marking his best of the year.
He has also moved up two positions in points to 20th with three top 10 and two top five finishes. He’s optimistic about the coming weeks as he continues to impress on tracks he doesn’t have much experience at and has now tied his best career NASCAR finish at an oval.
“Today I’m really excited about because we had a really good day at Darlington that didn’t work our way at the end and finished 13th,” Ambrose said afterwards.
More importantly, “I’m really excited that our team is learning, they’re learning me, I’m learning them. I’m learning how these cars work. This result today I’m really excited about because I think it’s going to lead to a great Charlotte, Pocono, Indy, all these great big tracks coming. I feel like our team is suited to those tracks. We’ve just had some rough luck so far this year. We’ve had accidents and incidents outside our control that has hurt our points.”