Road warrior Ambrose has lofty goals

by Monte Dutton

Australian Marcos Ambrose finished 17 th in the Sprint Cup points standings in 2009. (John Clark/NASCAR This Week photo)

Marcos Ambrose’s achievements have been somewhat obscured.

Juan Pablo Montoya is in the midst of quite a breakthrough. Drivers with road-racing backgrounds have seldom fared well driving stock cars on ovals, and Montoya made the 2009 Chase for the Sprint Cup.

Ambrose is another ex-road racer who has shown considerable progress, but his achievements have been overshadowed by Montoya, the Colombian who competed successfully in Formula One before turning his attention to NASCAR.

Ambrose — a native of Tasmania, an island off the southern coast of Australia — drove touring cars in Australia before giving the States a shot. Touring cars are shaped somewhat like American stock cars, but are more technically advanced.

In his first full season of Sprint Cup competition, Ambrose finished in the top five four times and finished 17th by Monte Dutton in the point standings. He finished second in Watkins Glen, NY and third in both Sonoma, Calif. and Bristol, Tenn.

“It was a wonderful year for me,” said Ambrose. “It was a year that was either going to work out how it has, or I was going to pack my bags and come home.

“I needed to have a breakout year. When you get to the Cup level full-time, you really have to make an impression, and I think I did that.”

Ambrose said his next goal is “win a race and contend for the Chase.” He hopes his success will draw other Australians to try their hand at NASCAR. “I think raising awareness of Australia and Australian racing in the US is working really well. People are saying ‘Marcos Ambrose … where did he come from?’ … Being an Australian in NASCAR has worked out great.”

Ambrose stressed, though, that the transition hasn’t been an easy one. “I took on a huge challenge, and I didn’t expect it to work out,” he said. “As it did, I started to see blue sky in front of me, and I’m just having a good time.

“On the race track, it took a lot of time to actually gain the respect from my peers, and I got picked on for quite a while, but was able to hold my own, and I didn’t step out of line too much whilst I was trying to learn and get to the front. … It hasn’t been any master plan; it’s just been keeping to the fundamentals.”

Monte Dutton has covered motorsports for The Gaston (NC) Gazette since 1993. He was named writer of the year by the National Motorsports Press Association in 2008. His blog NASCAR This Week ( features all of his reporting on racing, roots music and life on the road. E-mail Monte at nascar_thisweek@yahoo. com. (c) 2009 King Features Syndicate