NASCAR Media Conference
June 16, 2009
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. For the second teleconference for the day following the earlier one today from Indianapolis Motor Speedway, the Goodyear tire test. And welcome to this call. It's the NASCAR Cam Video teleconference, advancing Sunday's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race. The Toyota/ Save Mart 350 out at Infineon Raceway in Sonoma, California.
Joining us from the NASCAR Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, we have Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 47 Little Debbie Kingsford Clorox Toyota. Our guest today, Marcos, is 20th in the Sprint Cup standings. He looks to move up this weekend because of his road racing expertise. He's had some great results.
The last time NASCAR's National Series visited a road course, that was last summer at Watkins Glen. He won the NASCAR Nationwide Series event and came out the very next day and finished third in the Glens Cup race.
Marcos, is it safe to say that you're going to be fairly comfortable racing back on the road course at Infineon this weekend?
MARCOS AMBROSE: I wouldn't say comfortable, but it is a race that we've been looking forward to for some time. We've put a lot of effort into this weekend's race. We've got a brand-new car designed to go road racing. It's as wide as we can make it.
We've got a good package going to Sonoma, but the expectation is a long, hard Sunday. The track is tough, competition is fierce, and there is no guarantee of success. But I feel like we've done everything we can to be ready and prepared for the race.
HERB BRANHAM: We'll go to the media for questions for today's guests.
Q. My question is Jeff Gordon expects havoc on Sunday in Infineon. Interesting scenarios on and off the track related to the double file restarts, both with pit strategy and how it might play out. I'd love to hear your thoughts on how you think it's going to play out on Sunday with the double file restart?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, definitely it's going to change things. I think the track at Sonoma isn't going to be very beneficial to a smooth race start when you go two by two. There's a clear dirty lane and clear lane. And some guys are going to be advantaged some disadvantaged. The nature of the racing, too is going to be different. People are going to make different strategy calls were they're in the front half of the field, second half of the field, fuel mileage becomes a major issue as well. And how do you burn through fuel knowing how these race starts may play out.
So I guess it's a wait and see if you're leading the race you can really control your own destiny, and that's going to be our focus and goal is to try to be in that front pack and really dictate how that race runs rather than just being at the mercy of how the race unfolds.
Q. Do you think it will be an advantage or disadvantage for the road course regulars? Guys that are more comfortable road course racing the double file restart?
MARCOS AMBROSE: At this level of competition, I think everybody's ready for whatever comes at them. So I don't think it's any clear advantage for a road race specialist I would say the road race specialist may be in the front half of the field and may be immune to some of the strategy changes that will occur in the back half of the grid, trying to take advantage.
I feel like it's really up in the air right now. Don't know how it's going to play out, but I do predict there are going to be plenty of cars going into the dirt on turn one on those restarts.
Q. Back in 1989 when you started racing, a lot of things going on is personally on the road course. Did that make you a better race car driver in terms of being able to get up on the wheel in one of these Cup cars on the road courses?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Did you say 1989?
MARCOS AMBROSE: I'm not sure that's when I started. Maybe go-karts. I was probably only about 10 at that stage. Really, I've road raced pretty much my whole life until I came to NASCAR. So it's something that I know well. It's a discipline that requires specific skills to get around the track well. It's about eliminating mistakes rather than outright speed. So when you have good technique, good theory about how to get round a road course, it applies to all forms of racing on those tracks whether it being a Formula car or stock car or Trans Am, or in my case, a car from Australia.
But at this race with the drivers we have at the Cup Series, the depth is deep. And all these guys can drive race cars fast. They're all good road race drivers as well as oval drivers. So the advantage that I may have is minimized when I get into this league of competition.
Q. When you talk about Watkins Glen and what you did at Watkins Glen last year, talk about what it's going to be like to race at Sonoma and be competitive there?
MARCOS AMBROSE: It's about doing the same thing. We've proved that we can be competitive in the Nationwide and Sprint Cup level. I just have to apply my skills that I've already learned from the past about how to set the cars up, what I need to feel, what I need to do.
I can tell you that you just need to be able to look after the ties in the Cup car. The one lap speed isn't important, it's about being fast on lap 15, lap 20, the fuel run. So we're going in, trying to keep an even balance on speed and long-term grip over the fuel run, and hopefully that will hold us in good stead.
It's worked for me in the past. I just have to make sure that the added pressure of knowing that we're going to be competitive at a road course race doesn't change your mindset. You have to be very focused on just doing what I do on the racetrack, and not all the other stuff around us control my emotion or my feelings for the day.
For me it's just about controlling my emotions. Keeping everything in check, and driving well to have a good day.
Q. I've had the opportunity to talk to a lot of race car drivers especially road races. And Ron Fellows is one that comes to mind. He said, Greg, you've got to protect your brakes on a road course. If you go in there -- as well as the transmission. You've got to protect the car in order to be able to finish the race. I look at it in terms of you've got to be there at the end in order to be able to win the race. You were close at Watkins Glen, the car is so important. Talk a little about how the car reacts at a place like Sonoma, Infineon?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, Sonoma is a very tough place on the car. We've got a lot of horsepower. The track is tight and twisty. Without a lot of opportunities to pass, you're hitting curves all day. Dropping wheels on to the aprons and on the track. So the radiator takes a beating. You can get a stone in the radiator. Gear boxes are fragile at best in these Cup cars. And I learned my lesson last year, I blew my gear box up with 20 laps to go.
Tire wear, brake, all those things come into play. You have to be smart about these races. I mean, it's a long road course race anyway. And you have to make sure that you put yourself in good positions all day. Try to look after your equipment, if you can. But there is such an advantage about being in that front half of the field in the front third and controlling your own destiny. Being around guys that aren't so desperate to come forward, quite often by running the car hard you can keep yourself out of trouble
Q. You've probably been asked this question, but what is a guy doing from Australia here in the United States trying to win a Cup race? You've got outstanding talent in Australia. I'm talking about the guys that run the sprint cars, super cars like you did. What compelled you to come here to the United States to get into the top form of racing?
MARCOS AMBROSE: It's really simple. A simple equation for me. I could be a big fish in a small pond or come across the big pond and see how I fared up. For me, it's a challenge of life, a challenge of racing. I love to race cars and love to race against the best there is. I think NASCAR is the best place to race.
We have cars that don't handle well. Technology doesn't dominate the sport. All of those factors really make the best drivers win on Sunday. And you can see that time and time again when you watch our races that the cream always rises to the top somehow by the end of the weekend. And it's a big challenge for me. I haven't come from oval racing, so I've had to learn a lot. Pretty fast, too. I haven't finished learning what I need to do. I haven't finished really my own goals of trying to get as far as I can in the sport.
Obviously, winning the race is number one on the list right now to try to get that out of the way. And I think Sonoma is a good chance for me to do that. For me it's just a challenge of life. I'm privileged to be in the sport. I understand that and I'm very thankful to my family and everybody that's helped me get here. I just hope to make the most of it.
Q. I'm wondering if there's another trail of Australians that want to follow the same path knowing the success that you've had in terms of the money won so far?
MARCOS AMBROSE: That's an interesting point. I hope not too many Australians want to come over, because they might take some of that prize money off me. I've been really fortunate to be here. I'm a pioneer. I know I get a lot of phone calls, personal phone calls and e-mails of drivers and friends asking how did he do it? Would you help? And we're actually seriously thinking about how do we create a link, you know, an easier connection for Australians to come over here and experience NASCAR whether it be a mechanic or a driver or an engineer to try to bring in some talent from Australia and see how they fair up.
There's no guarantees, but it's a good question. NASCAR is international. And quickly Australia has become one of the more popular NASCAR regions of the world. I think Australia is now the third biggest NASCAR market outside of North America. That's exciting for us, as an Australian trying to spread the word of how good NASCAR is. We're doing our job well, and we're telling people 14,000 miles away how great the sport is, and trying to prove that.
The next wave of drivers and talent will come across and have a go. I know there are three or four Australian drivers in the lower categories of NASCAR in late models and super late models and things like that. So time will tell how they progress and how they come through. But there is no guarantee because of the depth of talent in America, anyways, is so big.
When I came to the U.S. the first time I wanted to create opportunities for myself. I didn't want to necessarily take an opportunity away from a north American driver. So I really forged my own path, and I think that's helped, too.
Q. In statistics we see your best series in the Cup Series was a third on the road course. But you have two Top 10's on the bigger speedways. Are you trying to shake the label of being a road course specialist?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Hopefully I've done it (laughing). I'm getting asked that question less and less. I'm destined to be known as Marcos Ambrose the NASCAR driver rather than the road course specialist who is filling in his weekends with some oval racing.
I feel like I'm at the pinnacle of the sport. I'm holding my own. I'm running Top 10 finishes when I have a good day. When I'm having a bad day we're not last, we're somewhere in the middle. And I think that's important to remember. I haven't come from an oval background. And most is my peers that have come in from a different angle into NASCAR rather than the traditional USA, C, or late model divisions have struggled to make it stick.
I feel good about that. I feel if I'm given the opportunities, which I hope I will over the next couple of years, that I'll move forward on the ovals and be a contender every week. My goal is to finish Top 10. That's a fairly lofty goal, considering at the start of the season we were only worried about being in the top 35 in points.
Q. How close are you to being in the top 12 and being able to qualify for the Chase? Is it a matter of your driver? Is it a matter of the car, the crew, what would you say is the thing that needs to get you over the hurdle?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, I had a bad weekend at Michigan, so I'll forget about that and try to stay positive. Before Michigan we were 18 points, 230 odd points out of 12th place. We never dreamed we'd be in that position.
At the same time we're not focused on the top 12, because for us it's not a realistic goal. My ambition for the year has always been to drive every race as fast and hard as I can to try to look good, to get the sponsors and the team a good feeling about why I'm in that race car, to give them that hope they need to give them the time to really develop into a consistent Top 10 driver. Because it takes time and experience, and Michigan is a good example of that.
You know, I had a very good balanced race car. Was looking forward to the event. The track temperature came out listed 15 to 25°, and I was out to lunch. I didn't have the experience to adapt my style to the way the truck was running. And if I could have my time again, I'd do things very different. I think that's what is my next hurdle. To give myself time, don't panic, and let it all come to me.
Q. Are you able to follow the AFL much during the regular season?
MARCOS AMBROSE: I sure do. I follow the AFL and the Rugby League. I'm a member of the sport TV station there, so I get some records during the week, and I watch them in the coach on the weekends when I get a spare moment or two. I'm a proud Australian, don't get me wrong. I love Aussie sport and Aussie lifestyle, but at the same time I'm here in the U.S. enjoying what America can bring to me and my family. We're into baseball, basketball, and looking forward to the NFL season starting again.
Q. Your NASCAR history consists of a total of four seasons, if my memory's correct. Did you see yourself staying and moving up at the NASCAR levels? And what personal traits have helped you adapt and excel?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Thank you. I'm actually in my fourth season now. And I've progressed every year. Pretty much, I did a selective series of races in the Championship, and went to Nationwide Series in 07-08. Finished Top 10 both years. Got my first win at Watkins Glen last year. I've been with the same company, JTG Racing, they've been very good to me. And they've been pushing me out there whenever they think I'm ready, sometimes before I thought I was ready to get out there and move up a class. And here we are in the Cup Series, really holding good form. It's a brand-new team, brand-new driver into the sport, I think we're doing well. We're only going to get better as the seasons go on on.
What traits got me here, I guess stubbornness is the first one. You have to be stubborn to take on a challenge like this to believe you can get it done. But my mindset was the challenge itself. And I had the expectation that I was going to go home after a period of time. I just wanted to be here for the experience and see how long the dream lasted. Fortunately for me, the dream is still alive and ticking and we're excited about that.
But you've got to be highly motivated to travel yourself and your family all the way across the world to come here. You need to be like a dog with a bone just persevere, and keep going. Have self-belief, like all professional drivers and professional sportsmen, you have to have that perseverance, and certain amount of stubbornness to get through those bad times and stay true and committed to yourself.
That is my commitment to myself is to never give up. I think it shows on and off the racetrack.
Q. You've had the opportunity to race all different types of drivers from all different parts of the world. So did you think when the helmet goes on is it a kind of common thing where the personality changes?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Of all the drivers I've raced around the world, I think stock car racing, Sprint Cup Series racing is by far the hardest challenge I've ever encountered. And I think you'll get the same answer from Dario Franchitti, Scott Speed, Juan Pablo Montoya. All of us who have come from different categories and high profile Motorsports around the world coming into NASCAR and have to some degree been humbled.
So it's a very, very difficult challenge. But what I really get a buzz out of when I race my car is that I follow drivers and I watch what they do. And the car takes a life of its own. When Tony Stewart is stretching in that 14 car, you know that car is going to be aggressive. And they're going to take chances and not give you an inch.
For me, I'm not driving against Tony Stewart, I'm driving against that red car that is always aggressive, and showing a lot of speed. I think for me the characters off the track really carry across into those race cars.
Now I'm in the Cup Series, and racing against these guys on a regular basis. I'm starting to preticket and be ready for whatever comes at me with these guys.
Q. Would you -- what would you say do you think about Marcos Ambrose attempting being an open wheel driver or attempting to become a NASCAR driver? Do you have a comment on that?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, if she chooses to come, it will be a boost to the sport. So I'd love to see her in the sport. You know. She's going to get a wake-up call. I know these cars are very different to drive than Champ Car. And I've had the privilege of knowing Danica from our previous racing days over in Europe. We raced each other in Formula 4s in the late '90s. I know she's a very good driver, but if she does choose to come to NASCAR racing, it's going to be a big adjustment for her. Who knows how that's going to go.
As far as Danica, wherever she goes, the TV cameras go. And if she does choose to come to NASCAR, it would be great for our sport.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you. Thanks to Marcos Ambrose for joining us. Best of luck this weekend out at Sonoma, California.
MARCOS AMBROSE: Thanks very much. Hope to talk to you next week.
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