Friday, June 20, 2014
SONOMA, Calif. (AP) — Marcos Ambrose wants nothing more than to break Hendrick Motorsports' four-race winning streak and his best shot comes on the road course at Sonoma Raceway this weekend.
A win Sunday could earn the Australian his first berth in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship and solidify his future at Richard Petty Motorsports. Ambrose's current deal with the organization is up at the end of the season.
"I'm in a renewal year with Richard Petty for 2015," Ambrose said. "I'm not really thinking about myself here. I just want the best for RPM. They have decisions to make ... I want to make sure that RPM are on the right path and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure I help them do that."
Ambrose is in his fourth season driving for the Petty organization, and his two career Sprint Cup victories are with the team. Both of his wins were on the road course at Watkins Glen.
He's still looking for his first victory at Sonoma, where Ambrose is always considered one of the favorites but hasn't managed to grab the checkered flag. Ambrose has five finishes of eighth or better in six career starts at the picturesque 1.99-mile track.
"We know that the race here this weekend and in Watkins Glen, the two road races, are our best chance to win a race this year," he said. "That will automatically lock us into the Chase. Clearly there's a lot to race for at these two tracks for us. We've put a lot of energy and effort into Sonoma."
Ambrose is 23rd in the Sprint Cup standings, and there are 11 races remaining to set the Chase field. To be one of the 16 drivers, he'll likely need the berth that comes with a regular-season victory.
But standing in his way Sunday is the Hendrick Motorsports juggernaut, which has been unstoppable since Jimmie Johnson's win at Charlotte on May 25. Since that race, Johnson has won three times and teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. won once. Back it up to Jeff Gordon's win at Kansas and teams powered by Hendrick engines have won the last six races, including Jamie McMurray's All-Star race victory.
The all-time record for consecutive car owner victories is 16 by Carl Kiekhaefer in 1956. The Hendrick organization won six consecutive races in 2007 to set the modern era record and its best bet for a tie could be Gordon, who has nine career wins on road courses.
Gordon is proud of his success rate at Sonoma, where he's the all-time leader with five wins. Gordon hasn't finished lower than ninth at Sonoma since his 2006 victory, a span of eight consecutive top-10 finishes.
"We've worked hard as a team to be competitive on road courses and we've had a lot of success at Sonoma. But it's not an easy track to conquer," said Gordon, who grew up in nearby Vallejo.
Ambrose, considered one of the best road course racers in NASCAR, still likes his chances.
"My talents are really good on road racing in these big, heavy stock cars," he said. "It suits my style, suits the way I like to drive a race car. I get a lot of good feedback for the wheel. I think it's a natural skill set for me."
Since Petty took over sole ownership of the team in 1993, more than a dozen drivers have driven for him and Ambrose ranks among the best with two wins and three poles. His victories match the late Bobby Hamilton and Kasey Kahne. With one more top-10 finish, Ambrose will tie Hamilton's mark of 28.
Ambrose doesn't focus on statistics and instead has his eye on making the Chase.
"There's pressure building, there's a chance to lock yourself into the Chase, which would make your season, you get a chance to win a Sprint Cup race, which you don't get to do very often," Ambrose said. "What I do this weekend is not try to think about it, be normal, try to relax leading into this week. The more you think about it, the worse you tend to go."