Back in my football-beat days, I frequently listened to coaches address their team the week after a tough loss. (I covered Vanderbilt, the perennial Southeastern Conference doormat, so I had occasion to hear many such talks.)
The message was this: Don’t let one team beat you twice. Don’t allow one loss to lead to another loss. Put it behind you and move on. Don’t dwell on last week’s defeat but try to learn from it and focus on winning this week’s game.
I’m sure that’s the message that has been preached all week around Marcos Ambrose’s race team after last Sunday’s gaff that probably cost the affable Aussie his first career Cup victory.
By now everybody on earth – and maybe a few surrounding planets – knows about Ambrose’s Sonoma slip-up.
He was leading the race in the closing laps when – under directions from his pit boss – he tried to save fuel by turning his ignition off and coasting under caution. The strategy backfired when Marcos was unable to get his motor re-fired and his car slowed to a stop.
Under NASCAR rules, his failure to “maintain speed with the pace car” dropped him back in the field and he was never able to get back up front.
Ambrose and his crew have been hammered for their failed strategy, but in their defense, it’s been done lots of times before by lots of other drivers. Marcos was simply the victim of a stalled engine.
Frankly, I thought NASCAR could have made a no-call; Ambrose quickly got his car re-started and back under power, and he could have easily resumed his place up front. It was something of a judgment call, and – as those things tend to go – it went against the winless Marcos and ushered Jimmie Johnson to his 51st victory.
But as the old Vandy coaches used to say, those are tears under the bridge.
The question now becomes, how will the blunder affect the rest of the season for Ambrose and his team? Is their confidence rattled, their morale deflated? Will there be snipping and second-guessing and finger-pointing?
Opportunities to win a Cup race are few and far between for a mid-level team like Ambrose’s, which makes it especially painful to let one get away like that. Like the Vandy football team, a chance to score a big victory doesn’t come along often.
But its gone, and gone forever, and it’s time for Ambrose and his mates to hitch up their britches, take a deep breath, and move on.
Let’s hope that the bitter experience and the criticism don’t douse the exuberance that has always been such an endearing trait in the outgoing Ambrose. Hopefully, he will keep his chin up and maintain his bright and bubbly outlook.
Turning into a Moping Marcos won’t solve anything.
Larry Woody is a veteran, award-winning sports journalist. Woody began working at the Nashville Tennessean in the 1960s and took over the auto racing beat full time in the early 1970s. Larry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org