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CUP: Year Of Hard Knocks For Ambrose

Marcos Ambrose, the two-time Australian V8 Supercar champion, was hoping 2010 would be his breakout season in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series. Instead, he’s spent most of the year getting beaten black and blue on the track.

Ambrose, one of the most likable and engaging drivers in the Sprint Cup garage, had every reason to expect good things this year, his second full season driving the No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing Toyota, which is prepared and campaigned out of the Michael Waltrip Racing stables in Cornelius, N.C.

Last year, Ambrose finished a very respectable 18th in the Sprint Cup points standings, a solid performance in his first full season in NASCAR's top division. This year, though, has been brutal from the get go.

In the season-opening Daytona 500, Ambrose lost an engine. A week later at Auto Club Speedway in Southern California, he retired due to overheating. Two starts, two DNFs. In the next eight races, things started to look up, as Ambrose posted five top-15 finishes, demonstrating good consistency.

And then the bottom fell out.

At Dover, a crash and a DNF. Then another the next week at Charlotte, followed by a third consecutive DNF at Pocono. Last weekend at Daytona, Ambrose was swept up in The Big One, a huge multi-car accident that took out nearly half the field. He has failed to finish a single one of the three restrictor-plate races run so far this year. What’s really hard is the crashes haven’t been ones Ambrose has caused.

Despite the misfortune, Ambrose said he’s trying to keep a positive attitude.

“I just keep reminding myself everyday how fortunate I am to have the best sponsors and be able to race cars for a living among the greatest drivers in the world,” Ambrose said. “Our luck will turn around at some point.”

Crew chief Frank Kerr hopes so. After all, it’s his responsibility to repair or replace the cars that get wrecked.

“We’ve crashed so much this year that it is unbelievable,” Kerr said. “It’s really not our fault. Marcos has just been in the wrong place at the wrong time. Like Marcos said, our luck will turn around. Racing is like a swing and when it swings the other way you’ve got to take advantage of it and enjoy it. Right now, we’ve had several bad weeks and it’s time for us to have a lot of good runs.”

Ambrose has a shot at a good finish this weekend at Chicagoland Speedway, where last summer he finished a respectable 11th in his first Cup race at the 1.5-mile D-shaped tri-oval speedway.

“He had never raced a Cup car there and we were pleased with the outcome,” Kerr said. “We had a decent car and he ran in the top 15 all day. We've come a long way since then and we are going back with one of our favorite cars.”

Ambrose is ready for some good luck for a change.

“I’m just tired of being collected in accidents and it seems like it always happens when we are running in the top 15 and making forward progress,” said Ambrose. “I’ve had more hard hits this season than I have experienced in my career. Each week we have a car capable of finishing in the top 10, but we can’t make it to the finish line. That’s through no fault of our own.”

Tom Jensen is the Editor in Chief of SPEEDtv.com, Senior NASCAR Editor at RACER and a contributing Editor for TruckSeries.com. You can follow him online at twitter.com/tomjensen100 and e-mail him at Jensen is the author of “Cheating: The Bad Things Good NASCAR Nextel Cup Racers Do In Pursuit of Speed,” and has appeared on numerous television and radio shows. Jensen is the past President of the National Motorsports Press Association and an NMPA Writer of the Year.