CUP: Setbacks Led To Big Changes For Ambrose

After finishing 18th in his first full season in the Sprint Cup Series, Marcos Ambrose thought he had a legitimate chance to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup in 2010.

But with three finishes of 33rd or worse in his first five races, Ambrose found himself out of Chase contention before he could even get in a rhythm.

The rest of the season didn’t get much better. By the middle of the year, he had asked for his release from his 2011 contract with JTG Daugherty Racing.

After being granted his release, Ambrose signed with Richard Petty Motorsports – returning him to Ford, which had helped launch his career – but remained with JTG Daugherty through the end of the season, finishing 26th in the standings. He managed only two top-five finishes – a third at Watkins Glen and a fifth at Richmond.

There also was the infamous race at Infineon Raceway, where the Australian driver led 35 laps and appeared to be on his way to his first Sprint Cup victory when he stalled the car trying to save gas under caution late in the race. He ended up sixth.

“It’s been a great journey for me in NASCAR,” said Ambrose, who made his NASCAR debut in the Camping World Truck Series with JTG Daugherty Racing at Martinsville in 2006. “I’m grateful for everything JTG Daugherty Racing has done for me, and I wish them continued success in their racing endeavors.”

Season Highlight: It’s hard to find a true highlight. His best finish – third at Watkins Glen – came in a race in which he thought he could challenge race winner Juan Pablo Montoya but the handling of his car went away at the end. A day earlier, Ambrose won the Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen for the third consecutive year. ‘Low Point: There’s no doubt about this one. Leading 35 laps and in the lead under caution with seven laps remaining, Ambrose stalled his car trying to save fuel under caution. He lost the lead and had to settle for sixth while Jimmie Johnson won his first road-course race.

Defining Moment: Losing the race at Infineon was a defining moment for the hard-luck driver, but possibly the biggest moment came July 27 when it was announced that Ambrose would leave JTG Daugherty Racing at the end of the season. Ambrose had driven for the team for the last five years, but opted to leave and later signed with Richard Petty Motorsports.

Key Stat: Ambrose led in only two oval races – 40 laps at Martinsville and one lap at Talladega.

Outlook: Ambrose has shown potential in oval racing but needs to finish in the top 10 more consistently – he has just 13 top-10 finishes in 83 career starts. His move to RPM looks like a lateral move at best, but sometimes change is good. He also has the backing of Ford, which loves the ability to market Ambrose in Australia. As long as RPM can stay afloat, Ambrose will have a chance to win on the road courses and finish in the top 20 in points. The Chase? That probably is a little optimistic for 2011 but if he clicks with his RPM team, maybe in 2012. • Sam Hornish Jr. could end up in Nationwide Series for Penske Racing