Few people would have predicted the relative positions of Marcos Ambrose and Carl Edwards at this point in the Sprint Cup season.
Ambrose, with a spectacular victory Sunday at Watkins Glen International, suddenly is in the Chase for the Sprint Cup picture. Meanwhile, Edwards, winless for 17 months and struggling to find his footing, is in very real danger of missing the playoffs after his stirring – but ultimately futile – run for the title against Tony Stewart last season.
Both Ford drivers remain on the “eligible” list for the Chase. Another win in the next four races would put Ambrose in very solid position, as Kasey Kahne currently is the only driver on the wild-card candidates list with two victories. The drivers in that group with one win – Ryan Newman, Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon, Joey Logano and Ambrose – would tie Kahne with another victory.
Edwards, Paul Menard, Jeff Burton and Jamie McMurray are the drivers in the points top 20 with no wins.
Ambrose got a distinct gleam in his eye after Sunday’s race when he was asked which of the remaining four tracks – Michigan, Bristol, Atlanta and Richmond – might provide a possible second victory.
“We got the pole at Michigan (in mid-June),” he said. “We were running top five all day there. There’s no reason why we can’t go there and surprise them again.”
Ambrose finished ninth in that race. He won the pole at a blistering track-record speed of 203.241 miles per hour.
If Ambrose makes the Chase, he will do so as something of an interloper. Sunday’s victory was only his second top-five run (and his first this season) since he won last year’s race at Watkins Glen, his first career victory. He has only six top-10 finishes this year, although mechanical problems negated fine runs at several tracks.
“It’s just a lot of fun to be part of it right now,” said Sammy Johns, Richard Petty Motorsports director of competition. “A lot of guys are pulling on the rope in the same direction and working hard, and it’s just a lot of fun to be part of it. We’ve been in position to have some more top fives this year. We haven’t capitalized, but we did today, so hopefully this is a good look at the next half of the season, and we’ll capitalize on those.”
With only a pair of Watkins Glen wins to his credit, Ambrose is zero-for-forever at the remaining pre-Chase tracks. He has top-five runs at Bristol and Richmond, however, and has been in the top 10 at least once at all four tracks.
Mike Hembree is NASCAR Editor for SPEED.com and has been covering motorsports for 30 years. He is a six-time winner of the National Motorsports Press Association Writer of the Year Award.