Marcos Ambrose has figured out Watkins Glen International quite well over the years.
Ambrose, who excels at road course racing, has won the Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen the past two years. If Ambrose takes the checkered flag in Sunday's event here, he will join Mark Martin and Jeff Gordon as those drivers who have scored three wins in a row at this 2.45-mile course. Martin started on the pole and won at Watkins Glen each year from 1993-95. Gordon's three consecutive victories here came from 1997-99.
"We feel like we are contenders each time we go to Watkins Glen, and this weekend is no different," said Ambrose, who is in his third full season as driver of the No. 9 Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports. "I just know what I want in the car, and we have been fortunate enough to get that feel in our (cars) the past two races. That allows me to race up front, and I have a lot of confidence. Watkins Glen is a really fast track, and I really enjoy it. I know what I need to do to be there at the end."
Denny Hamlin is the last driver who recorded three victories in a row at the same racetrack. Hamlin won the fall race at Martinsville in 2009 and then scored a season-sweep there the following year.
Ambrose has run so well at Watkins Glen that he has finished no worse than third in his first five Sprint Cup races here. The Australian also won three straight Nationwide events at this course from 2008-10.
One year ago, Ambrose prevailed at Watkins Glen after a frantic last-lap battle with Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski. Ambrose was running in third during the final lap. Busch led the way, but as his car was leaking oil, he slid off the track before Keselowski made contact with him. Busch spun around, allowing Keselowski to take the lead.
Ambrose then caught up with Keselowski, as the two were running side-by-side for the lead. Ambrose bumped into the rear of Keselowski and took the top spot away from him in turn nine. After the race had ended, many drivers reported that oil leaks were present throughout the track, causing them to slide and even spin out.
"Last year was a really great finish," Ambrose recalled. "It was stressful, but a lot of fun to battle against Kyle and Brad the last few laps for the win. We were dealing with the elements of the track having oil on it, and we were all sliding all around. It led to an exciting finish, and I'm happy that we came out on top."
Keselowski, the defending Sprint Cup champion, has finished second to Ambrose in the last two races at Watkins Glen.
"The biggest thing I remember about last year's race (at Watkins Glen) was that it was really hard racing on a great racetrack," Keselowski said. "Those last couple of laps were a huge roller coaster for me. We went from thinking that we were going to finish second -- a solid run for us -- to having a shot at the win over the course of those last couple of laps to, ultimately, finishing second.
"But what was so cool about that race is that Marcos and I were able to beat, bang and lean on each other without getting out of the car and wanting to fight or yell. We gave the fans a good show. We raced hard for our teams. That's what was most important."
Ambrose's win at Watkins Glen last year put him in contention to make the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship. He had moved up to fifth in the wild card standings. Ambrose did not qualify for the Chase, as he finished the 2012 season 18th in points.
Right now, Ambrose sits 22nd in points. He is seven points behind 20th-place Jeff Burton. Ambrose has just three top-10 finishes this season. His best finish is seventh, which came in the first road-course race this season on June 23rd in Sonoma, Calif.
"We've had a tough season this year, but this race can very quickly turn it around and put us in contention for a wild card berth in the Chase," he said. "That's what our goal is right now. We haven't given up, and this entire crew keeps fighting hard."
Forty-three teams are on the preliminary entry list for the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Aug. 11. Race: Cheez-It 355 at the Glen. Site: Watkins Glen International. Track: 2.45-mile road course. Start time: 1 p.m. ET. Laps: 90. Miles: 220.5. 2012 Winner: Marcos Ambrose. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.