Thursday, August 09, 2007

Are we close to an Australian win in NASCAR?

Regular visitors to this blog will know that I've been following the progress of Australian V8 Supercars double-champion Marcos Ambrose in his transition to NASCAR. He is now in his second season in the USA, having competed last year in the Craftsman Truck Series, before stepping up to the Busch Series this year.

Many people expected to see Marcos make a couple of wild-card entries in the top-tier Nextel Cup when that championship arrived at the season's two road courses. The first, at Infineon Raceway back in June, didn't work out, so expectation was high that he'd get his chance at Watkins Glen this coming weekend. Sadly, funding issues seemed to consign that plan to the scrap heap. Until two days ago, that is....

Marcos was expected to run very well in the three Busch races scheduled for road courses. Back in March at the Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico he finished a creditable eighth in only his third Busch race. Three of the drivers ahead of him were also road-course veterens: Boris Said, Scott Pruett and controversial winner Juan Pablo Montoya (who had to nerf off Pruett to secure the victory).

Last weekend the Busch Series headed to the Circuit Gilles Villeneuve in Canada. Ambrose was dominant for much of the race, despite being up against other road-course specialists such as Ron Fellows, Patrick Carpentier, Andy Pilgrim and Pruett. However, late in the race, one of racing's top all-rounders, Robby Gordon, attempted a pass on the Aussie. During the pass, Gordon got turned around. When the caution flags came out for an unrelated incident, Gordon returned the favour, costing Ambrose the win. An argument with NASCAR over where he should be in line resulted in Gordon's exclusion from the Busch results and ban from the next day's Nextel Cup race in Pocono. Ambrose recovered to 7th, which was disappointing considering he was a sure thing for the victory.

It was Tuesday that the big news came through: Robby Gordon had offered a seat to Marcos Ambrose in his second car for the Nextel Cup race at Watkins Glen. It seemed extremely strange, given how furious Gordon had been about the events in Canada. Upon closer inspection though, it makes some sense. Gordon and Ambrose are actually rather good friends, and had made plans to go fishing together prior to the weekend. Robby also probably realized that this gesture might help his standing within the NASCAR community, and repair the damage he did to his reputation in taking the win away from the likeable Australian. Furthermore, there's a chance that Ambrose can run very well, despite it being his first race in the top class (on road courses, Busch and Nextel cars are not too dissimilar in behavior). It's not too difficult to put together a sponsor package when the sponsor can be shown that the chances of decent exposure are very high. If Marcos does indeed run well on Sunday, Camping World will be very pleased with their investment.

As we've come to expect from such a pleasant guy, Marcos' response to the odd turn of events was typically intelligent and conciliatory: “A bit of old outback Australian culture involved playing a game of Australian football, having a fight and then heading to the pub together for a beer. I guess this is a bit like that.”

Ambrose will also be running on Saturday in the Busch race, which he also goes into as one of the favourites.

Best of luck to him for both events...

1 comment:

Clive said...

I thought Australian football was a fight...