NASCAR Media Conference
June 19, 2012
THE MODERATOR: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference. We are going to open with Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No.9 Stanley Ford for Richard Petty Motorsports.
Marcos Ambrose's record‑setting qualifying lap of 203.241 miles an hour at Michigan International Speedway was the fastest run in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series since 1987. Ambrose and the Stanley team will be Racing for a Miracle this weekend in Sonoma. Should Ambrose win the race, Stanley will donate $1 million to Children's Miracle Network Hospitals.
In four starts at Sonoma, Ambrose at three top‑10 finishes.
Marcos, there's extra incentive for you this weekend with the $1 million on the line. Can you talk about how much that would mean to you top win.
MARCOS AMBROSE: Well, there's nothing like added pressure. Trying to race for $1 million for sick kids is definitely up there on the stacks of just trying to win the race.
We did this last year; came up a little bit short. I'm doubly determined this year to try to win the race and help those kids and help our race team achieve success we all hope.
Regardless, Stanley, Ace Hardware are going to donate $100,000 for these kids. We're going to shed a bit of sunshine on their day. We're going to go to the Children's Hospital on Thursday, bring the car, do some pit stops for them, say hello, some carnival activities to give them a bit of fun and try to get them to forget about why they're in the hospital in the first place.
THE MODERATOR: Going into Sonoma, do you have the same nerves and pressures on you as when you head into an oval track race?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Sure. The expectation of me succeeding at a road course race is obviously very high. But that doesn't change. I'm driving the No.9 Stanley Ford Fusion for Richard Petty to win every race, not just two road course races.
I apply myself the same every week. The pressure is not much different, it's just the weight of expectation I guess this weekend and for Watkins Glen as well, the expectation of success is what we have to balance out.
I can't change the way I drive. I've got to keep doing my best out there. If I do my job well and the team does, we know we'll be a contender for the race win.
THE MODERATOR: We'll now go to the media for questions for Marcos Ambrose.
Q. Prior to participating in the inaugural Kentucky race last year, were you aware there was a 15‑mile traffic jam and many fans didn't make it to the track? Is Kentucky ready for the big turnout again this year?
MARCOS AMBROSE: You're really asking the wrong guy. We're stuck on the inside of the racetrack doing sponsor appearances, the prerace ceremonies before the race starts.
We did hear about the traffic congestion trying to get into Kentucky. I know NASCAR and the track owners have made a lot of changes to the traffic flow pattern this year. I'm sure it's going to be substantially better.
Whenever you have a brand‑new event, you have a crowd that is coming the first time, you can try to predict what's going to happen, but it's hard to put into practice until you see it for the first time.
Not good for our fans to be stuck in traffic and not being able to get access to the race. I know nobody inside the sport would like to see that happen again.
Q. Could you help us understand how challenging it is to drive a powerful stockcar around such a narrow Sonoma course. Seems like the cars aren't really designed for such a narrow track. How do you deal with it?
MARCOS AMBROSE: You're right. Sonoma is a very twisty, tight, narrow racetrack with a lot of elevation change. These cars are dinosaurs as far as racecars go. They've got way too much power, 900 horsepower, they don't have enough tire grip, they're too heavy, and they don't have enough brakes.
As a racecar driver, these cars are really hard to handle and you really have to manhandle these cars around the racetrack. You have to take it by the scruff of the neck and force it to go around. You're fighting physics at this point when you have a car that heavy and that powerful. It's hard to get it around a tight, twisty road course.
I guess the fact is that everybody is driving the same vehicles. No matter what they throw at you, you have to deal with it. This is one of the most challenging and rewarding racetracks we go to. I think all the drivers would tell you they love driving the cars around Sonoma, it's just really hard to race with all the competition.
Q. Is it inevitable someone is going to do something to make you angry and you might do something that upsets other drivers?
MARCOS AMBROSE: That happens every week. No different at a road course race. It is a technically challenging track. It's hard to make passes. Going to be bumper‑to‑bumper and side‑by‑side when you make a pass. Even when it's clean, it's hard not to make contact.
It's the nature of the business. It's a sellout crowd at the track. One of the best races to watch. You're going to have to do a few bump‑n‑runs and make a few contacts to win the race. We're all prepared for that and all understand the consequences of that.
Q. When you decided to go to RPM, you said if you couldn't get to Victory Lane or do what you could do, there would be no more question marks left. Now that you've been to Victory Lane, you have a pole, do you feel like there's any questions left about you and your ability, your career choices at a Sprint Cup driver?
MARCOS AMBROSE: I can only reflect on my own personal opinion. I feel like I've done a lot in the sport. I feel like I've come from a long way from behind. I've come from a country that doesn't have any oval racing, I come from a state at the other end of the world.
I've achieved a lot just to make it to NASCAR, then to make it to Sprint Cup, have a pole position, have won a race, it feels very rewarding. I'm content.
That being said, I'm in a great team. I'm in the best position I've ever been in the sport. I feel I have a competitive team each and every week. I have people around me that believe in what I'm doing. I have a great sponsor in Stanley, DeWalt, Mac Tools. And the King behind me, it's awesome to be part of that.
We have unfinished business. We want to win races on ovals, win more than one race a year.
Right now as I sit here mid‑season, we still feel we have a chance to make the Chase if we can win some races. We have speed. We have to convert them into results.
Q. Was there a point in the last year and a half where you really began to feel this way, this is your best position you've been in since you came to America?
MARCOS AMBROSE: No doubt about it. The tail end of last year was great. We had a whole bunch of top 10s in the last eight or nine races of the season. We carried that speed over into 2012. Unfortunately we had a lot of bad luck, made some bad decisions that hurt our race performances.
Since we got in the summer here, we've strung together some good results. We've shown our speed. People know we're around. It's good. I feel good about the team. I feel good about being part of the growth of Richard Petty Motorsports. I think that curve is continuing to go upwards. I think you have yet to see the best of us and you have yet to see the best of me.
Q. Marcos, here at Infineon it seems like disproportionately a lot of the contacts and wrecks seem to happen at turn 11. Could you sum up why that is, what the dangers are of that turn.
MARCOS AMBROSE: Turn 11 for me is actually my favorite passing spot. It's the hardest braking on the circuit, tightest corner, straightest run into a corner you have. I think the reason there's so many accidents there is, one, it's really enticing to make a pass late because the groove is from the outside to the inside, the center of the corner, it leaves a big hole that you can try to fill with the nose.
The second thing, there's concrete all around that turn. The crash barrier is very close. It's easy to get stuck and wedged if you get spun out. A lot of stuff goes into.
The corner that creates the most drama is turn seven up top of the hill. It's very slippery. One of the slowest corners on the track. A lot of contact is made there. Normally the contact in turn seven gets finished off in turn 11.
Q. Do you have any particular defensive strategies for turn 11, trying to prevent the sort of passing you were just talking about?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, if you can brake deeper than everybody else, you normally stop people from passing you. You need to have eyes in the back of your head, know the guy behind you, his position, the kind of momentum he has on the run into turn 11. If I think I'm in a position of weakness, that he's got momentum, I'll try to defend that position by moving to the inside. Then you have to be careful because he can do a switchback on the way out of the corner or run back of you and send you off of the track.
You have to balance out the situation, whether it's worth giving up the spot or whether it's worth trying to defend. That really is on a case‑by‑case basis. The fastest way and easiest way for me to stay out of trouble is to be the guy on the attack. If you're the guy coming through the field, making the moves, you can control the situation. If you're moving backwards in the pack, you seem to always be the guy that gets caught out and spun out.
Q. I'm interested in what you would eat for breakfast, lunch, dinner and a snack on a typical day in the Ambrose home.
MARCOS AMBROSE: As in at the racetrack or back at the house?
Q. Back at the house.
MARCOS AMBROSE: I've got two kids at home that are four and six. I normally eat all the leftovers, to be honest with you. I'm not that fussy. We're on the road a lot when we're full‑time NASCAR drivers. Whenever we do have a chance to be at home, we like to cook our own meals, fresh fruit and vegetables, variety for us. There's no particular diet.
We all obviously have our fitness and weight to keep into consideration. Just try to balance it out. I try to eat as healthy as I can, organic as I can, and a lot of fruit and veg.
Q. Any kind of prerace rituals that you go through to get yourself mentally prepared to compete on race day?
MARCOS AMBROSE: We race every week. You don't need to hype yourself up. You kind of know the deal, who you need to be when you strap into that racecar. The person I am behind the wheel is very different to the person I am on the street.
So I really have basically a repetition on race day. I know what I need to be eating, how I need to be drinking, how I need to relax once you get in the car. Once prerace ceremony starts, I start to get in the zone. I think it's repetition that makes me comfortable, relaxed. I try to do the same thing every week. It really starts from drivers meeting onwards when I get into my routine.
There is no superstition. It's a matter of getting your head and your heart in the right place.
Q. Do you think drivers in the 10 to 20 spots in points right now drive differently every week as we head into this summer stretch, 10 races before the Chase is set?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Yeah, it's a really good question. I'm not sure that the 10 to 20 change their driving as much as first to 10th. The guys who need to start working on their race strategies and their car setups going into the final 10 races will start to experiment a little bit and they'll start to be a little more defensive on saving their positions to protect their points.
My personal position that I've being trying as hard as I can, ever since the green flag fell at Daytona, to get myself in a track position that is not going to change till the end.
I think the guys who are locked in in points are looking to conserve their positions, and guys that are outside are going to continue pushing as hard as they can to get the results to get themselves in.
Q. As far as the points system, when they changed it over, those are stingy points. It's difficult to move up. Fortunately it works the other way, too. You don't drop when you have a bad day if it works out with some of the other ones. Do drivers talk about the new points system?
MARCOS AMBROSE: I know it's real easy to lose a lot of points rather than gain. You have a 30th to worse finish, you're giving up 20 points straightaway. The field is split by two or three points a position. I think you can lose a lot of points really quickly. It's hard to gain points on somebody if they're running well.
For us it's still about consistency, but it's about performing well. If you run top 10 at the end of the race, you're going to make points on guys who finish every week 18th to 20th. That's what I look towards. I look towards finishing right up there.
It pays to run well, whereas the old points system, you can muck around in 15th place all year and still be in a great position. If you run 15th now week‑to‑week, there's no way you're going to make the Chase.
For me it's all about getting right up there in the thick of it and trying to get those top‑10 points.
Q. How much does the rubber from the ARCA cars affect the racetrack during a practice or qualifying session?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Great question. Obviously the ARCA series, running on the Hoosier tires, different compound, construction tire. In the Cup Series, the Sprint Cup Series tends to lay down the most rubber. I find if we run after a Truck race or Nationwide race, the rubber is built up, but as soon as the Cup Series starts, they seem to lay rubber a lot faster.
I think it's not just Hoosier rubber that makes the difference, it's what series is running at the time to put the rubber down.
I don't particularly find any difference when I run on the racetrack after the ARCA series is run. I know there were some issues with Pocono with some oil on the racetrack. But that wasn't a Hoosier rubber issue. That was getting the track cleaned.
We don't often get to run straight after an ARCA race anyway. It's going to affect you for two or three laps before the Goodyear rubber goes down and starts to feel normal again.
Q. Do you think we might have the same issues as we did this weekend at Michigan when we go to Kansas Speedway for the first time on their new surface?
MARCOS AMBROSE: I know that NASCAR and Goodyear are going to look at it a lot more closely than they did at Michigan. They thought the Michigan tire was plenty durable enough. I don't think anybody expected the speeds we were going to run. To average 203, 204 in practice, in qualifying trim, that's faster than what anyone predicted.
I think the change they made to the tire between practice and the race was the smart move, the right decision to make for the team and driver safety. I know they're going to start looking at the tire for Kansas. They have to. The speed jump that we had at Michigan was substantial. I think it caught many people by surprise.
I'm not sure what tire they're going to bring to Kansas, but I guarantee you it won't be a soft one.
THE MODERATOR: Marcos, I wanted to end with two additional questions you received on Twitter. What kind of following does NASCAR have in Australia? Would you like to see NASCAR at an Australian racetrack?
MARCOS AMBROSE: Two really great questions. I think NASCAR has grown substantially since I left in 2006. It's hard for me to know the TV ratings and popularity because I'm not there on a full‑time basis. I might get back to Australia once every 12 months or 18 months, thereabouts. I get a lot of fan mail, media to talk about NASCAR, what it's all about.
When I first came to America and started competing on NASCAR circuits, people were sort of confused. But once they understood the sport, started to see what it's all about, I think the fan base has grown substantially.
I'm here to help NASCAR spread the word about how good our series is. Obviously Australia has a lot of race fans. They're really tuning in, I'm sure, to what we're all about over here.
If there was a NASCAR race in Australia, I'd love to participate in it. They have their own series down there, which is very strong. It's gone through a lot of transitions in the last 10 years, and it's continued to get stronger. They have a healthy version of NASCAR in Australia because V8s are fairly similar in performance and power.
But you never know. I'd love to race NASCAR down home one day.
THE MODERATOR: Thanks very much for joining us today, Marcos. We appreciate it. Best of luck this weekend in Sonoma.
MARCOS AMBROSE: Thank you very much.
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