Marcos Ambrose has again shown he is starting to feel at home on the big and fast NASCAR ovals, posting a well-earned sixth place in the Pocono 500 in Pennsylvania at the weekend.
The strong result in what was his first start at Pocono Raceway, lifts the Australian to 18th in the 2009 Sprint Cup Series standings after the first 14 events in his first full season at the top level of NASCAR.
It was a terrific turnaround for Ambrose who looked to be way off the pace in the lead-up to the brutal 500 miler.
Overnight, the team put it all together for the 200-lap 806km marathon, the # 47 Toyota Camry running with the front pack for the majority of the race at the tough 2.5-mile tri-oval.
Ambrose entered the final stages of the race in seventh place aboard his Little Debbie-backed JTG Daugherty Racing entry, passing defending Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson on the final lap to snatch sixth place.
This was his third top 10 finish and his ninth top 20 finish from 14 points races this season.
"I was a little daunted coming here - it's a historic track here in the US," commented Ambrose later.
"It's a really, really tough place and very intimidating to get around with high speeds, corners that are odd-shaped and the surface is old and bumpy.
"I was actually really bad in practice and we did a lot of really hard work overnight to try and make the car better. It was just an experience fighting out there with everybody else racing side by side.
"It turned into a fuel mileage race in the end and that being said we had a good car all day anyway so we deserved our result."
Expanding on the need to be fast while conscious of fuel economy, Ambrose had this to say: "We were really close on fuel in the end. You can lean the motors out and try to save fuel before the race starts with different jet settings and we opted to go for full power, which used a lot of fuel.
"So we were probably more vulnerable than most. So we stopped before that last restart knowing that we had to top off and we tried to save fuel all the way through the run. We haven't measured it yet but I imagine it was very, very close. "
There was also a remark about the physical nature of Pocono. "I've got to work on my elbow strength, because my elbows are worn out. I've been working them all day."
Sixth at Pocono measures up as Ambrose's third-best Sprint Cup finish - last year he took third on the Watkins Glen road course, and earlier this year he drove to a fine fourth place on the Talladega oval.
Ambrose started from 20th position after qualifying was rained out and the field set by owner's points. He struggled in the two Saturday practise sessions, managing just 32nd and 36th.
Owner/driver Tony Stewart won the Pocono 500 ahead of Carl Edwards, David Reutimann, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Ambrose, with the final laps of the race a balancing act of hard racing to the flag while conserving fuel to reach the finish.
Ambrose will look to continue his strong form in the LifeLock 400 at Michigan International Speedway next weekend.
He says if he can finish between 15th and 25th in the championship, he'll feel like it's been a good year for a guy from Tassie.
"We've got some road course races coming up and we feel like we are a chance to win those. We've done a lot of hard work already this season trying to get ready and [Pocono] was a big step forward for our confidence and momentum and hopefully it can lead to better things."
Pocono 500 at Pocono RacewayRace 14 of the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
1. #14 Tony Stewart 200 laps
2. #99 Carl Edwards
3. #00 David Reutimann
4. #24 Jeff Gordon
5. #39 Ryan Newman
6. #47 Marcos Ambrose
7. #48 Jimmie Johnson
8. #42 Juan Pablo Montoya
9. #31 Jeff Burton
10. #77 Sam Hornish Jr
2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Driver's Standings - After Race 14 of 36
1. Tony Stewart 2043
2. Jeff Gordon 1972
3. Jimmie Johnson 1940
4. Ryan Newman 1840
5. Kurt Busch 1819
6. Carl Edwards 1762
7. Greg Biffle 1753
8. Matt Kenseth 1745
9. Kyle Busch 1731
10. Jeff Burton 1725
11. David Reutimann 1701
12. Denny Hamlin 1679
18. Marcos Ambrose 1469
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