Marcos Ambrose forced his way from 25th to third under lights at the Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee behind Kyle Busch and Mark Martin to register his best-ever NASCAR Sprint Cup result on an oval.
The Tasmanian was quick to rate the podium in the fender-banging 500-lap and 428.9 km Sharpie 500 as the most satisfying result of his NASCAR career to date.
Arguably the toughest race on the 36-race Sprint Cup schedule, Bristol's 24-30 degree banking and tight layout means the 43 starters rarely escape without war wounds (although Ambrose came out with barely a scratch on his car). An interesting fact is that an estimated 215 gallons of body fuller will be needed by the teams to fix and fill the panel dents after Saturday's biffo fest, held before a sell-out crowd of 160,000 fans.
In his fourth season of NASCAR racing since leaving Australia, Ambrose can relish the knowledge that he is becoming a force on all types of tracks in the championship schedule.
Ambrose declared that this Bristol drive was even more satisfying than his two Nationwide Series wins at Watkins Glen and his second place finish at the Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen two weeks ago behind series leader Tony Stewart.
This outstanding Bristol result, Ambrose's seventh top 10 finish this season and his fourth top five result of the season, keeps him in 17th position in the Sprint Cup points standings, clearly the highest placed first year driver.
For most of the Bristol race Ambrose's Toyota Camry was handily placed inside the top 10 and with the chequered flag looming he battled for the podium spots with NASCAR legend Martin (making his 1000th NASCAR start), talented NASCAR prima donna Kyle Busch and ever-present Greg Biffle.
"This is more satisfying than any of the results I've had, even all the wins at Watkins Glen, because it's on such a big stage against the best at a place like Bristol," said Ambrose.
"The biggest thing about this result is that I've done so well in a race that will arguably go down in NASCAR history.
"Mark Martin is a legend of this sport and to race him at the front of the pack in front of 180,000-odd people at Bristol and run hard against Kyle Busch, who is one of the most talented drivers anyone's ever seen, is just awesome and it's truly a privilege.," added Ambrose, laying on the love.
When Ambrose first took his tentative step into NASCAR in 2006, he admitted feeling intimidated about racing on the steep banks and close confines of Bristol - known as the world's fastest half-mile - as he learned to race on NASCAR's high speed ovals.
Before the race, Ambrose was given a boost with the announcement that global consumer giant Kimberly-Clark's Kleenex brand will back the Australian's JTG Daugherty Racing team next season for five races, joining existing sponsors Little Debbie, Bush's Beans and iRacing.com and The Clorox Company.
It will surely help to have some tissues around if that whimpy, whining Kyle Bush starts bleating again.
RESULTS: Sharpie 500 at Bristol Motor Speedway
Race 24 in the 2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series
1. #18 Kyle Busch 500 laps
2. #5 Mark Martin
3. #47 Marcos Ambrose
4. #16 Greg Biffle
5. #11 Denny Hamlin
6. #39 Ryan Newman
7. #2 Kurt Busch
8. #48 Jimmie Johnson
9. #88 Dale Earnhardt Jr
10. #17 Matt Kenseth
2009 NASCAR Sprint Cup Driver's Standings - After Race 24 of 36
1. Tony Stewart 3564
2. Jimmie Johnson 3344
3. Jeff Gordon 3310
4. Denny Hamlin 3141
5. Carl Edwards 3110
6. Kurt Busch 3103
7. Ryan Newman 2995
8. Greg Biffle 2986
9. Juan Pablo Montoya 2975
10. Mark Martin 2971
11. Kasey Kahne 2963
12. Matt Kenseth 2945
13. Kyle Busch 2911
14. Brian Vickers 2906
15. Clint Bowyer 2833
16. David Reutimann 2785
17. Marcos Ambrose 2639
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