WATKINS GLEN, N.Y.—Marcos Ambrose is at home on a road course. There’s no argument there. All six of his NASCAR victories—two in Sprint Cup and four in Nationwide—have come on road courses, five of them at Watkins Glen.
On Sunday, Ambrose will try for his third straight Cup win at the Glen—as the pole winner. To establish his credentials in the full range of NASCAR racing, however, Ambrose must prove he can win on oval tracks, and that’s been more problematic.
“It’s a question we talk about a lot, that I can come to a road course and generally run top-10 every time we come, yet we go to ovals and we’re more hit-and-miss,” Ambrose said. “The only way I can actually square that away in my mind is that, when you go oval racing, the setups of the cars are obviously very, very important. When you go road racing, it’s more about just getting the car even and not doing anything crazy.
“For me, I know when the car is sort of not feeling right (on a road course) that I can get it close, and then I’ll just do the rest. When I go oval racing, the cars are so twisted and contorted with their setups that if you miss it by a half-pound of tire pressure or 20 pounds of spring rate – or something like that – you can have a terrible day.”
With an extensive background in V8 Supercars in his native Australia, Ambrose knows the precise feel he wants to have in a road course car.
“For me, when you go road racing, it’s not so much about setting the car up to the very edge,’ he said. “It’s more about just making it easy to drive, and then I’ll do the rest. So I guess that gives me some confidence, because I’ve been to these tracks several times and run well. I know what I need to feel and so I’m able to get there quickly, probably quicker than most.”
Jeff Gordon was quick to cite another reason for Ambrose’s prowess at road racing.
“What makes him so good, not to mention his road racing experience over the years, is his aggressiveness,” Gordon said. “He’s just so aggressive. While I think sometimes that holds him back on the ovals, it pays off big time here. That’s going to be tough to beat.”
Gordon also likes Ambrose’s chances of a three-peat at Watkins Glen, a higher-speed venue than Sonoma, the more technical of the two road courses on the Sprint Cup circuit.
“I think it was interesting, because we were at Sonoma and he doesn’t do as well at Sonoma as he does here because this track, it loves aggressiveness,” Gordon said. “Sonoma does not like aggressiveness. I think you’re going to see him be extremely fast this weekend. He was fast at Sonoma, but just the fall-off was pretty big there where here that’s not the case.
“I think he’s going to be very, very difficult to beat.”