Ambrose to leave RPM and return to Australia at season’s end

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 13:  Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #9 Stanley Ford, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 13, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

JOLIET, IL – SEPTEMBER 13: Marcos Ambrose, driver of the #9 Stanley Ford, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series MyAFibStory.com 400 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 13, 2014 in Joliet, Illinois. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

JOLIET, Ill.—Marcos Ambrose will leave Richard Petty Motorsports and return home to his native Australia at the end of the 2014 season, in what the Tasmanian driver termed Saturday as a personal decision.

“I feel like the timing’s great for myself and my family to just return to Australia, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Ambrose told reporters Saturday morning at Chicagoland Speedway.

In confirming Ambrose’s impending departure in a Saturday morning release, RPM said the organization already is exploring “several driver opportunities to help drive the No. 9 team forward,” and will announce Ambrose’s replacement at the appropriate time.

“Marcos will always be part of our extended racing family,” team co-owner Richard Petty said. “He came over to the United States with his family and dedicated his time here giving the best he had each week.

“I couldn’t ask anything more from Marcos and his commitment on and off of the track to our race team and our partners. Away from the track, he’s a family person first. That’s something I respect, and we’ll miss Marcos, (wife) Sonja and their children.”

Ambrose’s tenure at RPM included a transition of ownership from George Gillet, under who the team struggled to make ends meet, to a more stable group headed by Richard Petty and investors Andy Murstein and Doug Bergeron.

“I feel like I’ve left them better than when I entered with them,” Ambrose said. “I feel like I’ve contributed to their turnaround. They’re a great team. They’re moving forward. They’ve got a car in the Chase this year (the No. 43 of Aric Almirola). They’ve won races.

“When I first joined them in the turmoil of the Gillett changeover, there were a lot of gray clouds circling around them. They’re on a great path. I wish them the best. I value Richard’s friendship greatly, and the family and everybody here at RPM. They’re a great company, and I wish them the most success.”

Though Ambrose’s decision was personal—and was made earlier this year—his frustration with a lack of progress on the competitive side was a factor, too. One of the most talented road course drivers ever to compete in NASCAR racing, Ambrose notched his only two NASCAR Sprint Cup Series victories at Watkins Glen, but he never scored a breakthrough victory on an oval track.

“I feel like my level has plateaued at the Sprint Cup level,” Ambrose said. “I haven’t kicked off the next level. I’ve always said that, if I felt like I had flattened off my learning curve or my success—that I was only in the U.S. to win, and if I wasn’t able to contend like I want to—then I need to look at my situation, and that has been the case.

“It has been a tough couple years on the race track for me, and the personal situation is clear, and I just think the timing is right to go home.”

A two-time champion in the V8 Supercar Series, Ambrose has been rumored as a candidate to return to that series in a car fielded by Roger Penske.

“Today’s not the day to talk about my racing future,” Ambrose said on Saturday. “I felt like, personally, it’s the right choice for myself and my family to call it a day here in the U.S. and move on to our next chapter.”

The discussion of Ambrose’s racing future may come sooner rather than later. Team Penske president Tim Cindric announced on his Twitter account Saturday that the organization plans “to have a teleconference on Monday at 9 p.m. ET to give a @v8supercars update for the media. No further comments. Focused on the Chase now.”

For those who question the starting time for the teleconference, remember that 9 p.m. ET Monday is 10 a.m. on Tuesday in Sydney, Australia.

SHORT STROKES

Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers dominated Saturday morning’s first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series practice session, filling eight of the top 10 spots.

Non-Chaser Paul Menard, however, paced the session with a fast lap at 188.772 mph, nearly one mile-an-hour faster than second-place Kasey Kahne’s 187.780 mph. Kevin Harvick was third quickest, followed by Kevin Harvick, Jeff Gordon, Carl Edwards, Brian Vickers, Aric Almirola, Greg Biffle, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Jimmie Johnson.

Vickers was the other non-Chase driver in the top 10…

Leading Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate Kyle Larson slammed into the outside wall during the first Saturday practice and will start Sunday’s MyAFibStory.com 400—the first race in the Chase—from the rear of the field in a backup car.

After shaking down the backup later in the session, Larson got the car up to speed in Saturday’s second practice, running third behind Edwards and Brad Keselowski. Edwards’ top speed of 186.413 mph was a reflection of warmer track conditions.

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