Race Weekend Central

Going By the Numbers: Don’t Count Out Marcos Ambrose Just Yet

So, here’s something I can’t quite figure out exiting Watkins Glen.

Why does Marcos Ambrose suddenly have zero chance to make the Chase?

Look, I get it. Ambrose is a road course specialist, one who’ll be making the rounds at NASCAR’s road courses even after he leaves the Sprint Cup Series on a full-time basis. He’s scored both of his career Sprint Cup wins on tracks where one turns right, with even more added in the Nationwide Series. The dude is a machine at places like Watkins Glen and Sonoma, always a threat for victory no matter what.

When the Australian finished second to AJ Allmendinger last Sunday in the final two corners, the call came that his chances to put the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports car into the Chase were over, or at least severely — perhaps insurmountably — diminished. With just four races left to land a Chase berth, Ambrose sits 16th in points but is eighth in terms of drivers without wins, meaning he’d need to pass four drivers in points to get into the Chase without a win — and that’s assuming no other competitors sans victories visit Victory Lane before The Chase begins at Chicagoland Speedway.

In other words, yeah, sure, chances are Ambrose isn’t going to slide in via the wild card spots. With some more good runs here and there, he’d be further up in the standings, but dozens of points over four races is just bleak.

Amrbose out of contention? Only need only to point to Martinsville and Bristol where a win could happen - or at the very least, net enough points to squeak into the Top 16.
Marcos Ambrose out of contention? Hardly. One only needs to point toward Martinsville and Bristol, where a win could be a strong possibility. Or, if not, could he net enough points to squeak into the Top 16? Credit: CIA Stock Photography

But as for a win? It’s not completely out of the question, because of one track in particular: Bristol Motor Speedway.

While Ambrose may be known for his road racing prowess, it’s silly to count him out on the shortest of the short tracks — in the Sprint Cup Series’ case, Bristol and Martinsville.

Since arriving in the series in 2009, the speedways have been among his better tracks, when the situation falls in his favor. Throughout his Cup career, he’s scored a 17.2 average finish there, a few spots above his overall average finish of 19.9 for his career.

But that number, of course, includes the occasional misfortune and simple off-days. On the whole, Ambrose has scored four top-5 finishes and eight top 10s, with a best finish of third and three fifth-place results.

Not too shabby.

In multiple Bristol and Martinsville races, he’s been at least near the front, part of the conversation even if he hasn’t won. He’s clearly figured out the short, quick left-hand turns in addition to the right-handers.

In fact, in recent years he’s been even better. Since 2013, he’s scored two top 5s and four top 10s, only finishing outside the top 10 twice — a pair of 19th-place results at the first Bristol and second Martinsville events last year.

In the two races this year? Two fifths.

He may just be poised for a big underdog story at Bristol for that reason. Already he’s on a hotter streak at the short tracks than he’s ever been, and the enormity of the situation is a boost as well. While a win may not have mattered as much in past year, it’s on Ambrose more than ever to perform at tracks at which he’s shown he can compete — and that he has so far this year.

Perhaps adding to the momentum is teammate Aric Almirola’s victory at Daytona last month. With the win, Richard Petty Motorsports already has one driver in the Chase. With getting a second one — two for two — in with potential ease compared to, say, Michigan a distinct possibility, one has to think more resources and focus will go into Bristol for the No. 9 team than ever before.

That, combined again with the two fifth-place finishes so far in 2014, gives me pause to consider Ambrose completely out of the picture.

Are his past results a sudden turn of the tables that he’ll actually score a win? Nothing’s for certain — though little ever is in NASCAR.

Just doesn’t seem like Marcos Ambrose is out of the equation yet.

About the author

Rutherford is the managing editor of Frontstretch, a position he gained in 2015 after serving on the editing staff for two years. At his day job, he's a journalist covering music and rock charts at Billboard. He lives in New York City, but his heart is in Ohio -- you know, like that Hawthorne Heights song.

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