NASCAR & Auto Racing

Ambrose has a head start on other international competitors

CONCORD, N.C. – Jacques Villeneuve. Patrick Carpentier. Dario Franchitti. Juan Pablo Montoya.

The Nextel Cup Series has seen a recent influx of international racing stars – a trend that shows no signs of slowing.

One international star actually has a significant head-start on the others, getting his NASCAR start in 2006. Australian Marcos Ambrose debuted in the Craftsman Truck Series last year and moved full time to the Busch Series this season with Wood Brothers/JTG Racing.

Entering Friday night’s Dollar General 300 at Lowe’s Motor Speedway (8 p.m. Eastern, ESPN2), Ambrose is eighth in series points with four top-10 finishes. He finished 20th in the May race at Charlotte.

The former two-time Australian V8 Supercar champion has been making steady progress in his stock car racing debut.

Much of the NASCAR community got a first in-depth look at Ambrose in August when he became an unwitting victim of a late-race temper tantrum by driver Robby Gordon in the Busch Series’ debut in Montreal.

Gordon, incensed at NASCAR officials because they would not allow him to return to a position on the track after he was hit by Ambrose under caution, remained on the track on the final restart and wrecked Ambrose – then the leader – with two laps remaining.

Gordon, black-flagged and ordered to park by NASCAR officials, kept racing until the end and engaged in a post-race celebration on the frontstretch as if he had won.

While a stunned TV audience watched along with NASCAR officials at Gordon’s antics, a calm and collected Ambrose remained a perfect gentleman.

“I’ve been down this road before where I’ve said things I’ve regretted and done things I’ve regretted, so I’ve learned from my mistakes. I know I just want to wake up the next morning and have a cup of coffee and not worry about what I’d said,” Ambrose said.

Ambrose immediately gained respect – not just in the public eye, but even from Gordon, who ultimately offered Ambrose the chance to drive one of Gordon’s cars in a Cup race.

Like Franchitti, Villeneuve and the others, Ambrose will also appear in the Cup series next season, but on a more limited basis. He will be one of three drivers to share time in the Wood Brothers’ No. 21 Ford next season.

“It’s just one of these life experiences that you get along the way. We’re lucky enough to be able to travel with a young family, and I’ve a great wife in Sonja to support me doing what I love to do,” Ambrose said.

“I have absolutely no regrets and I think everything we’ve done in the last 12 months and into the future is going to be fantastic for us.”

Related stories from Modesto Bee