Friday Notebook: Pressure On Ambrose

Marcos Ambrose

Marcos Ambrose has four consecutive top-10 finishes at Sonoma, but he's looking for more this weekend. (Photo Getty Images)

SONOMA, Calif. - Marcos Ambrose knows that if he hopes to make the post-season Chase, he likely needs to win Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Sonoma Raceway.

Otherwise, it could be another year of watching others compete for a title.

Ambrose and his team are focused on the two road courses knowing if they can win both, they could be in good shape to make the Chase provided they’re within the top 20 in points (Ambrose is 23rd in the standings).  He and teammate Aric Almirola tested at this 1.99-mile course last month.

"I’m mindful that we’ve had a terrible year and this is a really good opportunity to get your year back on track," Ambrose said.  "Certainly, there is added pressure.  I would love to be top 10 in points coming into this weekend and just rolling through a like a normal one, but it’s not for us.  We need to turn our year around and this is a good opportunity for us."

The weekend started well with Ambrose posting the fastest time in Friday’s first practice session.  That puts him in the final group for Saturday’s qualifying session.  He was eighth in Friday’s final practice.

Ambrose knows, though, this won’t be an easy weekend.

"If you look down the sheet of people who can win, there are at least 20 divers that could win," he said.  "Would you have put (defending winner) Clint Bowyer on that list last year when he went around here?  Probably not, so it could be even thicker than that.  It could be 30-odd drivers that have a chance to win."

PARTS FAILURE CAUSED LEFFLER’S CRASH: A mechanical failure caused Jason Leffler’s fatal crash, the New Jersey State Police announced Friday.

Although the investigation continues, the New Jersey State Police released its findings from the June 12 sprint car accident at Bridgeport Speedway.  A medical examiner previously announced that Leffler died of blunt neck force trauma.

The New Jersey State Police report states that as Leffler ran in second place on the fifth lap of his heat race, a tortion stop on the left side of his 410 sprint car came off.  That allowed the tortion bar and arm to slide out of its housing.  When it did, the tortion arm became lodged between the inboard flange of the right-front wheel and the right steering arm.

That caused Leffler’s front suspension to fail and locked his steering, leaving him unable to alter the car’s direction as he exited Turn 4.

The report states that Leffler’s car rotated clockwise about 180 degrees and struck the outside concrete wall with the left side of the vehicle.  Leffler’s car than overturned.

The New Jersey State Police stated that the investigation remains open for minor additions.

QUALIFYING GROUPS SET: NASCAR will have a different format for Sprint Cup qualifying Saturday.  They'll do it in groups instead of one car at a time.  The groups are based from the slowest to the fastest cars in Friday’s first practice session.  Each group is allowed five minutes, which should allow drivers to complete two or three laps.  If time expires while a driver is making a run, they’ll get to complete the lap.  Drivers are in groups of five or six.  They’ll go out after five-second intervals.

Group 1 (slowest of all the cars): David Stremme, Victor Gonzalez Jr., Justin Marks, Paulie Harraka, JJ Yeley, Tomy Drissi

Group 2: David Ragan, David Gilliland, Boris Said, David Reutimann, Josh Wise, Alex Kennedy.

Group 3: Ron Fellows, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Justin Bowles, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Jacques Villeneuve, Danica Patrick.

Group 4: Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Burton, Travis Kvapil, Bobby Labonte, Aric Almirola.

Group 5: Ryan Newman, Matt Kenseth, Kyle Busch, Carl Edwards, Kasey Kahne.

Group 6: Jeff Gordon, Kevin Harvick, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, Paul Menard.

Group 7: Greg Biffle, Brad Keselowski, Clint Bowyer, Martin Truex Jr., Joey Logano.

Group 8 (fastest cars): Marcos Ambrose, Juan Pablo Montoya, Casey Mears, Kurt Busch, Jamie McMurray.

ONE WAY: David Ragan has a new CB handle and nickname after helping drive the team’s hauler from North Carolina to Sonoma.  Since he’s flying back to North Carolina after the race, he’s being called "One Way."

Ragan likes the handle and enjoyed the trip.  He got his commercial driver's license and had been wanting to help drive the hauler.  He shared duties with the team’s regular truck driver, Mike Smith.  Ragan estimates he drove about 18 hours on the trip, which took about 44 hours in all including breaks.

"Driving from St. Louis to Kansas City was neat," Ragan said.  "We went through Columbia, Mo., where Carl (Edwards) is from and parts of Nebraska that I haven’t seen before.  Going through Bonneville (Utah), where they do the land speed records, I thought was pretty cool.  It was cool to learn a little bit about the country and the road and where we’re going."

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