Just Another Sunday Drive
By: Dustin Long - @dustinlong on June 18, 2014 | 2:17 P.M. EST
Marcos Ambrose has scored five consecutive top-10 finishes at Sonoma but still seeks his first victory there. (Photo: Getty Images)
Marcos Ambrose wants to treat this weekend like any other, but it isn’t.
In what has been a challenging season - he’s 23rd in points and hasn’t had a top-10 finish in more than two months - Sunday’s race at Sonoma marks Ambrose’s best chance to win and put himself in position for a Chase spot.
“We know what is at stake,’’ Ambrose said. “There is a lot of pressure building.’’
That’s why he’ll try not to dwell on what he could achieve with a win at Sonoma - a track he’s scored five consecutive top-10 finishes.
His focus, instead, is on making his car strong for a full fuel run. He’s always been fast at Sonoma early in a run but maintaining that has been the challenge. He started second in last year’s race and led the opening 18 laps before Kurt Busch passed him. Using a two-stop strategy, Ambrose was sixth with seven laps to go but lost two spots before the end.
“We've always been fast for a few laps, but I always wear the tires out fast,’’ Ambrose said. “If we're going to lose the race, it will be because we can't keep the tires underneath us.’’
It's more than just saying he needs to take care of his tires. Doing so is a delicate balance.
“The car has got a lot of power so it's really hard to keep the rear tires,’’ he said. “You can burn them up so quick.
“Second thing, the car is really heavy, one of the heaviest racecars you'll ever see. The tires are probably too small for the weight we're carrying. The brakes are small, so we get a lot of temperature in the brakes which gets transferred into the tires.
“Then you combine that with the track at Sonoma. It's one of the tightest, most challenging tracks you can go to which is very hard on tires, too. It has an exceptional level of grip. You have all these factors coming together that make tire life a real challenge around there.’’
Even with those factors, Ambrose understands that some drivers can make their tires last. Martin Truex Jr. led the final 28 laps to win last year’s race. Clint Bowyer led the final 39 laps to win there in 2012. Busch led the final 23 laps to win the 2011 race.
Those drivers - not one many would have picked to have won - prove how strong the Cup field is.
“That's the biggest thing I try to explain to people when we're talking about road racing in the Sprint Cup Series, is there's nowhere to hide,’’ Ambrose said. “These car are really tough. If you don't have skill, you can't get them around the track. The talent is so thick, if you have any issues at all, you're going to have a really, really tough day.’’
Ambrose got a little help in March when he was at Sonoma testing tires for Goodyear. Ambrose was joined by Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers.
“It was just good to actually see what Goodyear was trying to do so we can try to mirror what their efforts are to our setups,’’ Ambrose said.
Now comes one of the bigger weekends of the season for Ambrose, but he's trying to think about that.