2011 NASCAR Preview: The Top 30 Driver Countdown
2011 Driver Countdown
No. 9 Stanley Tools/DeWalt Ford
Team: Richard Petty Motorsports
Owner: Richard Petty/Richard Petty Motorsports
Crew Chief: Todd Parrott
Years with current team: 1
Under contract through: 2012+
Best points finish: 18th (2009)
Hometown: Launceston, Australia
Born: September 1, 1976
The 2010 season was a bumpy ride for Marcos Ambrose, and while 2011 is looking better week by week, it almost all crumbled out from under the Tasmanian Devil.
Almost, but not quite.
Ambrose announced his intentions to depart JTG Daugherty Racing last July to sign with Richard Petty Motorsports in the No. 9 of the departing Kasey Kahne, for a team that’s won over a dozen races in its existence. It looked like a step up for Ambrose, but then the bottom fell out. RPM didn’t look like it would finish 2010, let alone have any kind of future to offer, and only in late November did Petty himself — along with investors Andrew Murstein and Doug Bergeron — resurrect the team from the ashes, restructuring and cutting back from four cars to two for the 2011 season.
With 2011 a go for the Australian driver, Ambrose can begin to put together the building year he and the team both need. Always a factor at the sport’s two road courses, he won the Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen and came oh-so-close to winning the Cup race at Infineon in 2010. The short tracks have proven to be good to him, as well. He started second and dominated the early laps at Martinsville in the fall of 2010, had a top 5 at Richmond, and seems to be solid every time out at Bristol.
The No. 9 — in terms of equipment — is a step up for Ambrose, and could be a big one. The question is whether he can improve on a variety of tracks. Five of his eight DNFs last season were due to wrecks, and countless other times spins would define days when he tried too hard with a car that just wouldn’t handle to his liking. He must improve on the intermediates, his best career finish being a 10th on a track 1.5-to-2 miles in length. The Stanley/DeWalt-sponsored No. 9 team should be able to help in this area, as those tracks were Kahne’s forte, and new crew chief Todd Parrott brings years of veteran experience, working with the likes of Dale Jarrett, Matt Kenseth, Bobby Labonte and Elliott Sadler.
Two years ago, this driver was knocking on the door of the Chase while this team actually participated in it. The right combination could have them knocking on the door again, but with investors still shaking out finances, who knows how good the money will let them be? The equipment may be an improvement, but is the overall situation better?
What The Competition Is Saying
Thoughts from anonymous garage-area owners, crew chiefs and team members.
After two full seasons in Sprint Cup, the jury’s still out on the Australian driver. “To be determined,” says a crew chief. “He’s got to prove he can be competitive for 500 miles without making that crucial mistake that ruins the whole day. Now the team is struggling financially, and no one knows how tough that’s going to be. There’s been a huge amount of personnel layoffs at Richard Petty Motorsports, and it’s going to be hard for that team to get off to a decent start.”
Another adds, “Ambrose came a long way in 2009, but there’s no getting around the disappointing year he had last year. He dropped a long way in the points (18th in ’09 to 26th in ’10), and wasn’t the factor on intermediate tracks that he was the year before.”
A third crew chief says, “Ambrose is fun to watch on a road course. There isn’t much doubt he can win at the Cup level there. On the other courses, I think he gets a little antsy and has a tendency to be a bit over-aggressive.”
Top 5s: 2
Top 10s: 5
Laps Led: 84
Laps Completed: 10,027
Lead Lap Finishes: 16
Bonus Points: 20
Races Led: 4
Average Start: 21.8
Average Finish: 22.2
After First 26 Races: 24th
Final Points Standing: 26th
Driver Rating: 68.9 (24th)