Ambrose Looking To End On High Note In Final Race Of The Season
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – Among the big goals on Marcos Ambrose’s NASCAR checklist is scoring his first victory on an oval course, and he’ll have a great shot at putting a mark by that target Sunday.
Ambrose spun the second-fastest lap in Ford EcoBoost 400 qualifying Friday evening and will start second in the final race of the Sprint Cup season Sunday. Ambrose ran 175.342 miles per hour.
During the qualifying session, Ambrose knocked series point leader Brad Keselowski from the provisional pole and held first place until the final qualifier, Joey Logano, posted a faster lap. Logano ran 176.056 – the only driver over the 176 mark.
Ambrose has two Sprint Cup career wins – both at Watkins Glen International, one of two Sprint Cup road courses. He has come close on ovals.
“Here is Brad trying to win his first championship and I am trying to win my first [oval] race,” Ambrose said. “So let’s keep it in context, you know. We have a shot to win the race, and we are going to try to do that just like every week.
“2013 has been our focus for the last few weeks. We have made some changes to our team – some good, some bad and some indifferent. The reasons for them were complicated and complex, and I am supportive of RPM (Richard Petty Motorsports) and what they are trying to do. It is good to have Drew (Blickensderfer, crew chief) on the box, and we are getting our team back in tip-top shape.”
Ambrose will be starting the race one spot in front of Keselowski and eight in front of Jimmie Johnson, putting him in the early-race mix with the championship contenders.
Asked about how he will race considering his positioning near the championship hopefuls, Ambrose said, “Well, I am certainly not a Jimmie Johnson charity. I am out there for myself and my team. The same with Brad, too. That is just the way you have to be out there.
“You want to be respectful, obviously, of the championship and NASCAR and the Sprint Cup Series and the guys that have a shot to win it, and I wish them all the best. That is where the lawn stops. I am out there to try to win for my team. It would mean a lot for us. I have not won on an oval, and I haven’t forgotten that point.”
Three Ford Fusions qualified in the top five Friday. Carl Edwards, trying to end a tough season with a victory, qualified fourth, and Aric Almirola, Ambrose’s teammate, was fifth.
Also in the top 13 were Chase drivers Matt Kenseth (11th) and Greg Biffle (13th).
Both Kenseth (sixth in points) and Biffle (seventh) are in position to make point gains in the season’s final race.
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Roush Fenway Racing owner Jack Roush announced earlier this week that veteran crew chief Jimmy Fennig would move from the No. 17 team to the No. 99 of Carl Edwards for the 2013 season and that Roush would pair rookie crew chief Scott Graves with rookie Cup driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. in his first full Cup season next year. Ford Racing caught up with all the major players Saturday to talk more about the plans for all starting in Daytona.
JACK ROUSH, Car Owner – Roush Fenway Racing – WHAT WAS YOUR THOUGHT PROCESS BEHIND MOVING THE 17 TEAM TO CARL FOR 2013? “It’s a well-oiled team that has an expectation to win and I was concerned whether they would have the patience to really give Ricky time to get up to speed. Carl’s experience is justified and we can do that immediately with Jimmy. Of course, Jimmy had his own set of conditions that he needed to exact from me and to exact from Carl in terms of the kind of commitment we would make for the success of the deal. Of course, I’m all-in and Carl is all-in, so we feel we’ve got a really great situation there.
“The decision with Ricky Stenhouse, I would normally not be an advocate for bringing a crew chief who hadn’t been established with a rookie driver into the Cup Series, but Scott Graves – in my words – he’s been a prodigy for the small amount of experience he’s had making the final decisions. He made great decisions for Carl at Watkins Glen and he’s made great decisions for Ricky when he’s been with him this year. So I think given the fact he’s a mechanical engineer as well as an experienced team engineer, he’s going to bring enthusiasm and creativity to Ricky that we might not otherwise be able to achieve with somebody that had more experience. I think chemistry between a driver and a crew chief is really important and I think the chemistry between Scott Graves and Ricky Stenhouse is gonna be something incredible to watch for a first-year program for both of them.” “Trevor Bayne really has the same situation as Carl Edwards since he’s able to step into Ricky’s seat in the Nationwide Series because we’re keeping that team intact and Trevor will have every opportunity to do all that he can. Last year, he was encumbered by his health issue, but we’re going to give him a chance to get him up to speed and demonstrate what he can do and, hopefully, put him in championship contention right off the bat.”
THERE’S A DIFFERENCE BETWEEN JIMMY FENNIG AND BOB OSBORNE. WHAT IS IT? “The difference between the crew chiefs with an engineering background and the old-school crew chiefs is really the job that the engineers behind the crew chiefs did. One of the difficulties we had with Carl’s program is that the engineers with the 99 were not really as able to be on their own as they needed to be with a crew chief that was an engineer. Bob required from the guys the support he needed, which was not as much and different than what Jimmy has needed. Jimmy’s program is all organized with engineers that give him the support he requires. He holds court and plays the part of a judge between the theories he’s come up with, based on what he sees in the garage and what his experience tells him, and what flows from the computers and the seven-post.”
WHAT WERE SOME OF THE CONDITIONS JIMMY NEEDED IN ORDER TO ACCEPT THIS NEXT OPPORTUNITY? “He just wanted to know from me that I really wanted him and my first choice was him for Carl and to stay at the helm of the 17. He wanted that commitment from me and he wanted a commitment from Carl for some additional time that Bob had not required to really debrief him on what the car was doing and what input he wanted to have for what the setup changes would be.”
SO YOU’RE ALL SET FOR 2013. HOW DO YOU FEEL? “It’s a dream team. We’ve got a great prospect with Matt Puccia and Greg Biffle. We’ve got a great situation for Carl and the 17 team of Jimmy Fennig, which will be the 99 team next year. They’ll change haulers in addition to changing drivers, and we’ve got a great situation that I couldn’t see improved for Ricky Stenhouse. I think the chemistry part of Ricky and Scott Graves is going to be something to watch. Scott Graves is not as inexperienced as first glance would lead you to believe. He was with Carl in that 60 Nationwide program for two or three years and had great success with Carl and Mike Beam, where Mike really just let Scott run the car. So even though he didn’t get credit for it, Scott was behind a lot of Carl’s success in the 60 Nationwide car.”
JIMMY FENNIG, Crew Chief – HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT BEING PAIRED WITH CARL NEXT YEAR? “I’ve never worked with Carl before and I have very seldom talked to him over the years. I’m the type of crew chief that I focus in on the job at hand and the driver I have and don’t really pay too much attention to other drivers. In fact, I didn’t talk to Carl until Wednesday when I was told I would be working with him next year.”
WHAT WAS THAT CONVERSATION LIKE? “I talked to him about how I like to do things. He might not be used to some stuff, but I’m going to continue doing what I’m doing. I’ll still get viewpoints from him, but I wanted to let him know my philosophy as far as how I run the shop, the people and the race cars.”
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE CHALLENGE WORKING WITH HIM? “I don’t really know Carl Edwards. The only thing I know is that he has made a run at some championships and has won a lot of races. Personally, I don’t know him yet, but my goal has always been to win races. No matter who drives the car, that’s what I try to do every week and that’s something I know we already have in common.”
DID YOU DISCUSS THIS MOVE WITH JACK BEFOREHAND OR DID HE JUST TELL YOU WHAT HE WOULD LIKE TO DO? “Let’s put it this way, I needed a job again. Jack more or less came to me and said he would appreciate it if I would go and run with Carl next year. Jack is a racer and every time Jack has asked me to do something, I’ve done it for him, so when he came to me and talked about what he was thinking, I told him I would do it.”
THIS IS BASICALLY CARL COMING OVER TO WORK WITH THE CURRENT 17 TEAM, SO HOW WILL IT BE DIFFERENT FOR HIM? “We’re going to go about things the way I’ve always done it, but I’m the type of person who is open-minded. I know how important simulation is and a lot of the other tools we have at our disposal as a race team, and I want to make sure that Carl gives our engineers and myself all of the feedback on what that car is doing so we can help him. Our simulation is a big part of what we do and our engineering staff is a big strength of our organization that we’ve got to make sure it works.”
BOB OSBORNE SPENT SO MANY YEARS AS CARL’S CREW CHIEF. HOW DIFFERENT ARE YOU AND BOB? “Bob actually worked as my race engineer years ago, so the only thing Carl probably has to get used to is the fact that I’m a grumpy old man (laughing).”
CARL EDWARDS, No. 99 Fastenal Ford Fusion – YOUR THOUGHTS ON YOUR NEW CREW CHIEF FOR NEXT YEAR, JIMMY FENNIG? “We’ve had a lot of changes this year. First Bob Osborne who we won a lot of races with and had great success with, he was unable to crew chief so Chad Norris came in and did a heck of a job. The opportunity to work with Jimmy Fennig next year is something that no driver would pass up. They are running so well and have so much going for them right now and he said he would like to do it. I am excited to work with him. We talked a little bit this week and he is telling me what Bobby Allison used to do and Mark Martin and Kurt Busch and Matt Kenseth. The guy has worked with that many champions and it can only help me and make me a better race car driver. I am really excited about next year and I am glad that Jack gave me the opportunity to work with Jimmy.”
WAS THIS CHANGE BY YOUR REQUEST OR A TEAM DECISION? “We have a lot of depth at Roush Fenway Racing and I think that is evidenced by Chad and those guys coming in straight over from R&D and Chad had great race cars for me and has done very well. We all just sat down and looked at it and Chad and I talked at length about it. Everyone agrees the opportunity to have the experience of Jimmy Fennig on the box to get this Fastenal Fusion back to victory lane is what we should do. It wasn’t something that I single-handedly requested or just that Jack wanted to do it. As a team we thought this was the best thing to do. The biggest thing at Roush is that he has so many good people that we can move people around and do things like this and it is good for the whole company.”
IS THERE ANYTHING WITH THE 17 TEAM YOU SEE THAT MIGHT BE A REFLECTION OF JIMMY THAT THEY DO WELL THAT WILL CARRY OVER TO YOU? “I don’t know Jimmy well enough yet to know. I spent a little bit of time with him this week at the shop and from what I can tell he is just very, very competitive. He is old school in a number of ways but it seems like he does a very good job of getting the most out of all his people. That is the model crew chief right now. A guy who doesn’t know everything but is a guy that can get everything and the best out of the people around them. Chad has done an amazing job. I think he is the model guy in that respect. He is able to work with everybody. It is just that for me and for the organization it is hard to pass up an opportunity to work with someone with the experience of Jimmy Fennig. After talking to him I am really excited. It is cool to sit in a room with a guy that can tell me what Bobby Allison used to do and the differences with all the great drivers. Hopefully he will guide me to be a better race car driver.”
WERE THINGS NOT CLICKING WITH YOU AND CHAD? “Chad and I have talked about this at length. When he came in, the first we qualified second at Indy and have had cars that were fast but still had some problems. I think that Chad as he gains experience and I am not sure exactly what he is going to do next year but he will get more experience on the pit box and I think that he will be the man. I would work with him if something were to happen next year with Jimmy, he would probably be the guy to jump into the crew chief slot. There is not one thing he has done wrong. It isn’t like that. It is that the opportunity with Jimmy came along and is too hard to pass up.”
JIMMY FENNIG SAID YOUR BIGGEST HURDLE WOULD BE DEALING WITH A CRANKY OLD GUY. WHAT DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO BE THE BIGGEST HURDLE FOR YOU? “Have you ever spent much time around Bob? He is a cranky young man. I am okay with cranky. I like a guy that builds fast race cars and is able to manage his people and give me the best pit stops, race cars and strategy from the box. This isn’t a knock to anybody but a guy that has that much experience; he just has a feel for the race. More than I do, more than Chad, maybe even more than Bob. I think it is just an awesome opportunity. I went over to look at the 17 car in the shop and was standing there talking to Jimmy. I wanted to see how he did things. I started looking and he wouldn’t even let me look at Matt’s car because there was one race left. He is pretty serious. I think that is cool.”
SCOTT GRAVES, crew chief, No. 6 Ford Mustang – YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT NEXT YEAR? “I am definitely excited about it. It is a big opportunity for me. With Ricky getting his first full time year in the Cup series it is going to be new for both of us but I am definitely looking forward to it. The good thing is that I have been on the engineering side since 2006 and I started in the truck series and now have been in the Nationwide and Cup series as an engineer. I came up through the engineering side and have always sat next to the crew chief on the box and kind of always been the right-hand man there for all those years. I don’t have a lot of actual experience being the guy on the radio making the calls and doing that but I have had a lot of time to watch and learn and figure that out.”
WHAT WAS IT LIKE WHEN JACK TOLD YOU THE NEWS? “It was a surprise honestly. We had talked about and I had thought that the possibility for me would be in the Nationwide series. I thought that is where I was headed. It was a little bit of a surprise when I walked in and they said that this was what they wanted me to do. The initial thought was that it took a minute to let it sink in and figure out what you are going to do. I went home and talked about it with my wife and figured out what I really want to do and what direction I wanted to go in and from there it was an easy decision. I am definitely excited about it. Ricky is on board too. He is excited about it. We talked about it and have been working on the team and trying to line the guys up that we want and he is definitely excited about going into next year.”
HOW MUCH HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO LEARN ABOUT EACH OTHER IN YOUR FEW RACES THIS YEAR AND WHAT WILL YOU TRY TO LEARN THIS WEEKEND THAT CAN CARRY OVER TO NEXT YEAR? “We have worked together at Dover and Charlotte already and at that point we didn’t know that this would be the scenario for next year. This weekend we will be working on communication and just trying to get an idea of what next year will be like and try to work on some of those things that will help us plan better for next year.”
HOW MUCH HAVE YOU OR WILL YOU TALK WITH MIKE KELLEY TO HELP YOU TRANSITION WITH WHAT RICKY LIKES? “A lot. Even the first two races that I worked with Ricky, Mike was there during practice. He has worked with him for three years now so the communication side he knows what Ricky is looking for so I have been asking him a lot of questions for sure.”
YOU HAVE EXPERIENCE ON THE R&D SIDE OF THE 2013 CUP CAR. HOW MUCH WILL THAT HELP YOU? “Being in the R&D group for six months or so here I was at the Talladega 2013 test with Ricky and I have been involved with the cars from that point. As the rules come out and they we are updating the cars in our shop and kind of figuring out how we are going to build them and that whole process I have been there to see that. I definitely have some familiarity with the car going into next year which I think will help.”
IS IT TOO EARLY TO TRY TO ESTABLISH GOALS FOR NEXT YEAR FOR A FIRST YEAR CREW CHIEF WITH A FIRST YEAR DRIVER IN A BRAND NEW CAR? “We have thought about it a little bit. We need to be solid. We need to get out there and work on finishing races and be on the lead lap and I am thinking that if we are top-15, top-10 and start in that range then we can work our way up and that would be a good starting point for