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Expectations, star on the rise for Aussie rookie
Marcos Ambrose's eyes shone with a mixture of cheer and mischief.
By KELLIE DIXON
Published July 13, 2007
DAYTONA BEACH - Marcos Ambrose's eyes shone with a mixture of cheer and mischief.
The Australian rookie readily admitted he didn't expect his Busch Series season would be going this well. But even his thick accent couldn't mask the fact that expectations are rising.
"Top 20 is not good enough anymore," Ambrose said before last weekend's Busch race, the Winn-Dixie 250 at Daytona "Now if we don't finish in the top 10, we're disappointed."
Disappointments still happen. In last weekend's race, Ambrose finished 35th and his crew chief Greg Conner was fined $1,000 afterward for two violations. But Ambrose is optimistic about the second half of the season, which starts Saturday at Chicagoland Speedway.
The 30-year-old who flourished in Australia's V8 series is getting comfortable within the No. 59 Ford. When he made his debut at Daytona International Speedway, all he wanted to do was finish in the top 20. Since that February race, he has recorded three top-10 finishes. He is eighth in the points standings and second among rookies - David Ragan is sixth overall.
Ambrose has been into racing since he was young. Growing up in Australia, he would worry his mother by scooting around on his minibike. His father, who raced Formula 3 before Marcos was born, didn't think twice about it.
Ambrose, who also raced some Formula 3, excelled in the V8 Supercars, winning titles in 2003 and 2004 driving a Ford. He hooked up with Ford in 2006 and spent a year studying the sport in the Craftsman Truck Series.
Driving in the Truck Series helped prepare him for racing in the Busch Series. He got a feel for the tracks and a taste of how they handled. Everything was a learning experience - even for his crew, which sometimes struggles to understand Ambrose.
"I think he's learned last year to slow down a little bit and speak a little slower," said Conner, who hails from Virginia. "This year we haven't had an issue unless he gets real excited, or he starts laughing and then he'll start to talk more."
Sometimes it takes a group effort to decipher what Ambrose said. He'll start chattering on the radio in his thick Australian accent and the crew members will look at one another in confusion. Or, if they don't get it, they'll just laugh along like the time Ambrose called the engineer a propeller-head.
"We just all laughed because he was laughing," Conner said. "After practice we had to figure out what he said."
But there's never any hard feelings. Ambrose considers the members of crew to be fair dinkums. That is, they're all genuine guys.
Ed Peel, the underneath mechanic, is in his first season working with Ambrose and is one of those guys. He couldn't help but laugh when Ambrose hollered through the radio that his overheating car smelled like burnt crumpets inside. Even during the race, the crew has a good time. But its goals are no laughing matter, and Ambrose is more confident now than he was 18 races ago.
Earlier "he didn't know what he wanted," Conner said. "Now I think he's a lot more confident in the car. He knows what they're going to do."
He especially is confident when it comes to road courses, which are more in his background from his V8 days. Ambrose should excel on tracks such as Montreal.
"He's self-taught," said his father, Ross. "He never attended a race driving school. ... He's quite a good analyst. He works out strategy and what he has to do and goes and gets results. He thinks."
And he's laid-back.
"He's always in a good mood," Conner said. "He's extremely competitive. He just wants to win."
But Ambrose isn't competitive with the team off the track. Instead of joining crew members for go-cart racing, he prefers to stump them with whatever trivia he gleans from the History or Discovery channels. When the team flies home, he's reading about current events, not racing.
But back on the track, the trivia is set aside. He's focused. He knows he has improved, but he has a ways to go.
"On the performance side, I'm right where I want to be," Ambrose said. "But I've got a lot more to learn."