One Good Turn Deserves Another
Marcos Ambrose's happiness bubbled over Monday afternoon to the point where he began vigorously chasing various employees of Richard Petty Motorsports and attempting to spray them with a bit of the bubbly in Victory Lane at Watkins Glen International.
For a driver and company whose intertwined futures were so uncertain just one year ago, it was indeed a day to call for champagne all the way around.
Ambrose won his first Sprint Cup race in the 105th start of a career that began when he made the trek to NASCAR's top touring series in 2008 after short stops in the Nationwide Series and the Camping World Truck Series. His overall NASCAR experience began in 2006 when he left the comfort of his native Australia, where he was a V8 Supercar champion.
So it's not like Ambrose had never stepped out of his comfort zone when he took the leap of faith to sign with Richard Petty Motorsports in August of last year. Ambrose had to get out of the final year of his contract with JTG/Daugherty Racing to do it -- and two months later he wondered if he had made a serious mistake as speculation swirled that RPM as he had envisioned it might be going out of business.
Fellow driver Kasey Kahne had just left the organization early to go to Red Bull Racing. During the subsequent race weekend at Martinsville, RPM officials huddled back in Mooresville, N.C., and discussed a strategy that one team official described as "hopefully giving us a sustainable future."
That sounded shaky not only to outsiders, but to one of the key insiders as well in Ambrose.
"There was a time when I was sitting around the boardroom and I was the only one there," he said in the aftermath of Monday's watershed win, which came a day after the race was postponed by rain -- and about 2½ years after Ambrose had first envisioned being the centerpiece of a wild party in Victory Lane at a Sprint Cup event.
In time, investors Doug Bergeron and Andrew Murstein came to the aid of RPM and legendary but beleaguered co-owner Richard Petty -- who had wrested control of the organization from the family of George Gillett as Gillett encountered financial difficulties. Bergeron and Murstein were on the pit box Monday at The Glen as Ambrose wheeled his No. 9 Ford to the win on the 2.45-mile road course.
Next to them, calling the shots during the race, was veteran crew chief Todd Parrott. It was on Parrott, who now has been part of 29 career Sprint Cup wins plus a Daytona 500 victory and the 1999 Cup championship with then-driver Dale Jarrett, to calm Ambrose's fears about RPM when they were first paired together last winter.
"It's been a while for me -- 2005 with Dale Jarrett -- so to get Marcos his first win in the Cup Series is something very special to me that I'll remember for a long time," said Parrott, 47. "For Richard Petty Motorsports and what they went through in 2010, to come back with people who didn't give up, it's really special."
He said he told Ambrose the same thing last winter that he told Bergeron and Murstein again this weekend. Be patient. Good things are about to happen.
"I told those guys earlier to just hang in there and that a win would come. [Monday], we finally got it done," Parrott said.
For Ambrose as well as the entire organization, it was sweet vindication. He admitted there were times last year when he wondered if he had given up too much by gambling on his future in NASCAR, and even toyed with the idea of possibly going back to Australia if RPM had folded.
"It's just a dream day," he said. "The sacrifices you make, we all make -- Todd and the team, the Petty family, my family -- to get here, to be a contender in the Cup Series, to finally get to Victory Lane is a dream come true for me.
"I've traveled halfway around the world and dragged my kids and my wife with me. I kept telling them I was good -- but until you can win in the Cup Series, you can't really put that stamp on it. I've tried for 2½ years to get to Victory Lane."
The dream isn't likely to end here. In posting the victory, Ambrose moved within striking distance of earning a wild-card berth in the Chase. Ambrose moved up one spot in the points standings to 22nd, but he's only one point out of 20th with four races left before the Chase field is set.
Ambrose would need to not only crack the top 20 in points, but also likely will need to win his second career Cup race in a hurry to have a shot at one of the two wild-card spots that go to the two drivers with the most victories who are outside the top 10 but no lower than 20th after the Sept. 10 race at Richmond. He and Parrott said they've known all along that the No. 9 team had the ability to win; now they believe they also have the confidence to do it again.
They not only think they can do it again, but they also think they can do it on an oval.
"Hopefully we can go out and win a couple of races," Parrott said. "We've been good on ovals. We've had some great runs this year and chances to win at a couple of other race tracks. But I think, as Marcos has said, getting this win and getting all the load off his shoulders is going to help him mentally now. And I think it will help us as a team, knowing that we can win."
Parrott said he and his driver have absolutely no regrets about staying the course at RPM now. In fact, Parrott said he never doubted a day like Monday would come once he started getting to know what Ambrose was all about.
"Over the winter we did some road-course testing and stuff. We got to spend a lot of time together," Parrott said. "I gave him my background of where I came from. I knew what his background was and the talent that he was, and I told him just to be patient.
"That's the thing about this sport: if you're patient and you keep working hard, sooner or later you'll be able to celebrate the fruits [of victory]. ... He's kept his head down and worked hard, just like our whole team has, and it's a pleasure to work with a guy like that. We can go out with all the great drivers that are in this sport and now we know we can win."
From where they've come in the last year, that in itself already stands as a Herculean accomplishment worthy of a champagne-infused celebration.