2008 Rides: No. 21 Wood Brothers Ford (five starts); No. 47 JTG Racing Ford (two starts); No. 47 Michael Waltrip Racing Toyota (four starts)
2008 Primary Sponsor: Little Debbie
2008 Owners: Wood Brothers, Tad Geschickter, Michael Waltrip
2008 Crew Chiefs: David Hyder, Frank Kerr, Peter Sospenzo
Stats: 11 races, 0 wins, 1 top five, 1 top 10, 0 poles, 45th in points
High Point: Marcos Ambrose made quite an impression in only his third Sprint Cup Series start. Granted, the Australian road racer was expected to do well at Watkins Glen, but it’s probably safe to say he exceeded expectations – especially considering the weekend didn’t start out at all like the team had hoped. After rainy weather washed out qualifying, the No. 21 car had to start a disappointing 43rd when the field was lined up by owner points.
Usually, starting in the back is too much to overcome on a road course where passing can be difficult, but Ambrose didn’t let the poor starting position stop him. The Australian drove through the field, and by the end of the day, he finished third – easily the best finish by far in 2008 for the struggling Wood Brothers operation, and a great way to introduce himself to the Sprint Cup Series scene.
Low Point: From the highest high to the lowest low. Ambrose made his first Sprint Cup Series race at Infineon Raceway with a seventh-place starting spot, but the very next week at New Hampshire, he picked up his only DNQ of the season while attempting his second race. Just a little nod from the NASCAR Gods not to get too cocky too soon? The dreaded DNQ is the fastest way to bring a quick close to a promising career.
Summary: Ambrose was merely trying to get his feet wet at the Sprint Cup Series level in 2008 in advance of a full-time venture into the series for 2009. He attempted 12 races and made 11 of them with three different car owners. In those 11 starts, there were some flashes of brilliance and some less than stellar runs. That’s the sort of inconsistency that is not unusual for a driver taking his first tentative steps into the big time. It’s also not unfair to say that the equipment played a role in things, as well. Ambrose made his first several runs for the Wood Brothers and while he scored an almost astounding third-place run for that team, his other finishes of 42nd, 43rd and 32nd twice fit right in line with those posted by other drivers in that car in 2008. He fared better elsewhere, finishing inside the top 30 in four of the six starts he made with Tad Geschickter’s and later Michael Waltrip’s cars. That would make a case that the driver was definitely better than the equipment for almost half of the races Ambrose got to run in his first foray into Sprint Cup Series racing.
Team Ranking: This one might be a little weird. For JTG Daugherty Racing, Ambrose is the main man and their first journey into Sprint Cup racing. For Michael Waltrip Racing, the team they have joined forces with and under whose banner they have been running, Ambrose inherits the third string team that has been bringing up the rear for the organization – although at least that rear isn’t too far behind the two other cars who have struggled as MWR attempts to get things going.
Off-Track News: All drivers have off-track hobbies, but Ambrose’s ranks right up there among the most unusual. In the search for something new and different to do when he arrived in the U.S., Ambrose took up gold prospecting. He says it’s a hobby that he can go out and participate in now and then, but he also enjoys doing research and reading up on the history of gold mining when he’s not in the field trying his luck. While he hasn’t hit the big jackpot yet, there is the advantage that he actually finds enough gold to make his hobby support itself.
2009 Outlook: Ambrose might have had an uphill battle driving a car that was not in the Top-35 guaranteed starters going into 2009, but the departure of some of the teams in front of him may have just made life a lot easier, giving him a “locked-in” spot for the first five events. If the team can concentrate on racing instead of qualifying, Ambrose might do quite well. The equipment from the Waltrip team is not all that bad as David Reutimann, and even Ambrose himself, have proven. Look for him to excel on the road courses again, but there is also potential for Ambrose to have a consistent year, something that is important for this team – even if it isn’t consistently top 10 just yet.
Quote of the Year: “You know, you don’t get many chances in life to do something special like this, and today I’m going to look back at very fondly – the whole weekend, to be honest with you. I’m just really proud of both my times, and I hope it can give the Wood Brothers a shot in the arm that they need to really get the momentum to move forward.” – On his third place finish at Watkins Glen, one day after winning the first Nationwide Series race of his career
2007 Frontstretch Grade: N/A
2008 Grade: C-