2009 Ride: No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota
2009 Primary Sponsors: Little Debbie/Kingsford/Bush’s Baked Beans/Clorox
2009 Owners: Tad Geschickter, Brad Daugherty
2009 Crew Chief: Frank Kerr
Stats: 36 starts, 0 wins, 4 top fives, 7 top 10s, 0 poles, 18th in points
Best Finish: 2nd – Watkins Glen.
Average Finish: 19.6.
High Point: Marcos Ambrose’s best finish was a second place at Watkins Glen; but given his successful background in V8 Supercars racing on road courses in Australia, that performance could be somewhat expected. The pleasant surprise was at Bristol in August, where Ambrose ran strong all night and brought home a great third-place finish. Bristol is so far out of the realm of any past experience for him that even the driver himself was pleasantly surprised by the run. One of the series’ toughest tracks, it’s the most confidence-building performance the team posted all year as the rookie proved a quick learner on the ovals.
Low Point: The No. 47 team posted eight finishes outside the top 30, one more than they posted inside the top 10, and it was that lack of consistency that ultimately hurt them. Likely the worst of those was in the final race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Ambrose qualified third, and the start of the race went picture perfect as he even blew by the soon-to-be four-time champion Jimmie Johnson to take the lead. It was just what a team on the upswing needed to keep momentum going over the offseason… until the wheels fell off. The car developed a tire issue that snowballed into a larger mechanical problem, turning the night from a dream to a nightmare in the form of several off-sequence pit stops. All of a sudden, the No. 47 went from long-shot contender for victory to limping home in 35th place, his crew armed with a finish that’ll likely leave them stewing for the next three months.
Summary: In his first full season on the Sprint Cup tour, Ambrose acquitted himself well after moving up from the Nationwide Series. Aligned with a new, mid-level team aligned with a good deal of Toyota support, his contributions behind the wheel helped JTG partner Michael Waltrip Racing improve dramatically to the outskirts of Chase contention. Note that while Ambrose has been in NASCAR in various capacities for several seasons, oval racing is still relatively new to him, and while he’s always strong on road courses, where his background lies, there are only two road races per season in Cup. But the driver added other disciplines to his growing resume in 2009, scoring two top-six runs in four restrictor-plate races while putting up a respectable average finish of 14.5 during the biannual short-track swing through Bristol, Martinsville and Richmond.
The bottom line here is that this relatively new team and driver had some things to learn, and there was plenty of evidence they were doing just that. So while there were a few more poor runs than they probably wanted, there were also some very nice races and solid finishes where they really flashed some potential.
Team Ranking: JTG Daugherty Racing relies on Michael Waltrip Racing for cars and technical support in a cooperative effort; however, it is considered a single-car team of its own, making Ambrose the sole lead driver who gets “undivided” attention from his owners.
Off-Track News: Did you know Ambrose is nowhere to be found right now? The Australian driver boarded a plane for Australia immediately after the final race of the season in Miami and headed to the other side of the world until February to rest, relax, visit family and friends, and recharge for next season. Ambrose is one driver who is pleased with the testing ban for NASCAR because it means he will be able to stay in Australia a few additional weeks.
2010 Outlook: Ambrose will return in 2010 with the same team, crew chief and sponsor. He definitely felt the No. 47 car had forward momentum in 2009 and after making some solid progress, hopes better consistency and stability will allow him to pick up right where they left off.
Consistency was the biggest problem for Ambrose 2009, so that should be the goal for 2010. This team showed they can definitely put together good, solid efforts, but imagine what they may have been able to do with fewer finishes outside the top 25. Ambrose showed progress as a driver on the ovals, too, but remains without a top-10 finish at an intermediate oval – a hurdle he’ll have to clear to have any hope of being a legitimate Chase contender. Making the playoffs might still be a tall order for this team, but if they fix the consistency issues, it’s not outside the realm of possibility.
2007 Frontstretch Grade: N/A
2008 Grade: C-
2009 Grade: B-