On Sunday, Feb. 24, Marcos Ambrose and the No. 9 Stanley Ford team finished 18th in the 55th Annual Daytona 500 at the Daytona International Speedway. The finish did not represent how close Ambrose came to possibly winning NASCAR's most prestigious event. In a race where fate helps determine the outcome, Ambrose and the RPM No. 9 team didn't have the luck they wanted at the time they needed to pull off the win.
Starting the day from the 24th position, Ambrose quickly moved into the top-20. He raced up to 18th by Lap 11 and held that spot until the first caution of the day waved on Lap 28 for debris. Ambrose told crew chief Drew Blickensderfer that he had felt a small vibration and that his car was a bit loose. The team took the opportunity to come down pit road and change four tires and fuel. After the pit road service, Ambrose was back on track and the vibration was gone.
The first major accident of the day occurred on Lap 34. The wreck involved nine total cars and took out a few contenders early. Ambrose was able to race the No. 9 Stanley Ford around the accident, but wanted to come down pit road to change tires in case he had run over any debris. With four fresh tires, Ambrose restarted the 200-lap race in 21st on Lap 36.
By Lap 50 Ambrose had drafted up to the 15th spot. He told Blickensderfer that the car had "no speed", but Ambrose was still able to race fast lap times in single-file drafting and also on the top line of the track. The team had to pit for fuel during this green run and took two right-side tires. Soon after Ambrose went back to the track a caution for debris came out on Lap 86. This allowed Ambrose to get two new left-side tires.
The green flag dropped again on Lap 89 and Ambrose was able to draft up to 16th. The team had to make a pit stop for fuel during this stint and they also took four tires under green conditions. Ambrose was racing in the middle of the pack when another multi-car accident occurred on Lap 139. This time another nine cars were sent spinning and crashing into Turn 1. Ambrose made a brilliant move to dive low on the apron and miss it. This allowed the final 50 laps to really play into the team's hand. They came down and took two new tires and restarted 19th on Lap 145.
Quickly Ambrose found himself in the top 10. He raced up to sixth by Lap 170 and proved that he had a car capable of winning. The Australian native was in position to win one of American motorsports biggest prize. But, a caution on Lap 178 changed the entire landscape of the race. The race was slowed and Ambrose was able to line up third. It was a great position to be in with only 22 laps left, but the inside lane was the worst for the car to gain speed.
On the restart Ambrose was sent back in the pack before he could get back into the top line. Once he did, he charged back to just outside the top-10. The final caution waved with less than 10 laps left and again Ambrose was forced to start on the bottom. The final laps, Ambrose was shuffled to the middle lane and to the back of the lead pack. It was there he was able to miss a last-lap accident and finish 18th.
"Our Stanley Ford just would not go fast on the bottom line," said Ambrose. "Each time we had a restart it seemed like we were down there. We just didn't have a car that was fast in that position. Before the last big wreck, with about 20 laps left, we had a car that was in position to win. We were running right there, but the restarts didn't help us at all. Our Stanley guys worked hard all week and we came away with a car in one piece. We will move on to Phoenix and start building some momentum."
Tickets for the other events being held at Daytona this year are available online or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.
Be sure to subscribe to the West Palm Beach Motorsports Examiner, and keep track of your favorite racers. If you're a motorsports fan, and know of an event, team, or person you'd like to see profiled, please let me know. Also, be sure to follow me on twitter, and read my articles about local getaways, HOAs, elections, and restaurants.
Fans can follow NASCAR on Twitter (@NASCAR) and stay up to speed on the latest news by using hashtags #NASCAR and #DAYTONA500 and #NASCARBattle. In addition, fans can also stay connected with Daytona International Speedway on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and Pinterest for all the latest news all season long.