Marcos Ambrose will make history in next weekend's Daytona 500 as he prepares to become the first Australian driver to take part in the event.
Despite finishing the 2008 campaign outside the top 35 in owners points, the #47 JTG Daugherty Racing Toyota was bumped into the 35th slot after the merger of Chip Ganassi Racing and Dale Earnhardt Inc – with the points from the #41 car not being transferred as part of the merger.
It means Ambrose will be locked in for the first five events of the season and the 30th quickest time in qualifying will see him line up 14th on the grid for one of the two Gatorade Duel qualifying races on Thursday evening.
“JTG Daugherty is still new to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series level and we are very fortunate to be a guaranteed starter,” he said. “Being locked into the first five races is really going to really help set the stage for us. Luckily, things fell into place thanks to receiving help from Michael Waltrip Racing. At the end of last season, we were outside the top-35 by only 13 points, but with the merger of two teams and that organisation not fielding as many cars, it moved us up. Now, we are definitely going to start the first five races and that changes things up completely. I wouldn't give that feeling of trying to qualify a car to my worst enemy.
“We've got a decent spot for the Duels and we'll make it a good race car in drafting practice. The Duel is my only chance to learn and get confidence in the pack and let people see that I'm going to be safe if I'm somewhere near the front. I'm just going to try to find a good hole and just be consistent so people know what I'm all about. It's surprising how the Cup cars don't handle that well even in single car runs. Everyone is very aggressive in trying to get as much speed out of them. They are less stable than what I anticipated for a single car run. I'm looking forward to getting in the draft and seeing what I've got.”
Ambrose added that, despite having a guaranteed slot in the race, he still couldn't believe he will line-up for the biggest event on the NASCAR schedule, stating that his focus now was on securing the best result possible for his team and sponsors.
“I have to pinch myself every day because it is the biggest race there is,” he said. “I'm really looking forward to my first Daytona 500 because it is huge for me personally to be able to experience firsthand. For years, I have read about the race in magazines while living in Australia and it intrigued me. I want to be able to finish it and finish well for Little Debbie and all of our sponsors. I'm proud to have them on board for my first Daytona 500.”
“I'm just lucky to be here and I have always respected the Series, drivers and the teams. I never thought I'd be a driver or be talking about the Daytona 500 with my background and where I'm from. I just loved racing growing up and had a passion for it and I was just very competitive in general. I never dreamed that I would be racing, or coming into NASCAR. I'm grateful to Little Debbie, Kingsford Charcoal, Clorox, Bush's Beans, and JTG Daugherty Racing for making it possible.”