With a strong qualifying effort, Marcos Ambrose started 13th Sunday, but, with an astute call to stay on the track during the first round of pit-stops under caution, the Australian's crew chief leap-frogged the #47 driver to third in the running order.

If there was a surprise in Sunday's race, it's that Ambrose, who made his reputation as a road course racer, managed to hold onto a tenth-place finish despite dropping a cylinder in the JTG-Daugherty Racing Toyota late in the race. His previous best Cup finish on an oval track was 17th, achieved at Daytona earlier this year, and breaking the top ten was naturally a major accomplishment for the former V8 Supercar champion.

"I'm really keen to trying to break that mentality thing of a road racing guy," Ambrose admitted, "I know I'm good on road courses, but I want to be good at every single track we go to, and today was a big step to really validate why I'm here on a full-time Cup ride.

"I'm just really excited for my guys - I'm just so proud of them for giving me a great car today and for just working so hard. We're going to celebrate tonight because it feels like a win to us considering the adversity that we had today."

Ambrose had a strong weekend at the Bristol 'bullring' - renowned as the world's fastest half-mile - and, in front of over 160,000 fans, benefited from crew chief Frank Kerr's call to run at the head of the pack, stay in the top five for the majority of the day and be up to fourth late in the race when his car dropped onto seven cylinders. His power was cut even further when the engine dropped down to just six cylinders - a problem later found to be the result of two burnt-out spark plug leads - but his dogged tenth sees the Australian rise four spots to 24th in the series standings, comfortably guaranteeing himself a start next weekend.

"We ran great all day," Ambrose reflected, "Frank has just helped me so much. He's just getting me back on track and giving me good cars and good equipment, but we've got a great group around us this year with the alliance with Michael Waltrip Racing. I've got to thank all of those guys too. They've given us everything they've got and I feel like that is important that both players are equal.

"I'm just so thankful to everyone to give me the chance to really get in the Sprint Cup Series. We're doing it and we're right in the middle of it. We lost the number two and number four cylinders today, so we were running on six at the end, but somehow we brought it home.

"We've just been working away at it. We've been sneaking up there getting more confident. We've had good runs every single race this year. We've just had problems, . problems during the race - like when we blew an engine at Atlanta - and then some other issues with our deal at Vegas and here. But we're finally hitting our form and showing everybody what we have got."

Having made a rapid rise through the NASCAR ranks, Ambrose is still very much learning his craft, especially in the top flight Cup Series.

"I just can't wait to start hitting these tracks the second time," he admitted, "This is my very first CoT race at a short track, first time at Bristol in a Cup car, and I'm just really excited with the result today and hopefully it leads to better things.

"But we've got next week to worry about on Monday and we've got to really focus on that. Hopefully, our season will get stronger and stronger and show everybody why we're here and that we mean business. It just feels great to be up there racing with those guys, passing Jeff Gordon - I mean, he's just a hero of mine. I've watched him forever and just admired him so much, but we're there in the middle of it. I'm getting a few bumps here and there and I'm bumping a few guys. It's just a lot of fun.

"I'm learning the craft and hopefully these kinds of runs will help me cement my reputation in the series with my fellow drivers to know that I can do it when I'm on form."

by Reid Spencer
Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service