When people refer to Marcos Ambrose as a "road specialist", they invariably mean it as a compliment. But that doesn't stop it irking the Australian NASCAR
Sprint Cup driver just a little, every time.
That's because he wants to win on every type of race course, and to be known as a NASCAR
race winner regardless of the type of circuit. While he hasn't managed to crack NASCAR's oval secrets quite yet he's coming increasingly close to doing so - as his third place at the tricky Dover International Speedway at the weekend demonstrated.
"I had a really fast car today," said Ambrose on Sunday, after driving the #9 car to third place at the Monster Mile for the Richard Petty Motorsports team, equalling his career best oval finish in the series. "My best performance for them and a career best for this program. I am really excited about the rest of the season."
Ambrose put himself among the leaders with a two-tyre call at the final pit stop, the same strategy that race winner Matt Kenseth opted for. Despite having fresher rubber than the #5 of Mark Martin - who opted not to pit at all - Ambrose didn't have the pace to take the second position from the wily old NASCAR
veteran and instead had to concentrate on stopping Kyle Busch storming past him for third.
"It was a great day and a really good call for two tyres there at the end," Marcos said after the race. "I had a fast car today and we just lost a little track position. I thought I had something for 'em but the downforce went away and I wore my front tyres out."
The concrete surface seems to suit Ambrose better than the asphalt ovals, but don't dare suggest that this is because of his road racing heritage.
"I get good feel on these concrete tracks," explains the 34-year-old Australian. "When I'm having a bad day [on asphalt], I have trouble feeling each tyre. It feels like the whole car is slipping around, [whereas] on concrete, I think it's the steeper banking, there's more vertical load. I think it just helps me feel the tyres a little better."
Although the tyre call was essential to vaulting him past the likes of Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards and Jimmie Johnson towards the end (after the trio had dominated most of the race), it was no fluke that Ambrose was in a position to be able to take advantage of the opportunity when it arose. He'd started in 18th position (under NASCAR's new system which uses practice session times to set grid position in the event qualifying is washed out) and was into the top ten by the time the scheduled competition caution came out on lap 41, and was rarely absent from the top positions for the remainder of the 400 lap race.
The third place finish, coming on the back of a good 13th place finish at Darlington the previous week, means that for the first time this season Ambrose is starting to show some consistency week-on-week after false starts at Las Vegas (where he finished fourth) and Texas (sixth) but couldn't follow-through either time in the next race.