Top 10 NASCAR Driver of the Year 2011:
1 September 1976
Launceston, Tasmania AUS
Richard Petty Motorsports
The only surprise in Marcos Ambrose's appearance in the NASCAR Driver of the Year Top 10 is that he's not even higher up than seventh place. The immensely likeable Tasmanian is a big favourite of Crash.net
readers from his days in Australian V8 Supercars, and in 2011 he's coming off one of his best seasons yet in US stock car racing.
It could all have been very different: this time last year, his new team Richard Petty Motorsports was looking in imminent danger of imploding and shutting up shop for good. Ambrose stayed loyal to RPM, but admitted that he had been forced to start looking for racing prospects back in his native Australia just in case it did all turn bad. Fortunately RPM was saved by the return to the helm full time of its iconic founder Richard Petty, and immediately things started to improve all round.
Ambrose started off in NASCAR as one of those road specialist "ringers" that teams like to bring in for their two non-oval events, and sure enough it was at one of those events - the road race at Watkins Glen International - that Ambrose finally succeeded in making his way into victory lane after two and a half seasons and 105 starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series. It had been no easy victory, with Ambrose having to put in a fierce performance to see off Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch for the win. It was certainly one of the most popular maiden victories of the year, not only with fans but also with the NASCAR teams and drivers up and down pit road.
Welcome though it was, the road course victory only whetted Ambrose's appetite to prove that he was capable of winning on ovals, too. He's certainly getting well into contention and finished ten times this year in the top ten on ovals, together with a fifth place at the other road course of the season at Sonoma. He was looking particularly strong during the final ten Chases races, although his final outing of the year at Homestead-Miami would end very early indeed courtesy of an engine failure.
Ambrose's place at RPM is secure in 2012 thanks to an ongoing sponsorship deal, but there's uncertainty in the other garage that has lost both its primary sponsor and its driver, AJ Allmendinger. At this point, Ambrose can't be certain whether he'll have a new team mate in 2012 (David Ragan, perhaps?) or will be the focus of a one-car operation next season. It won't help Ambrose in planning his campaign for next year, but considering the position he was in this time last year it's still a huge improvement. He'll cope; and moreover, most likely he'll thrive even more than he has this year.
Top 10 NASCAR Driver of the Year 2011 results so far:
8. Jimmie Johnson
9. Kasey Kahne
10. Dale Earnhardt Jr.