Richard Petty Motorsport's Marcos Ambrose will be lining up for the last time on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starting grid this weekend for the Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Ambrose announced over the summer that he was calling time on his US stock car racing career in order to return home to Australia with his family. He'll return to competition in V8 Supercars, in a new team being set up by Roger Penske and Dick Johnson.
"It's been about nine years since my family and I came over the 'water' to try out this experiment of NASCAR, and it's been great," said Ambrose as he looked ahead to his final Cup start after 226 races since his début at Sonoma Raceway in 2008. "We've won races, had good runs and met a lot of wonderful people.
"But it's time to take my family back across the 'pond' and go home," he continued. "I made that decision this year, and once we did that, we started working towards that plan. That's what this year has been like, and everyone has been very supportive."
Ambrose said that hew would have liked to go out with a win at the 1.5-mile oval, something that's eluded him in his NASCAR career to date although he did pick up two back-to-back rod course wins at Watkins Glen International in 2011 and 2012.
"I've got some unfinished business in NASCAR, which I wish I could have ticked the box on," he admitted. "Obviously, winning a race on the ovals is tough. I wanted to make the Chase and we came close, but couldn't quite make it. So there are some pieces to the puzzle that I'm missing
"But in general I'm just thrilled to have experienced it and my family to enjoy what America is. We've learned a lot and I've learned a lot. I've become a better person overall for it, a better dad, and a better race car driver, so it's been a great experience for us. It's really toughened me up a lot and it's been fun.
"It's just great that RPM has been so gracious with my departure," he added. "Sometimes when you end a chapter like this it can get a bit sticky at the end, but RPM has been fantastic. Everyone is really pleased for me and thrilled for what I've been able to contribute and it's just great to be held in that regard. A lot of guys have been coming up and saying their goodbyes. It's good fun.
"I don't know what it's going to be like when I get the chequered flag in Homestead," he said. "I'm sure it's going to have a bittersweet feeling to it, but I've got a lot to look forward to and a lot of good friends and people to say goodbye to. It's been fun the last few weeks, but I want to try and run as good as I can ... Leave on the right note and leave showing that I had really good pace and that I left with my A-game on."
One thing that Ambrose said he wouldn't be missing next year is the workload required in the Sprint Cup Series, with its 36-race championship season. "It's the most competitive form of racing in the world, and there is nothing like it," he said. "It's a grind, and you need to be focused all the time on the task at hand. It will be nice to get some more weekends off and get back to V8.
"I will miss NASCAR," he added. "I will watch the night races in the morning in Australia with breakfast, and that will be fun. I'm looking forward to that.
"I have good runs, memorable races that I'll carry with me for sure. It was great winning for 'The King' and racing for wins at Watkins Glen. These are memories that I'll have for a lifetime. I would have liked to win on an oval, sure, but I feel like I've accomplished a lot too. Now, it's just time to go back home with my family."
Ambrose won't be wasting any time getting back to Australia, revealing that he would be on a plane 24 hours after the end of this weekend's race. "I leave on the Monday after Homestead. I'm going to go down and get some work done and then I'll come back on the 10th of December and just finish off the packing. I'll pick the kids up after they finish the school term and we're going to fly back for good on the 18th."
Like most people moving house after a long stay, Ambrose was surprised by how much his store of possessions had built up over the years that he had been in the US.
"I came over with a backpack and a duffle bag and I'm going home with a 20-foot container," he laughed. "I've been filling it up with my stuff as I work through what I want to keep and what I want to throw out. It's going to get shipped in mid-December and it should be back in Australia mid-February for me to unload it.
"We've tried to not get too much stuff here in the US because we knew it was always going to come to an end at some point and that's proved to be the case," he noted. "It's certainly not easy to leave. We've been here nine years and bought some stuff and enjoyed our time. Some of the pit crew are going to get some really cool stuff coming up here like TVs, couches, pots and pans. We're going to hand away most of the stuff that we're not going to take home."
As for his house: "It's for lease or sale if anybody wants a nice five-bedroom house in Concord. Give me a call!" he said. "Everything is pretty much on the market. I've been whittling down any assets I've had over the last six months and I'm still working towards that goal. I want to be fully out of America in the next year or so, and hopefully we'll be able to sell the house and get everything moved."
Overall, despite the lack of an oval win or a place in the Chase during his time in the Sprint Cup Series, Ambrose was insistent that he regarded his Great American Adventure as a huge success.
"It's nothing but success," he said. "Having The King [team owner Richard Petty] in victory lane with me was just an amazing thing. To get to know the Petty family personally and to experience victory lane with Richard was just incredible. Winning a race is great, but sharing it with The King was pretty special.
"I really came over with a lot of ambition and determination and managed to make it in a country that has some incredible talent," he summed up. "There are some great drivers all the away from short track racing at the local level all the way through the Sprint Cup Series.
"I got my breaks along the way and made the most of them and I'm just really, really pleased to have made it and I feel like I've made it," he added. "I don't feel like I'm a B-Class driver out there. I feel I'm as good as anyone on my day. I've learned the ovals and managed to survive them."
Inevitably there was the question of whether this really was the end for Ambrose in the US, or whether the door remained open for him to return in the future, especially for a road course outing every now and again.
"I get asked that a lot, but I really don't have any plans to come back at this point," he said. "You never obviously completely close the book like that, but I'm really focused and excited to be going to Australian V8 Supercar Series and I want to do that properly for Roger Penske and Dick Johnson and that's going to be my focus.
"The drivers in the Australia V8 Supercar Series are very, very talented and very, very good - they're elite as well," he noted. "But it's just a different discipline to what this oval racing is.
"It's not fair to compare across different forms of motorsport, but to see what I see behind the wheel and to see the commitment and the risks and the talent level that it is on these big high-speed ovals, and the way it goes down is impressive to watch and be part of."
Ambrose has certainly made a place for himself in the US, and there will be a distinct Aussie-shaped hole next year when the Sprint Cup field reconvenes for the first race of the year at Daytona albeit without the inimitable figure of the 38-year-old Tasmanian devil. While his seat in the #9 RPM Ford will be filled by Sam Hornish Jr., Ambrose himself will be much harder to replace. He'll missed by fellow drivers, team members and fans alike even as he goes on to new successes back in the championship where he made his name.
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