Most of the news that came out of Sunday's classic final lap at Watkins Glen surrounded Kyle Busch and the win that got away, potentially costing him a wild-card berth.
What seems to have been treated as a mere afterthought is the fact that the man who actually won the event, Marcos Ambrose, has catapulted himself directly into the thick of the wild-card conversation for the second consecutive year.
But, is the likable Tasmanian, in his fourth full season on the Sprint Cup circuit, really ready to contend seriously for a wild-card berth over the next four races?
If this song sounds familiar, it's because it happens to be the same tune that was playing this time last year after Ambrose conquered the Glen (a little less dramatically) for his first career victory.
The way NASCAR'S Chase wild-card system works is a driver has to be in the top 20 in points to capitalize on the wild-card opportunity.
Ambrose, sitting 22nd in points after the win in 2011, still stood a chance if he could string together some strong finishes and take advantage of other drivers' misfortunes.
As it turns out, he went to Michigan and finished 27th, dropping to 23rd in points. He finished 10th, 21st, and 21st over the final three races and missed out on the Chase.
This year, Ambrose has shown continued progress in his adaptation to oval racing after years of road course success in his native country. He has two poles this season and sits a solid 17th in points after the win last Sunday.
But will this be the year that Ambrose puts Richard Petty in the Chase for the first time as an owner?
Based on the numbers, it seems unlikely.
At the four tracks left before the Chase, Ambrose has career average finishes of:
- 24.75 at Michigan (nine starts)
- 18.14 at Bristol (seven starts)
- 22 at Atlanta (six starts)
- 16.14 at Richmond (seven starts)
Going up against the likes of Kyle Busch, Ryan Newman, Jeff Gordon, and Joey Logano for the final wild-card spot—as Kasey Kahne's two wins have him a virtual lock for the other—it's going to take a much better performance than Ambrose has shown in the past to get in. All of those drivers, with the exception of Logano, have prior victories on at least three of those remaining tracks.
The No. 9 team has shown marked improvement this year. In June at Michigan, Ambrose won the pole with the fastest lap run in NASCAR in 25 years, and ran up front most of the day before finishing a respectable ninth.
But, while it's a sign of improvement on ovals, ninth-place runs and the like won't be good enough against the likes of the guys he's facing, and, though fans can count on a valiant effort, it would take a Herculean feat for Ambrose to race his way into that final wild-card spot.
Do you think Marcos Ambrose has what it takes to make the Chase? Answer the poll above and tell us why you think he will or will not make it below!