Foreign Fight: The Fight for Supremacy as NASCAR's Best Foreigner
With the ever-growing popularity of NASCAR, many drivers from other racing backgrounds have had looks. However only few have decided to start again, and have a go in the world of NASCAR racing.
When we think of a foreign driver in NASCAR, what first will come to mind would most-likely be Juan Pablo Montoya, the Columbian jumping ship from the high-flying world of Formula One to the more so calmer world of NASCAR. But others include Australian Marcos Ambrose, Scot Dario Franchitti and Canadians Jacques Villenerve and Patrick Carpentier.
Now we look at all five that have come to mind, and quite possibly only two have come and stayed, the rest are either waiting for another nail into the coffin of their NASCAR careers, or just simply left without rides.
Dario Franchitti, Villenurve, and Carpentier, have all come and left, with their NASCAR careers ended prematurely. More so these drivers expect to be "spoon-fed" to superstardom, instead of working ways up the ranks.
However, others like Formula One convert Scot Speed and Marcos Ambrose worked there ways up, Speed through ARCA, whilst Ambrose the Trucks and Nationwide Series.
So we are left with two, Australian Marcos Ambrose and Columbian Juan Pablo Montoya. Both drivers whilst in their "hey days" in the respective series had success, with race wins and the ability to show speed, aggression, and race craft all in the one package.
But enter the NASCAR arena, these drivers have had it another way. Montoya left Formula One abruptly mid-season in 2006 to pursue a NASCAR career to the shock of all, after a dismal season.
Many were expecting a rejuvenated Columbian at the front of the grid for the new season. However after several uninspiring races, Montoya decided to leave the world of Formula One, and start new Life in NASCAR.
After an impressive start to stock car racing, with a third in his first oval race in the ARCA series, Montoya was not able to show such instances of brilliance further on. An eleventh at Memphis in the Busch series was his best result.
If Montoya wanted to cement his spot in NASCAR, 2007 was the year to do it, and indeed he did. The Chip Ganassi driver winning the rookie-of-the-year standings, 20th in final standings, a win at Infineon, along with a Busch Series win at Mexico, albeit taking teammate Scott Pruett out of contention.
Like most NASCAR converts with a road racing background, success on the road courses couldn't be replicated on the ovals, which count for most of the races. Glimpses of brilliance were shown at the Brickyard, with the Columbian qualifying second and finishing the same position.
The moderate success of 2007 would be hard to come by in 2008. More so, stability would be the issue for Montoya, changing crew chief three times over the course of the season. Of the season’s two road courses, Montoya finished sixth at Infineon, after being spun by none other than Marcos Ambrose and fourth at Watkins Glen, behind Ambrose in third.
His results on ovals weren’t much better either. Second place at Talladega the only shining light for what was a bleak year.
Now though, he may have a new biggest competitor, what could be his arch nemeses for foreign supremacy, Australian Marcos Ambrose. The two-time Australian V8 Supercar Champion like Montoya announced a shock decision to go NASCAR racing in early 2005. This had a whole year for Ambrose to prepare, along with help from Ford Australia; Ambrose packed his bags and was on his way.
Ambrose decision to pursue a career in NASCAR was announced at the Australian Grand Prix, whilst the V8 Supercars were a support event. To the shock of most, like Montoya’s decision.
Ambrose would start a steep NASCAR learning curve in the Trucks, in the No. 20 Team Australia Wood Brothers Ford F-150, Ambrose had what could be said as a solid but not great season. He finished the season in 21st, after 22 races (missing the first two of the season) with two top fives and one pole. This performance propelled Ambrose up the ranks to the Busch Series.
In 2007, Marcos stepped up to the then know Busch series in the No. 59 Kingsford Ford Fusion with Wood Brothers/JTG Racing. Ambrose ran consistently throughout the season. He almost won at Montreal until the infamous incident involving Robby Gordon.
This brought much publicity to both driver and team. He scored his best results in Memphis near the end of the season, with a pole and finishing third, his best result on an oval to date.
Ambrose eventually finished a solid eighth in final season standings and second in the Rookie of The Year Standing, finishing behind fellow Ford driver, David Ragen. Ambrose was rewarded for his strong showing in his rookie season, being voted 2007 Australian Driver of the Year by Auto Action magazine.
Yet 2008 had turned out to be a tougher but more rewarding season for Ambrose, returning for another Nationwide series season. After a crew chief change early on, Ambrose reunited with his truck crew chief Gary Cogswell. With Cogswell onboard, Ambrose was putting the pieces back into the puzzle again.
The hard work resulted in three top-three positions in the season’s three road courses. A second at Mexico, a dominating performance at Montreal before being penalized resulted in third and a long awaited win at Watkins Glen. Performances on the road courses however were not replicated on the ovals, with a best finish of sixth at Kentucky for the Aussie.
The 2008 races also marked the Sprint Cup debut for Ambrose. Ambrose was scheduled to run 11 races for Wood Brothers Racing and JTG Racing. Making his debut at Infineon, Ambrose qualified seventh, to run consistently around the top five.
However, he was wrecked by Elliot Sadler, who spun Ambrose out nearing the latter stages of the race. As a result of the spin, Ambrose’s car developed a gearbox issue, forcing the Aussie to retire in 42nd.
A hero-to-zero story was next on the cards though, failing to make the next race at Loudon. Ambrose was forced to wait several more weeks for his oval debut. Running for JTG Daugherty Racing, Ambrose was able to qualify for the Brickyard at the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Qualifying 24th, Ambrose would finish 22nd in the tire-plagued race.
The seasons next road course came at Watkins Glen, after winning the Nationwide race the previous day, the Aussie was out to redeem himself, and redeem himself he did. Running consistently in the top five to finish third, ahead of Juan Pablo Montoya.
The remaining eight races scheduled, Ambrose drove for JTG Daugherty Racing, Wood Brothers Racing, and Michael Waltrip Racing. A switch to Toyota and Michael Waltrip equipment for the final four races bought his No. 47 car to within reach of top 35 in owner points and Ambrose his first top 20 on an oval at Phoenix.
With these great performances in both series, Ambrose was again voted Australian Driver of the Year by Auto Action magazine.
Both Ambrose and Montoya have shown the abilities on road courses, but their abilities on ovals have still to been shown. With their respective teams, Stewart Haas Racing and Michael Waltrip racing, it has yet to be seen who will adapt best to the changes made during the off season.
Though Montoya has had more experience in the top flight, it’s not hard to question Ambrose’s abilities to be a fast learner. As both foreigners, this may be the starting point for a tense rivalry for both to be the best from abroad.
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