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Sports August 14, 2008  RSS feed

THE RACING REPORTER

A Good Weekend For Marcos Ambrose
by Gerald Hodges

Toyota drivers Kyle Busch and Tony Stewart finished 1-2 in Sunday's NASCAR road course race at Watkins Glen.

It was Busch's eighth Cup win of the season, but the real story of the race was about Marcos Ambrose, a modern-day David, who finished third against the big racing giants.

While the two Toyota drivers run for the well-funded Joe Gibbs Racing organization, Ambrose was behind the wheel of the No. 21 Little Debbie Ford, owned by the Wood Borthers. While the Wood Brothers used to be a powerhouse in NASCAR racing, their last Cup win came in 2002 with Elliott Sadler behind the wheel. They haven't even been able to qualify for many of the races this season.

Even though he won Saturday's Nationwide Series race at The Glen, Ambrose had to start from the 43rd and last position in Sunday's Cup race.

Ambrose, the transplanted Australian driver from the island of Tasmania whose nickname is "Kangaroo Meat," never led a lap, but stayed near the front for the last half of the 90-lap race.

"No brakes, no clutch left," said Ambrose after the race ended. "You know I was really worn out. Coming through the field like that is really hard work. We had a great car, but having to come from so far back used it up."

Marcos Ambrose went fron last to third in Sunday's Watkins Glen Cup race. Marcos Ambrose went fron last to third in Sunday's Watkins Glen Cup race. Television analyst and former Cup champion Dale Jarrett said, "wouldn't have thought you could have come from dead last to third in a race like this."

"It was a blast," continued Ambrose. "They had a great car for me, and I gave it all I had. Maybe next time."

Dale Earnhardt Jr. led 31 laps, but waited too long to make his last pit stop. After pitting on lap 60, he returned to the track in the 32nd spot, which did not allow him enough time to make it back to the front. He finished 22nd.

A nine-car pileup on lap 82 brought out a red flag and delayed the end of the race for 45 minutes. It happened near the entrance to pit road after Mike McDowell got into the back of David Gilliland, causing Gilliland's No 38 to swerve around.

The drivers involved were Dave Blaney, Michael Waltrip, Bobby Labonte, Sam Hornish, Reed Sorenson, Gilliland, McDowell, Max Papis and Joe Nemechek.

Kyle Busch remains the points leader with four races to go before the Chase. Carl Edwards moved up one spot to second. Jimmie Johnson also moved up one spot from fourth to third, while his teammate Dale Earnhardt slipped to fourth. Tony Stewart moved up from ninth to sev- enth, and Matt Kenseth replaced Clint Bowyer in the No. 12 slot.

Top 10 finishers: 1. Kyle Busch, 2. Tony Stewart, 3. Marcos Ambrose, 4. Juan Montoya, 5. Martin Truex, 6. Kevin Harvick, 7. Denny Hamlin, 8. Jimmie Johnson, 9. A. J. Allmendinger, 10. Carl Edwards.

Top 12 Chase contenders after 22 of 36 races: 1. Kyle Busch-3254, 2. Edwards-3008, 3. Johnson-3006, 4. Earnhardt-2985, 5. Burton-2945, 6. J. Gordon-2766, 7. Stewart-2744, 8. Kahen-2713, 9. Hamlin-2693, 10. Biffle-2689, 11. Harvick-2670, 12. Kenseth-2628.

Nice consolation prize

Ambrose won his first NASCAR Nationwide Series race Saturday at Watkins Glen. He had worked his way up to third with 11 laps to go as Jeff Burton and Jimmie Johnson ran out of fuel. Ambrose coasted to victory ahead of Kyle Busch.

Top 10 Nationwide Series lead- ers after 24 of 35 races: 1. Bowyer- 3448, 2. Keselowski-3320, 3. Edwards-3274, 4. Reutimann-3158, 5. Ragan-3147, 6. Bliss-3068, 7. Kyle Busch-3003, 8. M. Wallace- 2845, 9. Leffler-2784, 10. Ambrose- 2776.

Craftsman trucks doing well

After 14 seasons, the Craftsman Truck Series has created a comfortable niche in NASCAR racing.

The series, which was born through a series of demonstration events in 1994 before it staged its first season in 1995, has always traded off its "tough trucks" persona. Its format, with shorter races and fewer pit stops, creates an atmosphere in which competitors are more apt to get after it than play a strategic game of chess.

The series that proudly displays what many call the best racing in NASCAR plays to smaller crowds—both live and on television— than the Nationwide Series or the premier Nextel Cup Series.

Jack Roush has been a supporter of the series almost since its inception, having won the 2000 championship with Greg Biffle.

While Roush supports the series, he doesn't want to see the schedule expand much beyond 25 races.

"I believe with the schedule, if they included more races, we'd have to make more money for the teams, to be able to pay for all that," said Roush. "The money, the viewership and spectatorship is not what it should be, but hopefully that will all get itself fixed over a period of time.

"The Nationwide Series wasn't 10 years ago what it is today, and the Truck Series has gained in stature and relevance and importance and I think, in appeal every year that it's been there. It's just fairly new."

Rick Crawford is one of the veterans of the series. He made his first start in 1997 and, before an injury in 2005 interrupted the streak, had made 210 consecutive starts. He sees it the same way as many of the other veterans.

"I'm over 10 years involved in it," Crawford said. "I used to think of going Cup racing, or running some Busch races, but you don't have to. I enjoy racing a truck. I'm having a great time, I'm competitive, I feel good and I'm looking forward to the rest of 2008; after just getting beaten out in the points by a couple of guys that had exceptional years."

Wayne Auton is the series director.

"Other sports have their ladder system to Major League Baseball, the NFL or whatever," Auton said. "NASCAR has the Craftsman Truck Series, the newly-named Nationwide Series and Nextel Cup, and everyone wants to get there.

"But we have people that's been there, we have people that don't want to go back because of all the days that you're gone from your family—but they still want to race— and this is a good fit for them. With 25 races that leaves a lot of time to spend with their family, play some golf, ride their motorcycles or go on vacation."

Points leader Johnny Benson won his third consecutive Truck race Saturday night at Nashville, as he took the win ahead of Erik Darnell, Brett Bodine, Jack Sprague, and Ron Hornaday.

Top 10 Craftsman Truck Series leaders after 15 of 25: 1. Benson- 2261, 2. Hornaday-2216, 3. Crafton- 2170, 4. Bodine-2042, 5. Skinner- 2026, 6. Darnell-2021, 7. Crawford- 2010, 8. Sprague-1952, 9. Cook- 1952, 10. Starr-1887.

Next Week: The Owensboro (KY) Loud Mouth; Darrell Waltrip

Weekend racing

The Cup and Nationwide teams will be at the 2-mile Michigan International Speedway. The Craftsman Trucks do not race again until Aug. 20.

Sat., Aug. 16, Nationwide Series Carfax 250; Starting time: 3 p.m. (EST); TV: ESPN2.

Sun., Aug. 17, Nextel Cup 3M Performance 400; Starting time: 1 p.m. (EST); TV: ESPN.

Racing Trivia Question: What year did NASCAR hold the first race at Bristol?

Last Week's Question: Where is Johnny Benson's home town? Answer. Grand Rapids, Michigan.

You may contact the Racing Reporter at hodgesnews@ earthlink.net