Richard Petty Motorsports announced Saturday its No. 9 Ford team will have a new driver in the Sprint Cup Series in 2015 because Marcos Ambrose has elected to return to his native Australia.
The team termed the move “a personal decision.”
“Marcos will always be a part of our extended racing family,” said Richard Petty, co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports. “He came over to the United States with his family and dedicated his time here to giving it the best he had each week.
“I couldn’t ask anything more from Marcos and his commitment on and off of the track to our race team and our partners.”
Ambrose proved to be one of the best to wheel stock cars on road courses and collected six wins (two in Cup, four in Nationwide) at Watkins Glen (N.Y.) International.
“It really is an incredible thing to make it to the Sprint Cup level because the talent level is very high from drivers to engineers to sponsors and teams,” Ambrose said. “It is an amazing journey I have been on.”
Almirola also makes pit crew changes: Aric Almirola’s No. 43 Richard Petty Motorsports team made some changes on its pit crew in preparation for the start of the Chase, swapping two members with the crew of his teammate, Ambrose.
“Between the two race teams we had average pit stops at best pretty regularly, and we felt like the weak link on our team was the strong link on Marcos’ team,” Almirola said.
“We decided to make a swap and bring some of the guys over that are a little more veteran of a group and now it makes our pit crew a lot more competitive.”
Practice update: Kyle Larson wrecked during Saturday’s first practice and will have to use a backup car and start from the rear of the field. Paul Menard was fastest during the morning practice, and Carl Edwards led the way in the afternoon session.
Three things to watch
1 Matt Kenseth is without a win this season, but he opened the 2013 Chase with victories at Chicagoland and New Hampshire.
2 This is the first race for Kevin Harvick’s new pit crew, which is Tony Stewart’s old one. Will it make a difference?
3 Win and you’re locked in. A win in the first three races by Chase drivers automatically advances them to the next three-race round.
Observations• “Repeat winner” was the term no driver without a victory wanted to hear in the races leading up to last weekend’s cutoff to make the Chase. Repeat winners in Victory Lane meant no new additions to the Chase by drivers based on winning. As the Chase gets underway Sunday, the current 16-driver field is unlikely to want to hear the term “new winner” anytime soon. As wins are the only guaranteed way to advance in each round, any win by a driver not in the Chase takes away that opportunity from the those in the Chase. And it’s not a rare occurrence. Last season, three of the 10 Chase races were won by drivers not eligible for the championship. In 2006, a record five of the 10 races went to non-Chase participants.
• Could Edwards be peaking at the right time? While he enters the Chase with two wins, he and the Roush Fenway Racing organization have struggled this season on 1.5-mile tracks like Chicagoland Speedway. Edwards has shown plenty of speed this weekend during practice and performed well at Atlanta two weeks ago. A dramatic change in performance on 1.5-mile tracks – which make up half of the Chase – could turn Edwards into an instant title contender.
• An interesting fact: Joe Gibbs Racing and Roush Fenway have won Cup series championships but neither has won the title with any of the six drivers currently fielded by the teams.
Three picks for your fantasy team:
Kevin Harvick, Matt Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson