Marcos Ambrose Reaches Petty Milestone at Sonoma, Aric Almirola has Top-25 on Road Course

Marcos Ambrose Reaches Petty Milestone at Sonoma, Aric Almirola has Top-25 on Road Course Getty Images

Richard Petty Motorsports (RPM), and its NASCAR Sprint Cup drivers Marcos Ambrose and Aric Almirola, left California with different milestones met. For Ambrose, it was matching a mark for all Petty drivers in the future to reach and for Almirola it was another improvement on a road course. 


Ambrose and the No. 9 DEWALT Ford team led RPM with an eighth-place finish on Sunday.  The road course specialist led five laps late in the race and earned his sixth consecutive Top-10 finish at the track.  The finish was his 29th Top-10 while racing for "The King" Richard Petty as an owner and ties him with the most for Petty since 1993 with the late Bobby Hamilton.   


Almirola and the No. 43 Nathan's Famous Ford finished 23rd, scoring his second Top-25 at the technical road course.  The goal was a Top-20, but Almirola had damage to his car during the race and the team raced with damage to their fender.  Still, it was a good finish for Almirola  who continues to improve at road courses.


A highlight of each team's race follows:


Marcos Ambrose, No. 9 DEWALT Ford


After starting 23rd, it was decided prior to the race that Ambrose and the No. 9 DEWALT Ford team would execute a two-pit strategy to gain track position and give Ambrose the best shot at winning the 110-lap race.  Doing so meant Ambrose would have to conserve tire wear to maintain grip and speed for over 25 lap segments.  It was a plan that both Crew Chief Drew Blickensderfer and Ambrose agreed was the best.  The strategy was executed with no issues and Ambrose was leading the race late. The tires, however, just gave up too much grip and Ambrose was not able to win on Sunday, but instead captured his third Top-10 finish this season.
Ambrose was conservative on his first run to start the race, but also showed a great pace to pick off cars one-by-one.  By Lap 10, he had moved past six cars and into 17th. He reported his car was tight in the center off the turns and needed more forward drive, but his lap times showed him better than those on the same strategy.   
On Lap 29 Ambrose gave up the eighth spot to come down for his first of two fuel and tire stops.  The team made air pressure and chassis adjustments and Ambrose joined the race just before the caution waved on Lap 31.  The team restarted in a great spot and on Lap 40 was running 12th.
Ambrose said his car was rolling a lot in the second run, but still had to wait to pit based on fuel mileage. Ambrose finally gave up the 10th spot on Lap 68 to pit for their second and last fuel stop.  The caution then waved on Lap 76 and those on a three-stop strategy came to pit road.  Ambrose restarted third and after another quick caution restarted second and took the lead from Laps 80 to 84.  Ambrose lost the lead on a restart to eventual winner Carl Edwards and Ambrose held on to finish eighth.
"We came here with a strategy because we had the fastest car for a couple of laps, but it would fade away really bad, said Ambrose.  "We came with a really soft package and I was hanging onto it all day, too.  We're gonna keep working at this place to try and make ourselves better.  We fought hard and led some laps and got ourselves into position at the end.  That's all we had.  I was just hanging on at the end.  I burned the rear tires up and the front tires up and just didn't have enough for them.  I'll take eighth.  We came here with a  commitment to try to look after our tires and had a package that wasn't necessarily the fastest, but we thought might have kept our tires better than the rest.  It didn't quite work out that way.  We had to hang on all day.  The car was loose.  The car was tight.  The car was sliding around, but that's what Sonoma is all about."


Aric Almirola, No. 43 Nathan's Famous Ford


Almirola started the 110-lap race from the 29th spot with a goal finish in the Top-20. In the first 15 laps, Almirola got a feel for the No. 43 Nathan's Famous Ford. While racing in the 26th spot, he told Crew Chief Trent Owens that the car needed more front turn. As green-flag pit stops started, he continued that the car was losing grip in the front tires later in the run. On Lap 23, Owens called for a four-tire pit stop and an air pressure adjustment.


He drove the "Petty Blue" Ford into the 23rd spot when NASCAR Officials called the first caution on Lap 32. Owens called the No. 43 back to pit road, and the Nathan's Famous team continued to work on the car's handling during the four-tire stop. With some teams pitting and some staying out, the No. 43 team restarted 24th. Almirola raced as high as 22nd before the next round of green-flag pit stops started. On Lap 55, the No. 43 team made another four-tire pit stop and air pressure adjustment.


On Lap 62, NASCAR Officials called a caution for a stalled car with Almirola in 26th. Since they were not in their fuel window, Owens told Almirola to stay out, and the No. 43 Nathan's Famous restarted 19th. Cars raced hard and two-wide on the restart resulting in contact on the track. The No. 43 had damage to the front-left fender and had to pit earlier than planned. The team changed four tires and cut away the damage to the front-left fender.


The No. 43 Nathan's Famous car restarted 29th on Lap 75. The team stayed out during the next two cautions and raced into the 18th spot when an accident on the frontstretch brought out the final caution on Lap 92. With new tires significantly improving lap times, Owens called Almirola down pit road for four fresh tires to make a final run. Almirola restarted 21st and finished 23rd. 


"Our goal was to finish in the Top-20," said Almirola. "We were almost there but just missed it. The car was pretty good throughout the race, and Trent (Owens) and the guys made good adjustments. We had some damage to the front of the car. The guys did a good job fixing the damage, but in the end, it hurt us. We'll take a 23rd-place finish and look forward to next weekend at Kentucky Speedway."



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Steven B. Wilson

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