Marcos Ambrose: We’re here to win at Watkins Glen

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Marcos Ambrose is 49 points behind 16th-place Greg Biffle in the Chase standings and recognizes that even if he doesn’t win Sunday’s Cheez-It 355 at Watkins Glen International, a strong finish could mean closing the gap with four regular season races to go.

But the Richard Petty Motorsports driver, who has won two of the last three Sprint Cup races at the Glen, acknowledges that he and his No. 9 team are going for the checkered flag.

“We’ve gotta be careful because we’re 17th in [overall] points and if we can get away with a Top-5 and get closer – I think you’ve gotta be about 13th in points to feel like you’ve got a shot to make the Chase – then we can say, ‘It’s been a solid day.’ But really, we’ve come here to try and win,” Ambrose said this morning before the first Cup practice session got underway at WGI.

“At the same time, winning is very, very difficult in this series so you have to be proud of putting [good] effort in. So, for me, if I have a good day, drive the very best I can, and get out of here with a Top-5, I’ll take it as a decent day. But we’ve really come here to win.”

As one of the top road racers in the series, Ambrose is receiving extra attention this weekend as he seeks to win and join teammate Aric Almirola in NASCAR’s post-season.

But in regards to dealing with additional pressure, Ambrose said all he can worry about is driving the car.

“You know that it’s not going to be easy,” he said. “You know that there’s gonna be 10-12 guys out there that have got a serious shot to win the race. You just know going in that it’s not gonna be a cakewalk. It’s just gonna have to be a big grind to get the victory.”

In addition to testing at the Glen last month, Ambrose will be getting extra track time this weekend by competing in Saturday’s Nationwide Series race.

However, considering Ambrose’s successful Cup record at the Glen, one could argue his appearance in Saturday’s Zippo 200 is more about gathering confidence going into what will be a critical Cup race for him on Sunday.

As Ambrose himself noted, he can’t carry over a lot from the Nationwide car to his Cup car anyway.

“[The Nationwide car has] got a different set of rules – they carry the same tire, so tire pressure maybe,” he said. “[But] even the brakes are different on a Nationwide car because you’re just not going as fast and don’t need to slow it down as much.

“There’s very little you can cross over. It’s just fun to have a second race here; I’ve won three Nationwide races in a row [at Watkins Glen] and I’m gonna try to make it four.”

Helio Castroneves: ‘I have nothing to lose’ Sunday in bid for 4th Indy 500 win

All photos: IndyCar
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You might say Helio Castroneves comes into Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Indianapolis 500 with a “less is more” philosophy than he’s had in years past:

* No pressure

* No worrying about points

* No worrying about winning a championship

Take away all those things and the very popular Brazilian driver could be in the best position he’s ever been to achieve the biggest goal of his career:

Winning a fourth Indy 500, making him a member of motor racing’s most exclusive club, joining legendary drivers A.J. Foyt, Al Unser and Rick Mears as the only drivers to conquer the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway four times each.

Like his car number, Castroneves has won the Indy 500 three times. He wants to change that number to four times in Sunday’s 102nd Running of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing. Photo: IndyCar.

“For sure, I definitely don’t have much to lose in terms of points, championships, and things like that,” Castroneves told MotorSportsTalk earlier this week. “I don’t have to think that I don’t have a car to win, I’m not going to risk that much because there are still championship points (to earn if he was still racing full-time in the series).

“Not that I did that before, but if the situation occurs, people just need to know I have nothing to lose this time.”

Castroneves three prior triumphs in the 500 came in his first two years in the field – 2001 and 2002 – and again in 2009. In addition, he has finished twice in the last four editions of the Greatest Spectacle In Racing in 2014 and 2017.

Coming so close last year, losing to Takuma Sato by .201 of a second, is something Castroneves hasn’t forgotten about. To come so close to No. 4 has only made him more hungry to get it done on Sunday.

“Yeah, but if it were easy, we would likely have had more than four wins by now,” he said. “We’ve had opportunities in the past, the last four years we were really competitive, we were right there, especially in ’14 and ’17, we were right on it.

“Last year, I thought it was going to be the hardest 500 for me and look what happened: we were battling to the end for a victory,” Castroneves said. “It’s not just about trying hard, it’s about being there at the right place at the right time.

“And this place, Indianapolis, I’ve always said the track winds up choosing who is going to be the winner. Hopefully, with safety and luck, we’ll be part of it and be on the right side.”

Team owner Roger Penske decided after last season to put Castroneves and Juan Pablo Montoya as the chief drivers of Team Penske’s new two-car effort in the IMSA WeatherTech Championship sports car series.

When the announcement was first made, many feared that Castroneves had run out of chances to get that elusive No. 4 at Indy.

But Penske sweetened the deal for Helio to go sports car racing by promising he’d field a car for him at Indy. And Penske has proven to be a man of his word, giving Castroneves everything he needs to finally win No. 4.

“I feel we’ve prepared as much as a team, we’re doing everything possible in relation to preparation,” Castroneves said. “The preparation we had in the previous year helps us tremendously to give us an opportunity fighting there for a win, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

Castroneves has taken to the new style Indy car with aplomb. During the first week of practice leading up to last weekend’s qualifying, he was consistently one of the fastest drivers in the field.

The 43-year-old even topped the speed charts in the Fast Nine last Saturday before ending up eighth in the following day’s pole qualifying.

As a result, he’ll start Sunday’s race from the middle of Row 3, anchoring Team Penske’s four-man Top 8 starting lineup effort in the 500. When the green flag drops, to his left will be Danica Patrick and to his right will be four-time IndyCar champ and former 500 winner Scott Dixon.

And millions of others right behind him, so to speak.

“I feel the sense that everyone wants it to happen,” he said of winning No. 4. “We’re talking about being part of history here. The last guy to do it was Rick Mears in the ‘90s (1991).

“I mean, how cool would that be if I would be in the position and to see No. 4 in my era. I hear a lot of the fans, even those supporting different drivers, all saying ‘Man, I want to see you win No. 4.’ That just shows how special this place is.

“(The Indy 500) is part of a lot of people’s lives. I just would be very fortunate to hopefully to have this generation see someone do No. 4.”

While he’d rather not think about missing out on a fourth win at Indy for a ninth straight year, Castroneves is using reverse psychology somewhat.

He’s going into Sunday’s biggest race in the world fully believing he will finally win No. 4.

And if he does, forget the idea that he would never come back to race at Indy again.

“Not at all. Why? You’re so close to getting four, and then when you get four, you stop it? It doesn’t make sense.

“I think I still have at least four or five more years, there’s no question about it. As long as Roger (Penske) gives me the opportunity, I’m going to be going for it, for sure.”

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