Marcos Ambrose to leave Richard Petty Motorsports, returning to native Australia

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JOLIET, Ill. — In a move not necessarily unexpected, Richard Petty Motorsports announced Saturday morning that Marcos Ambrose, driver of the No. 9 Stanley Ford, will not return to the team or NASCAR for the 2015 season.

There have been several months of speculation that Ambrose would be returning to his native Australia after this season, with the likelihood that he’ll return to racing in the Australian V8 SuperCars Series, where he won the championship in 2003 and 2004. He finished third in 2005 before coming to the United States to begin his NASCAR career the following season (2006) in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series.

A team source said the organization is looking at two or three different candidates to fill Ambrose’s seat. Immediate speculation includes Nationwide and Sprint Cup series veterans Sam Hornish Jr., Elliott Sadler and David Ragan,  as well as perhaps a younger driver currently in the Nationwide or Camping World Truck Series.

Ambrose, who just turned 38 on Sept. 1, has been rumored to potentially drive next season in the V8 Supercars series for a new team that would include full or co-ownership by current NASCAR and IndyCar owner Roger Penske.

MORE: Report: Deal for Marcos Ambrose’ return to Australia to race V8 Supercars for Roger Penske may be close

MORE: Report: Will Marcos Ambrose return to native Australia and V8 Supercars to race for Roger Penske?

The move was not necessarily a surprise. Petty somewhat predicted it back in January, telling MotorSportsTalk, “I don’t know how much longer he wants to stay in the U.S. You know, (Ambrose has) come a long way. He’s sort of a hero in Australia just because he’s running Cup. His big deal is if he could win on a round and around racetrack, that would be the optimum for him. If he did do that, he’d probably just go home and say, ‘Thank you guys,’ but I don’t know.”

MORE: Marcos Ambrose: Not looking to leave U.S. or Richard Petty Motorsports

Here is Saturday’s official statement from the team on Ambrose’s pending departure:

“Richard Petty Motorsports announced today that the No. 9 team will move forward with a new driver in 12015. Marcos Ambrose, who has been with RPM since 2011, has informed the organization that he will return to his native home of Australia in 2015. This was a personal decision by Ambrose.

“At this time RPM is currently evaluating several driver opportunities to help the No. 9 team (going) forward and will make a future announcement at the appropriate time.

“Richard Petty, co-owner of Richard Petty Motorsports, is thankful for Ambrose and his dedication to the team:

“Marcos will always be part of our extended racing family,” Petty said. “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. Away from the track, he’s a family person first. That’s something I respect and we’ll miss Marcos, (his wife) Sonja and their children.”

Ambrose has made 217 career starts in the Sprint Cup Series, has two wins (both at Watkins Glen International), 18 top-five and 44 top-10 finishes. He also has made 77 starts in the Nationwide Series, with five wins, nine top-five and 18 top-10 showings.

While Ambrose’s contract runs through the end of the current season, it’s unclear whether he will complete the remainder of this season or potentially leave the team early to begin preparations for the next chapter of his racing career.

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