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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Attention NASCAR teams: IMSA drivers available for Daytona!

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NASCAR will be making its debut on the Daytona International Speedway road course next month, and there’s a big fan who’d like to join the historic weekend.

This fan actually has impressive credentials, too — a few thousand laps around the 12-turn, 3.56-mile layout that annually plays host to the Rolex 24 at Daytona in January.

In 2014, the winning GTLM team in the sports car endurance classic included IMSA Porsche driver Nick Tandy, who rabidly has followed NASCAR for more than 30 years since growing up in England.

So why not try racing NASCAR? Especially because Tandy has the weekend of Aug. 14-16 free.

He’s not picky, either — offering up his services on Twitter (as well as those of Porsche teammate Earl Bamber) for an ARCA, Xfinity, trucks or Cup ride.

Tandy’s affinity for American stock-car racing runs deep.

His first trip to the World Center of Racing was as a fan attending the 50th running of the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17, 2008. During Rolex testing in January, Tandy, 35, said he hadn’t missed a Cup race on TV in 15 years.

Among his favorite NASCAR drivers: the Earnhardts, Jimmie Johnson and Kyle Busch. When IMSA ran the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course in 2014, Tandy stayed a few extra days at the Brickyard and bought Kyle Busch gear for himself and his children.

He briefly took the stage during a NASCAR weekend last October. After IMSA’s season finale at Road Atlanta, Tandy made a few demonstration laps and a burnout in his No. 911 Porsche before the Cup race at Talladega Superspeedway.

He also has some experience in stock cars, having raced Modified-type grass-roots series on England’s quarter-mile short tracks.

Couple that with a Daytona road course record that includes two consecutive podium class finishes (including last Saturday) and a sports car resume with 13 IMSA victories and an overall win in the 2015 24 Hours of Le Mans … and maybe a NASCAR team should take a look.

And Tandy isn’t the only IMSA driver who likely would be available.

Corvette driver Jordan Taylor, who won the 2017 Rolex 24 overall title with Jeff Gordon as a teammate (and the inspiration for his Rodney Sandstrom persona), also tweeted his availability for the weekend on the high banks.

Sports car veteran Andy Lally, a GTD driver with multiple class wins in the Rolex 24 as well as 38 Cup starts (he was the 2011 rookie of the season in NASCAR’s premier series), also hung out his shingle.

There also is AIM Vasser Sullivan’s Jack Hawksworth (who just won at Daytona last Saturday), the Englishman who teamed with Kyle Busch at the Rolex 24 in January and made an Xfinity start at Mid-Ohio last year with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Many sports car drivers (such as Taylor) already live in Florida, and many are hunkering down in the Sunshine State with IMSA returning to action at Daytona last week and Sebring International Raceway next week. Because of COVID-19-related travel concerns and restrictions, several IMSA stars who live outside the country are riding out the pandemic within a few hours of Daytona with nothing to do.

Why not a weekend at the World Center of Racing?

Over the years, scads of “road-course ringers” (including some Formula One veterans) have tried their hands in stock cars at Sonoma Raceway and Watkins Glen International.

How about considering the many sports car drivers who already have reached victory lane at Daytona by making a few right-hand turns, too?