Saying goodbye to a good mate: Marcos Ambrose to run final Sprint Cup race Sunday at Homestead

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G’day, mate, for a final time.

Sunday’s season-ending Ford EcoBoost 400 at Homestead-Miami Speedway will mark the final start in the No. 9 Richard Petty Motorsports Ford for Marcos Ambrose.

The Australian native will be heading back to his homeland to return to race in the V8 SuperCar Series, where he won two championships before beginning the NASCAR phase of his racing career.

Ambrose will be racing for a team partly owned by legendary IndyCar and NASCAR team owner Roger Penske.

“It’s been about nine years since my family and I came over the ‘water’ to try out this experiment of NASCAR,” Ambrose said in a RPM media release Wednesday. “It’s been great. We’ve won races, had good runs and met a lot of wonderful people.

“But, it’s time to take my family back across the ‘pond’ and go home. I made that decision this year, and once we did that, we started working towards that plan. That’s what this year has been like, and everyone has been very supportive.

“It’s a grind, and you need to be focused all the time on the task at hand. It will be nice to get some more weekends off and get back to V8.”

But before he heads back to his homeland, Ambrose would love to leave NASCAR with a flourish in Sunday’s race – and maybe spoil the day for some of the four remaining championship contenders.

“We are finishing our NASCAR season, and we just want to spoil the guys in the Chase,” Ambrose said. “I have had a good time here in NASCAR. It’s the most competitive form of racing in the world, and there is nothing like it.”

Ambrose will make his 227th career start Sunday. He has two wins, 18 top-five and 46 top-10 finishes, along with three poles. His career average start is 20.0 and average finish is 19.7.

His best season finishes have been 18th in both 2009 and 2012.

He also made 77 Nationwide Series starts with five wins, nine top-five and 18 top-10 finishes. Also, Ambrose started 22 Truck races in 2006, with a pair of top-five and four top-10 finishes.

In addition to racing for RPM, Ambrose also drove for the famed Wood Brothers, Michael Waltrip Racing, as well as JTG Daugherty Racing.

Ambrose joined RPM in 2011 and scored both of his Sprint Cup wins with the team, along with 11 top-five and 33 top-10 finishes.

Perhaps his biggest legacy that he’ll leave NASCAR with is his success as one of the best road course racers in NASCAR history.

“I have good runs, memorable races that I’ll carry with me for sure,” Ambrose said. “It was great winning for ‘The King’ (Richard Petty) and racing for wins at Watkins Glen.

“These are memories that I’ll have for a lifetime. I would have liked to win on an oval, sure, but I feel like I’ve accomplished a lot too. Now, it’s just time to go back home with my family.”

Ambrose has kept the door open about possibly returning to NASCAR for occasional one-off races, particularly on the road course circuits at Sonoma and Watkins Glen, as long as they don’t interfere with his V8 SuperCar activities.

“I will miss NASCAR, and I will watch it too,” he said. “I will watch the night races in the morning in Australia with breakfast, and that will be fun. I’m looking forward to that.”

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On a personal note, we’ll miss you, Marcos. You were always a professional and true gentleman, both on the racetrack and in dealings with the media.

Hopefully, we’ll see you back on this side of the pond from time to time. Good luck in your new venture. We look forward to reading about your championship-winning season in 2015!

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
IMSA
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”