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

Justin Grant prevails over Kyle Larson in the Turkey Night Grand Prix

Grant Larson Turkey Night
USACRacing.com / DB3 Inc.
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On the heels of his Hangtown 100 victory, Justin Grant worked his way from 13th in the Turkey Night Grand Prix to beat three-time event winner Kyle Larson by 1.367 seconds. The 81st annual event was run at Ventura (Calif.) Raceway for the sixth time.

“My dad used to take me to Irwindale Speedway, and we’d watch Turkey Night there every year,” Grant said in a series press release. “This is one of the races I fell in love with. I didn’t think I’d ever get a chance to run in it, never thought I’d make a show and certainly never thought I’d be able to win one.”

With its genesis in 1934 at Gilmore Stadium, a quarter-mile dirt track in Los Angeles, the race is steeped in history with winners that include AJ Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Gary Bettenhausen and Johnnie Parsons. Tony Stewart won it in 2000. Kyle Larson won his first of three Turkey Night Grands Prix in 2012. Christopher Bell earned his first of three in 2014, so Grant’s enthusiasm was well deserved.

So was the skepticism that he would win. He failed to crack the top five in three previous attempts, although he came close last year with a sixth-place result. When he lined up for the feature 13th in the crowded 28-car field, winning seemed like a longshot.

Grant watched as serious challengers fell by the wayside. Mitchel Moles flipped on Lap 10 of the feature. Michael “Buddy” Kofoid took a tumble on Lap 68 and World of Outlaws Sprint car driver Carson Macedo flipped on Lap 79. Grant saw the carnage ahead of him and held a steady wheel as he passed Tanner Thorson for the lead with 15 laps remaining and stayed out of trouble for the remainder of the event.

“It’s a dream come true to win the Turkey Night Grand Prix,” Grant said.


Kyle Larson follows Justin Grant to the front on Turkey Night

The 2012, 2016 and 2019 winner, Larson was not scheduled to run the event. His wife Katelyn is expecting their third child shortly, but after a couple of glasses of wine with Thanksgiving dinner and while watching some replays of the event, Larson texted car owner Chad Boat to see if he had a spare car lying around. He did.

“We weren’t great but just hung around and it seemed like anybody who got to the lead crashed and collected some people,” Larson said. “We made some passes throughout; in the mid-portion, we weren’t very good but then we got better at the end.

“I just ran really, really hard there, and knew I was running out of time, so I had to go. I made some pretty crazy and dumb moves, but I got to second and was hoping we could get a caution to get racing with Justin there. He was sliding himself at both ends and thought that maybe we could get a run and just out-angle him into [Turn] 1 and get clear off [Turn] 2 if we got a caution, but it just didn’t work out.”

Larson padded one of the most impressive stats in the history of this race, however. In 10 starts, he’s won three times, finished second four times, was third once and fourth twice.

Bryant Wiedeman took the final spot on the podium.

As Grant and Larson began to pick their way through the field, Kofoid took the lead early from the outside of the front row and led the first 44 laps of the race before handing it over to Cannon McIntosh, who bicycled on Lap 71 before landing on all fours. While Macedo and Thorson tussled for the lead with McIntosh, Grant closed in.

Thorson finished 19th with McIntosh 20th. Macedo recovered from his incident to finish ninth. Kofoid’s hard tumble relegated him to 23rd.

Jake Andreotti in fourth and Kevin Thomas, Jr. rounded out the top five.

1. Justin Grant (started 13)
2. Kyle Larson (22)
3. Bryant Wiedeman (4)
4. Jake Andreotti (9)
5. Kevin Thomas Jr. (1)
6. Logan Seavey (8)
7. Alex Bright (27)
8. Emerson Axsom (24)
9. Carson Macedo (7)
10. Jason McDougal (18)
11. Jake Swanson (16)
12. Chase Johnson (6)
13. Jacob Denney (26)
14. Ryan Timms (23)
15. Chance Crum (28)
16. Brenham Crouch (17)
17. Jonathan Beason (19)
18. Cade Lewis (14)
19. Tanner Thorson (11)
20. Cannon McIntosh (3)
21. Thomas Meseraull (15)
22. Tyler Courtney (21)
23. Buddy Kofoid (2)
24. Brody Fuson (5)
25. Mitchel Moles (20)
26. Daniel Whitley (10)
27. Kaylee Bryson (12)
28. Spencer Bayston (25)