Monday, 18 June 2012
Marcos Ambrose was unable to convert his record-setting pole qualifier into a maiden Sprint Cup victory but showed he's a NASCAR driver on the rise in the Michigan 400 on Sunday.
The Australian led on four occasions for a total of 15 laps but had to settle for ninth place - his third top 10 in his last five races - after his mid-race pit stop timing cost him valuable track position in the gruelling 643km event.
After a two-hour rain delay, the race began and saw Dale Earnhardt Jnr led for 96 laps. He crossed the finish line 5.4 seconds ahead of fellow American and defending series champion Tony Stewart to claim his 19th career triumph.
Matt Kenseth, the season points leader, finished third to stay atop the drivers list but Earnhardt Jnr closed to within four points of the leader.
Ambrose's effort came a day after claiming pole with the fastest qualifying speed of any driver on any NASCAR track in 25 years on the freshly-repaved Michigan International Speedway.
The race provided a drought-breaking win for popular Earnhardt Jnr, whose late father was a legend and killed in a wreck at the Daytona 500.
He had gone four years and 143 races waiting for his 19th career triumph since his last win, which came at the same track.
Former V8 Supercars champion Ambrose was looking at the positives from his race, especially with the series moving to the first road course of the year at Sonoma next.
"We will take the top-ten, but we had a great car today and we lost a little bit of track position and it hurt us there," Ambrose said.
"I am proud of my Stanley team; we led some laps and looked good up there.
"It was a strong day for us, not quite what we wanted, but we will take it and move along to Sonoma."
Earnhardt gave his legions of fans a thrilling reward for their support and patience.
"They stayed loyal," he said. "As soon as I got out of the car, that was my initial thought - was about how many people were in their living rooms screaming at the top of their lungs, or running out in the yard, or whatever they do. I just wish I could see it all at once."
Earnhardt already had 11 top-10 finishes this season. But after another close run at Pocono, the questions kept coming about his dry spell.
That's now over.