CONCORD, N.C. ? The years run longer Down Under.
Maybe that's one way to explain how Marcos Ambrose, who embarked on a five-year plan to make it in NASCAR, has managed to survive for eight seasons, and is eagerly looking ahead to season number nine.?
"That was just to convince my wife to come," Ambrose, a native of Tasmania, said of that plan Tuesday night during an appearance for 2014 sponsor Twisted Tea. "I said, 'We'll treat it like a five-year plan. Worst-case scenario, we'll have a 12-month holiday and we'll go back to Australia, alright?' And we've never gone back."
That he will return to compete for Richard Petty Motorsports next season, in the team's No. 9 Ford, was not a given. It's been a frustrating year for the driver and the organization in the Sprint Cup Series, one in which the 37-year-old has yet to post a win or a top-five finish and has only six top-10 finishes. On the series' two road courses, where he had often been dominant, Ambrose finished a disappointing seventh (at Sonoma) and 31st (at Watkins Glen) this year.
Both his Sprint Cup victories had come at the Glen, as did three of his four wins in the Nationwide Series.
"We all know this is my fourth year with Richard Petty (Motorsports) and it's time to deliver for me; it's time to deliver for the company," he said. "I'm ready to bounce back from a hard 2013. It's been a hard year for me ? it's just good to announce it and get it out there so everyone knows what our plans are."
While three races remain in the 2013 season, Ambrose is already looking forward to next year. Entering this weekend's AAA Texas 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, he is 21st in the series' points standings with a best finish of sixth at Michigan in August.
The 2014 season, he said, "is all about results."
"I'm absolutely focused on making the most of 2014 and that's what I'm going to do. I'm having a great time, but 2013 has been tough. No doubt about it. It's hard to keep your head up.
"I sacrificed more than most to be here in America; I'm a long way from my family and I'm a long way from home. Every year you're away, you need good reasons to be here and winning is a really good reason. That's what I'm all about. I want to win; I want to make the Chase.
"I've got unproven and unfinished business in NASCAR. It drives me crazy that we had a difficult 2013. It's been difficult for me to get over that because we're a better team than what our results have shown."
Crew chief Drew Blickensderfer, who joined the team one year ago, said Ambrose has the talent to contend for wins and a spot in the 10-race Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup field.
Blickensderfer has three wins in Cup, with drivers Matt Kenseth (2) and David Ragan (1), and is a 12-time winner in Nationwide with Kenseth and Carl Edwards.
"I told (Marcos) from day one, the difference in ability between you and Jimmie Johnson going through the corner is very, very small," Blickensderfer said. "I have to give you the confidence Jimmie has when he sits in the car. And give you the pit crew he has. Give you the confidence and the surroundings that those guys have. And that's the difference between the guys that can compete in the Chase every year and the guys that don't.
"We're going to be better next year than we were this year, that's for sure."
Twisted Tea will serve as an associate sponsor on the No. 9 car throughout next season, and the primary sponsor when the series heads to Dover in the fall. Current primary sponsor Stanley/DeWalt will also return in '14.
"For us this is going to be our first involvement with NASCAR, but we're really excited about it," Jon London of Twisted Tea Brewing Company said. "We think that Marcos and NASCAR are just a great fit for the Twisted Tea brand."
RPM fields Cup cars for Ambrose as well as Aric Almirola.
"This is the hardest, the most challenging, the most competitive form of racing anywhere in the world," Ambrose said. "The very best drivers are here. The very best drivers are winning. The very best teams are winning. You can put (drivers such as) Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon in any car in any category in the world and they'd be the best, up there with anybody. I honestly believe that.
"I'm certainly a better driver today than when I arrived. ? I was winning all around the world in other forms of racing and I've come to NASCAR and it's a humbling sport. It's really tough to run in the front, to win these races because you're up against the very best."
FULL SERIES COVERAGE
- Motor Racing
- Sports & Recreation