Australian driver Marcos Ambrose survived a wild, rain-shortened Daytona 500 to finish a highly-respectable 17th in his history-making debut in America’s great stock car race.
Ambrose negotiated his way through several chain-reaction crashes, including a major nine-car pile up sparked by race favourite Dale Earnhardt Jr, and was making a charge for the lead when heavy rain forced officials to end the race with 48 of the 200 scheduled laps to go.
Wisconsin-born Ford driver Matt Kenseth was leading at the time and declared the winner before more than 200,000 racing fans who packed Florida’s Daytona International Speedway for the opening race of the NASCAR season.
Ambrose, who moved to the US in 2005 after dominating Australia’s V8 Supercars championship, made history as the first Australian to drive in the Daytona 500.
He had mixed feelings about his 17th place.
“It was a great experience,” Ambrose said.
“We were starting to come through the pack there.
“We could have finished further up and we could have finished further back, so I’ll take the position.”
Tasmanian-born Ambrose began from 23rd spot in the 43 car field and sat in the back for a large portion of the race.
With 75 laps to go Earnhardt Jr bumped the rear of Brian Vickers, sending Vickers spinning through the field and forcing eight other cars to slide off the track.
The crash wiped out the chances of Kyle Busch, who led 88 laps, and other frontrunners Jimmie Johnson and Scott Speed.
Ambrose was behind the carnage and managed to find a safe path through in his Toyota Camry.
He also had close calls with multi-car crashes on the eighth and 80th laps.
“I was close to them all,” Ambrose said.
“That’s the nature of the beast in this type of racing and that’s why the fans turn up.
“I kept the nose of the car really clean and I paid a lot of attention to get space when I could and it paid off.
“The team was really happy and so am I.”
Ambrose and his NASCAR rivals will race the next 38 weekends across the US, with California’s Fontana Auto Club Speedway the next stop.
Ambrose will return to his home base in Charlotte, North Carolina, for a day of rest before flying west.
26th February 2009