MARCOS AMBROSE/No.47 Toyota was the last minute guy on top for the first NASCAR Sprint Cup practice Friday afternoon at Infineon Raceway. His time was 76.70/93.404 mph. The personable Aussie was creeping up the charts, and literally on the last lap he bested the likes of JEFF GORDON/No.24 Chevrolet, BORIS SAID/No.08 Ford, JIMMIE JOHNSON/No.48 Chevrolet and BRIAN VICKERS/No.83 Toyota.
Ambrose runs with JTG-Daugherty Racing and is currently twentieth in the Cup standings. He comes from a road course racing background with victories and championships in the wildly popular Australian V-8 Supercar series. But Ambrose doesn’t want to be known as a road race ringer; he wants to be considered an all-around NASCAR driver. This is his third year racing in NASCAR’s top tier series, starting in Trucks, moving up to Nationwide where he won the Watkins Glen race last year, and now Cup. Prior to starting the full time run in NASCAR, he tested for a couple of years with the Wood Brothers, honing his skills.
Forty-seven drivers were out in the Cup session, so four will not make the Sunday Toyota/Save Mart 350 race.
The session started out mostly sunny, and ended with more cloud cover and stronger winds. While the forecast was for high eighties, it was low seventies for the first Cup practice.
The road course Cup races always bring out drivers with road racing experience, mostly in extra cars, or in the case of PATRICK CARPENTIER, replacing the regular driver. MICHAEL WALTRIP, owner and driver of No.55 Toyota put Carpentier in his seat for the weekend. Carpentier was thirty-sixth fastest at the checkered flag.
Other one-off drivers this weekend are: CHRIS COOK/No.37 Dodge; RON FELLOWS/No.09 Chevrolet; TOM HUBERT/No.27 Toyota; P.J. JONES/No.04 Toyota – a second car for owner/driver ROBBY GORDON/No.7 Toyota; BORIS SAID/No.08 Ford and his business partner/longtime friend, BRIAN SIMO/No.36 Toyota. All but Carpentier will have to qualify based on speed. Carpentier is ensured of starting due to the team owner’s thirtieth place in the standings.
Cook was one of the drivers who coached the Cup drivers who tested at the track earlier in the week. Fellows, Jones, and Simo has often run the two Cup road course races. Simo’s twin brother, retired racer MARK SIMO (who also is a co-owner of Said’s car) said that this year Brian has his best ever chance to do well at Infineon. Simo is racing a brand new car from TOMMY BALDWIN, which was tested at Virginia International Raceway two weeks ago.
Occasional drivers include MAX PAPIS/No.13 Toyota, who is running 15 selected races with GEICO sponsorship, which is also backing PAUL TRACY for several races in the Indy Racing League IndyCar Series.
DAVID GILLILAND/No.71 Chevrolet started out the season as an occasional driver with TRG, with the aim of making two races, depending on sponsorship. He didn’t qualify for the Daytona 500, but otherwise has continued to do well with TRG – a local team – and has run 14 of the 15 races he entered. He currently is thirty-seventh in the driver’s standings, meaning he still has to qualify each weekend based on his speed. Gilliland was sixteenth in practice.
This weekend the TRG car has local sponsorship including Adobe Winery, which is owned by team owner, KEVIN BUCKLER. Both the shop and winery are nearby in Petaluma. Buckler thinks the two businesses complement each other very well. This small winery in the heart of California’s wine country has an award-winning 2005 Zinfandel – it just won the Sonoma Harvest Festival for best wine, competing with 600 wineries and 1100 wines.