Ambrose back on track as Daytona looms

LAUNCESTON-BORN racing driver Marcos Ambrose has qualified sixth for tomorrow's Daytona 500 warm-up event, the 60-lap Sprint Cup Series Budweiser Duel.

After a disappointing 2013, Ambrose enters his eighth full season of NASCAR with promising results in Daytona 500 testing sessions and practice.

The Richard Petty Motorsports team driver finished seventh in last weekend's Sprint Unlimited exhibition race at the Daytona International Speedway in Florida despite a controversial clash that sent Dale Earnhardt jnr to the wall and out of contention.

The race featured all the pole winners from last season and Ambrose qualified through his result at Watkins Glen last August in what turned out to be his high point in the elite Sprint Cup competition.

With three seasons in the Sprint Cup top 20, Ambrose finished last season 22nd with only one top-10 finish.

There has been speculation that the two-time V8 Supercar champion might return to Australia and resume his touring car career.

However, better team funding and changes to Sprint Cup rules for 2014 have raised the hopes of Ambrose and his team and he will be looking for a good result in Sunday's season-opening Daytona 500.

``Certainly, 2013 was the most difficult year of my racing career,'' Ambrose said last week.

``The fact that I've always been on an upward trend in NASCAR, 2013 was the first year that I flattened off and even dropped back down.

``If I have another year like [2013], I'm going to have to really start scratching my head and have a good hard think about what I'm doing because this year is certainly the year we need to break out and do something special.''

Results during Daytona 500 Speedweek have been promising.

``We've brought great cars here. Last night, we had a competitive race, and today, we backed that up with good speed on these cars. It's great to see,'' he said. 

``We're up in the stratosphere on qualifying day, which is the highest I've really ever been here for a 500 qualifying. 

``I'm really happy with our progress.''

Ambrose joined Richard Petty Motorsports in 2011 and has two Sprint Cup wins to his credit, both at the Watkins Glen road track in New York State.

He is yet to win on an oval track which almost guarantees a place in the championship-deciding Sprint Cup Chase at the end of the season.

Ambrose finished 18th in the Daytona 500 last year in a race won by eventual Sprint Cup champion Jimmie Johnson.

Sunday's race  starts at 1pm (7am Tastime).

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