WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. - It was a Waltzing Matilda moment Monday at Watkins Glen International when Marcos Ambrose became the first Australian in history to win a NASCAR Sprint Cup race.
Ambrose battled Brad Keselowski and Kyle Busch in a dramatic finish that ended under caution after a multi-car pile up — that included Toronto’s Ron Fellows.
The Helluva Good Sour Cream Dips at the Glen had been delayed by a day after rain cancelled the scheduled Sunday date, but Ambrose took full advantage of the extra time to win his first Sprint Cup event and add his name to a very exclusive list: Foreign drivers who have won a Sprint Cup race.
The only others to do it before Ambrose were Canadian Earl Ross in 1974 at Martinsville and Colombian Juan Pablo Montoya, at Infineon in 2007 and again last year at Watkins Glen.
The voyage to the winner’s circle was a long and arduous one for the 34-year-old native of Launceston, Tasmania.
He came to the U.S. to pursue his dream of driving in NASCAR in 2008 with only his reputation as a top V8 SuperCar driver from his home country on his resume.
A little over three seasons later he is on top of the podium in the No. 9 Ford of the legendary Richard Petty Motorsports team.
“It’s a dream come true,” Ambrose said. “For me to drive for Richard Petty in the first place is an unbelievable opportunity and to get into Victory Lane is just incredible.
“They plucked me out of obscurity almost. I was just trying hard to win races and to get to Victory Lane, what a dream come true.”
Ambrose said there was irony in his last-lap duel with Keselowski in that after the Sunday race had been postponed the two had chatted about strategy for Monday’s event.
“I spoke to Brad last night,” he said. “We had a chat for about a half-hour just shooting the breeze and talking about how hard it is to get to Victory Lane and there I was racing him (Monday) for the win.
“I’m pleased we did it clean, but I was gonna get to Victory Lane. I wasn’t gonna let (him) beat me to the checkered flag.”
Ambrose spoke about how he put his family’s life on hold for his first two NASCAR seasons, leaving them behind in Australia, while he fought for his dream.
Yet there he was Monday celebrating alone as he had sent his family back to Charlotte, N.C., on Sunday because school opened on Monday.
“I’ve sacrificed so much to get here,” Ambrose said. “But I flew the kids home yesterday. It was the little one’s first day at school.
“I was desperate to be there for her but this kind of makes up for it.”
The win also vaults Ambrose into the picture for a wild card spot in the Chase for the Championship.
The Top 10 drivers are eligible and the final two spots will go to whoever has the most wins of those in positions 10-20.
With his win Ambrose moves to 22nd spot.
“To be honest I don’t even understand how the wild card thing works,” Ambrose said. “I just want to get to Victory Lane again.”
His next stop will be in Montreal on Saturday where he will compete in the NASCAR Nationwide NAPA 200 at Circuit Gilles Villeneuve.
Martin Truex Jr. finished fourth on Monday and Joey Logano rounded out the Top 5.
Fellows finished 30th and Andrew Ranger, of Roxton Pond, Que., finished 35th.