After early evening rain showers postponed the start of Saturday night’s race at Richmond International Raceway, Ambrose lined up for the 400-mile event in the 22nd position with one thing on his mind, a trip to Victory Lane. A win in Saturday night’s race would have secured Ambrose a wild-card spot in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, but ultimately Lady Luck would not smile on Ambrose as he finished the Federated Auto Parts 400 in the 15th position, just 42 points shy of making the Chase.
With the track still damp from the earlier rain, Ambrose and the rest of the 42-car field started the race under yellow flag conditions. After running the initial laps of the race under caution, the Mac Tools Ford finally took the green flag for the first time at Lap 6. Picking up two positions by Lap 25, Ambrose relayed to his crew that the car needed better forward drive off. A competition caution at Lap 47 allowed teams to come down pit road to access their car’s handling, and Crew Chief Todd Parrott called for four tires, fuel and trackbar and air pressure adjustments for the No.9 machine.
Shortly after the green flag restart on Lap 50, Ambrose relayed to his crew that the changes made on the previous stop seemed to improve the car’s handling slightly. Ambrose moved up as far as 18th before his tires began to wear and he communicated to his crew that he had no rear grip and was having trouble turning in the middle of the corners. A long green flag run coupled with handling issues caused Ambrose to fall a lap down to the leaders in the early stages of the race.
Having slipped back to the 25th position, Parrott called Ambrose into the pits on Lap 131 under green for four tires, fuel and wedge, air pressure and trackbar adjustments. Pitting before the leader under green, Ambrose lost another lap and was scored in 30th, two laps down, when the yellow flag flew for light rain showers on Lap 139. The leaders all came down pit road under caution and Ambrose elected not to pit and took the ‘wave around’ to get one of his laps back.
The light rain shower became heavier and the caution turned into a red flag period. The field was stopped on pit road for just under an hour before restarting on Lap 155. Ambrose was still scored in 30th, one lap down when he took the green flag.
With rain likely to fall again, Ambrose knew he had to make his way toward the front of the field quickly and attempt to put himself in the ‘Lucky Dog’ position if the caution were to come out again. The handling of Ambrose’s car seemed to improve greatly after the red flag delay and he had driven his way to the 19th position at Lap 277 when the yellow flag again flew for light rain on the track.
Parrott elected to bring Ambrose into the pits under caution and the Richard Petty Motorsports crew added four tires, fuel and some tape to the nose of the Mac Tools Ford. The lightning quick stop by the crew allowed Ambrose to gain one position in the pits and he restarted in 18th, the first car a lap down.
Ambrose remained in the ‘Lucky Dog’ position for the next 45 laps, but the caution flag never flew. The longer the green flag run went, the more cars the leader began to put a lap down, and Ambrose fell out of the free pass position. Though he was one lap down, Ambrose ran as high as 10th before having to come to the pits one final time under green for four tires and fuel on Lap 356.
Restarting in 18th as the rest of the field cycled though green flag stops, Ambrose refused to give up and continued to pass lap down cars for position. The caution flag would never wave again, and Ambrose took the checkered flag in the 15th position one lap down. Only 11 cars finished the race on the lead lap as Clint Bowyer claimed the victory. Kasey Kahne clenched the first wild-card spot by virtue of having two wins this season. Jeff Gordon secured the second spot with a second place finish Saturday night, knocking Busch, Edwards, Ambrose and Newman out of contention. Ultimately, Ambrose fell 42 points shy of making the Chase, but his 15th-place finish moves him to 15th in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver point standings with 10 races remaining in the season.
Comments from Ambrose after Richmond: “I just tried my hardest tonight and it wasn’t our night. We had a bad car early on and went two laps down and had to fight our way back to the top-15. I will take that. Obviously we wanted the win, but it wasn’t meant to be tonight. I’m proud of my Mac Tools team, even though we didn’t have the car to win tonight, nobody gave up, and we were able to make adjustments on the car to make it better throughout the night. We’ve achieved a lot this year, and there are still other opportunities for us to win throughout the remaining races.”