Ambrose, who is considered as one of the best road-course racers in the series, is a heavy favorite to win Sunday's 90-lap, 220.5-mile race at Watkins Glen. The 37-year-old Australian has won two Sprint Cup races during his career, and both of his victories occurred at this 2.45-mile, 7-turn road course in Upstate New York from 2011-12.
While attempting to win at Watkins Glen for a third consecutive year in 2013, Ambrose started on the pole and dominated most of the race by leading 51 laps. Just prior to a late-race caution, Kyle Busch had pitted from the second position, while Ambrose continued on the track as the leader. The caution benefited Busch, as he took the lead when Ambrose made his last stop.
Ambrose had fallen to 13th and was never a factor from there. With six laps to go, he was involved in an accident with Max Papis, who substituted for the injured Tony Stewart, and Brian Vickers. While Busch went on to victory, Ambrose wound up finishing 31st.
Right now, Ambrose is 17th in the point standings and 20th on NASCAR's "Chase Grid." He is 49 points behind Greg Biffle, who holds the 16th and final provisional spot in the Chase.
"It's an important weekend, no doubt," Ambrose said on Friday at Watkins Glen. "We're excited. We had a good test up here last week and felt like the car was a repeat of last year, and we had a fast car last year too."
Ambrose, who's in his fourth season with Richard Petty Motorsports, is hoping to become the 12th different driver to win a race this season. One month ago, his teammate, Aric Almirola, won the rain-shortened race at Daytona International Speedway, which virtually guaranteed himself a spot in the 16- member Chase field. RPM has never had both of its teams in the Chase.
"RPM would love to have both cars in the Chase, and that's what we're going to try to do this weekend," Ambrose said.
Ambrose is doing double duty at Watkins Glen this weekend. He is scheduled to drive the No. 09 Ford for RPM in Saturday's 200-mile Nationwide Series race here. Ambrose won three straight Nationwide events at this track from 2008-10.
Will competing in the Nationwide event help Ambrose in any way for the Sprint Cup race at Watkins Glen?
"It is nice to get the cobwebs out early and get on the track early and get after it," he said. "It is good for me to get a few more laps on the track. There isn't much you can carry over though. It is a different set of rules. It is the same tire, so tire pressure maybe. Even the brakes are different because you aren't going as fast to need to slow down as much. There is very little to cross over, but it is fun to have a second race here. I have won three Nationwide races here in a row, and I am going to try to make it four."
After Watkins Glen, the series moves on to Michigan International Speedway (Aug. 17) and then Bristol Motor Speedway (Aug. 23) and Atlanta Motor Speedway (Aug. 31) before the 26-race regular season concludes at Richmond International Raceway (Sept. 6).
Even if Ambrose doesn't get a victory at Watkins Glen, he feels pretty good about his chances of winning at Bristol, a half-mile short track where he has done well in the past.
"Our racing form on intermediate and downforce tracks hasn't been that great," he said. "It is going to be a struggle at Michigan, but Bristol certainly is on the radar. We have finished top-five there, and Aric came very close to winning it. I think that is a good track for us."
Forty-three teams are on the entry list for the Cheez-It 355 at the Glen.
Series: NASCAR Sprint Cup. Date: Sunday, Aug. 10. Race: Cheez-It 355 at the Glen. Site: Watkins Glen International. Track: 2.45-mile, 7-turn road course. Start time: 1 p.m. ET. Laps: 90. Miles: 220.5 (355 kilometers). 2013 Winner: Kyle Busch. Television: ESPN. Radio: Motor Racing Network (MRN)/SIRIUS NASCAR Radio.