By Reid Spencer
NASCAR Wire Service
Distributed by The Sports Xchange
WATKINS GLEN, N.Y. -- When the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series comes to the road course at Watkins Glen International, Marcos Ambrose expects to be the center of attention.
"Certainly, I get talked about more, and people want to know what I'm doing," Ambrose said Friday at the Glen, understating the case. "That's a good thing. I don't have any problem with that."
Winner of Sprint Cup races at WGI in 2012 and 2013, Ambrose is expected to excel at the 2.45-mile road course. That doesn't mean, however, that he expects to have an easy time in Sunday's Cheez-It 355 at the Glen (1 p.m. ET, ESPN).
And though he'll be under closer scrutiny than he is at oval tracks, Ambrose will try to keep his own focus as narrow as possible and concentrate on the task at hand.
"You just have to do the best you can," he said. "I can't change anything but how I drive the race car. That's what I'll focus on. ... You know it won't be easy. There are going to be 10 to 12 guys out there that have a shot to win the race. You just know going in that it won't be a cakewalk. It's going to have to be a big grind to get the victory."
Though Watkins Glen may give Ambrose his best chance at a victory and an accompanying berth in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup, the Australian driver will try to keep that thought away from the forefront of his consciousness.
"It's an important weekend, no doubt," said Ambrose, who was fifth fastest in opening practice and second to AJ Allmendinger in the final session. "You have to try to downplay that as best as you can coming in. ... You can only do what you can out there behind the wheel and let the racing gods work out whether it's your day or not."
ROAD MAP FOR CHASE ELLIOTT
During a Wednesday interview on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, team owner Rick Hendrick said he expects driver Chase Elliott to make his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut next year.
That's fine with Dale Earnhardt Jr., who owns the No. 9 Chevrolet driven by Elliott in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
"I think it makes great sense," Earnhardt said Friday before opening Cup practice at Watkins Glen. "Two Nationwide seasons, run a little Cup in that second season and go right into Cup.
"I think that's the plan. He's running well enough that that seems to make a lot of sense. I wouldn't have expected anything else, to be honest with you."
In his rookie season with JR Motorsports, Elliott leads the Nationwide standings by two points over teammate Regan Smith. Plans for Elliott's future include a second season in NNS next year before a jump to a full-time Cup ride in 2016.
And though NASCAR restricts an owner to a maximum of four drivers per Cup organization, the sanctioning body does make an allowance for occasional appearances by a rookie driver in what would be a fifth car.
Accordingly, Hendrick could field a car for Elliott on a limited basis next year.
BAD DAY FOR DANICA
Stewart-Haas driver Danica Patrick will start from the rear of the field in Sunday's race after blowing an engine during Friday's first practice session. By rule, an engine change requires a driver to drop to the back for the start of the race, regardless of qualifying position.
Patrick completed seven laps in opening practice before the failure. She finished the session 32nd fastest at 124.292 mph.
But the blown engine was the least of Patrick's worries. With five minutes left in final practice, she buried the nose of her No. 10 Chevrolet in a tire barrier near the exit from the bus stop chicane, the result of a shock failure that compressed the left-front of the car and popped the tire.
With severe damage to the primary Chevy, Patrick's team rolled out a backup car and began mounting her third engine of the day in the backup.
"The only positive thing is that I'm hoping I'm using up all my bad luck and mistakes and all the bad stuff in one day, so that I can get it out of the system before we got to the next one," Patrick said. "On second thought, I suppose that after an engine change this morning we were starting in the back anyway.
"Third, I would say, if you're going to have to start at the back of a track, the strategies are all over the place on road courses, and it just might push us into something that works."