Marcos Ambrose seemed a bit uptight during his Infineon Raceway media availability on Friday, though his demeanor could also be interpreted as focused.
Ambrose didn't appear quite as jovial as usual, though he insisted he was relaxed instead of feeling the immense pressure of being Sunday's heavy favorite here.
Not only is Ambrose in search of his first Sprint Cup Series win, but sponsor Stanley will donate $1 million to Children's Miracle Network hospitals if he drives to Sonoma's Victory Circle. Plus, manufacturer Ford told Ambrose he'll get a new car if he wins.
"It just keeps getting piled on," he said. "We've got to manage expectations to some degree."
Ambrose, though, made several eyebrow-raising comments that seemed difficult to believe. Among them:
• He isn't treating this race differently than any other, nor was he more stressed: "It's pressure-filled every weekend. This is no different than normal. I'm actually more relaxed, because I know what I need to do and how the car needs to feel. I feel like I'm in control."
• He's not viewing this race as his opportunity for a Chase wild card berth: "It doesn't matter whether we're first or last in the championship. We're just going to try to win races."
• He hasn't thought much about the heartbreaking mistake that cost him last year's race: "Not at all. I haven't even thought about it until you guys started talking about it this week."
So is Ambrose just trying to deflect the spotlight, or does he really feel this way? Perhaps a little of both, but it won't change the outside perception that he should win Sunday's race.
"To win the race and to win the money for the kids and everything, (that's) fairyland," he said. "We've actually got to get out there and win the race in real-time and beat 42 other guys out there.
"I know what I need to do and it's easy for me to do my job, but I just want my team to be aware that this is not a certainty at all. We've got a lot of hard work to do."