News & Media

Leffler relishing his moment in the limelight

March 25, 2011, Bill Kimm,

FONTANA, Calif. -- For Jason Leffler, it's always nice to come home to Southern California, but coming home as the Nationwide Series points leader puts a little more pep in his step.

"It's pretty cool to come back to Auto Club Speedway and be the points leader," Leffler said before Royal Purple 300 practice on Friday. "Hopefully we can hang on to this thing."

The Long Beach, Calif., native is enjoying the best start of his Nationwide career thanks to finishes of 11th or better in the first four races of the season. Those finishes have put Leffler on top of the points standings for the first time in his career, and while he's enjoying the view from the top, he knows the season is a marathon and not a sprint.

"It's so early in the year, we aren't really thinking about points," Leffler said. "You got to think about having those consistent finishes if you are going to run for the championship. If we can hang onto this thing all season and battle to the end, it would be awesome."

Leffler's career performance comes as the 11-year Nationwide veteran begins a new chapter in his life with Turner Motorsports. Before this season, Leffler spent six seasons with Braun Racing, compiling a win, 29 top-fives and 75 top-10s in 190 starts and a best points finish of third in 2007.

But last season was a tough one for Leffler. He finished ninth in points, but had 10 DNFs before Steve and Sandra Turner bought Braun Racing at the end of the year, giving Leffler optimism he hadn't felt in some time.

"In preseason, a few of the media events, I mentioned I never thought I would get a chance to drive equipment like this again," Leffler said. "Not that we had bad equipment before, but when it was Braun, we struggled just to get to the race track. Now, with Steve Turner and Sandra Turner -- they've given us everything we can to go try and win races and this championships.

"I'm more appreciative than I have been in the past for sure. Everything about our team, we've got great pit stops, a great crew, Hendrick engines, awesome equipment to work with week in and week out, so I'm very happy about that."

And it's not just Leffler who is reaping the benefits of Turner Motorsports becoming a major player in the Nationwide Series. Leffler's teammate Reed Sorenson was the points leader for two of the first three weeks of the season with two top-fives. And Justin Allgaier is currently third in points thanks to a second-place run at Las Vegas.

"It's been a great start for Turner Motorsports," Leffler said. "We're just cracking the top 10 and getting those consistent finishes. [It's nice] to be leading the points when we feel like we really haven't reached our potential yet. I think having the points lead [when] you feel like, as a team, you are still improving -- it's pretty good, it's pretty exciting. All three or four of our cars have been really strong where we've gone.

"We're really close. The way our teammates have run, that's one big factor in the years past -- we've always been maybe, on a good day, [we] could run, third, fourth, or fifth. I'm ecstatic where we are at."

Four races in, full-time Nationwide drivers have yet to knock the Cup guys from the victory pedestal. Leffler admitted it's hard to beat the Cup drivers, but he feels it's close to happening.

"Obviously Kyle Busch is in a league of his own; his car is really fast," Leffler said. "But we're working hard at the shop and we feel like we have the equipment now, we just need a little time and a little more testing and things and we will be able to compete with him and see some more Nationwide regulars back in Victory Lane.

"We're four races into this thing and I'm not surprised a Nationwide guy hasn't won. Justin came pretty close at Vegas. But give us some time and we will."

For Leffler, a victory would break a winless streak that spans 113 races. With the success Turner Motorsports is showing early on, he's ready to erase the blemish.

"I want to win some more races," Leffler said. "My last win was '07, so as a race car driver, you only do this for one reason and that's to win and that's a long time to go without a win. So hopefully we can get to Victory Lane here soon."

Victories aside, Leffler has a smile on his face he hasn't had in quite some time. Things weren't always rosy with Braun Racing, and Leffler's first foray into the Cup Series with Chip Ganassi in 2001 didn't turn out the way the driver or owner expected. Subsequent efforts with Joe Gibbs Racing and Gene Haas were equally difficult.

But Leffler has a new appreciation for what he has. He's not focused on just getting to the Cup Series anymore. Make no mistake, he would like to run on Sunday, but Leffler is focused on the now, ready to pounce on the opportunity in front of him.

"I've always felt like I've belonged. I had a couple good opportunities in the Cup Series and just didn't take advantage of them," Leffler said. "I've got all the confidence in the world that I can go back and run with those guys on a Sunday because I run with them on Saturday. At the end of the day, if I can hang on and win this championship and I never go back to Cup racing I'll be happy; at least I'll have a Nationwide championship."