News & Media


Leffler, Ren seeing light at end of stressful tunnel

April 21, 2012, Dave Rodman, NASCAR.com

KANSAS CITY, Kan. -- After his truck started second and finished 18th Saturday at Kansas Speedway, disgust was almost dripping off Jason Leffler.

But when he thought about it for a minute, Leffler was ready to admit that, in what's been a season of the incomprehensible, there might finally be some light at the end of a seemingly interminable tunnel.

"It's a strong team -- there are no weak links. We've just got to put a whole, strong race together -- hopefully the next one -- and we'll be in good shape."

--JASON LEFFLER

"I don't know -- I run out of gas, and that's disappointing because I expect to win races and so do they," Leffler said. "And we're not even in contention to win."

Saturday might've been the breakthrough, but an apparent refueling miscue took away the chance. Leffler was scored in the top five for the race's first 60 laps and the top 10 for more than 90. But when Leffler's truck ran out of fuel on lap 95, it was déjà vu all over again.

Leffler's No. 18 Kyle Busch Motorsports team, which has won eight races each of the past two seasons and the 2010 Camping World Truck Series' owners' championship, has had everything that never went wrong for Busch happen to Leffler in this season's first four races.

Leffler was wrecked in the opening laps at Daytona and finished last. He completed Martinsville and finished eighth. Then, at Rockingham last weekend the truck's engine blew and Leffler finished 34th.

"It's been nuts," Leffler said, shaking his head. "It's a strong team -- there are no weak links. We've just got to put a whole, strong race together -- hopefully the next one -- and we'll be in good shape."

Coming into Kansas, the cutoff point before using 2012 owners' points for determining the 25 trucks locked into the starting field, the 18 was 26th. But after soundly outrunning both RSS Racing trucks at Kansas, even with the setback, Leffler goes to Charlotte in three weeks a solid 24th in the owners' standings.

While KBM general manager Rick Ren was one more perplexed face in his team's pit box after the race, he didn't have to think twice to come to the same conclusion Leffler eventually did.

"Here's how you look at it," the veteran Ren said, smiling. "No matter how bad it is, it could've been worse. We did come back and finish 18th and the main thing is to try and learn from it, and figure out what happened, so it doesn't happen again."

The reason for the team's confusion was fairly simple, according to a radio transmission from crew chief Eric Phillips. Phillips said his gas man simply didn't get the truck's 18-gallon fuel cell full on its first stop. He apologized to Leffler, who calmly accepted the news.

Thus, just after the race's midpoint, while running eighth, Leffler ran out of fuel before he could hit pit road. By the time the transition to and from pit road was complete -- exacerbated by a caution that flew in the middle of the green-flag pit cycle -- Leffler was 26th and three laps down.

"We were baffled because all the numbers, the fuel weights and everything, all added up," Ren said. "But at the end of the day, we still ran out of gas. The next stop we took the full 18 [gallons], so we know the fuel cell picked it all up."

At that point, the truck was once again on the owner points outs. But even though Leffler -- and Phillips for that matter, though not aimed at each other -- muttered some choice words, they never lost focus.

"On the positive note, we had a front-row qualifying spot, which is a heck of an effort from the guys and that's a really good truck," Ren said. "Jason kept his head. He got mad, I don't blame him for getting mad -- I'm mad, we're all mad -- but everybody kept their composure, went back out and ran laps."

In the race's last green-flag run, Leffler drove away from Todd Bodine and Nelson Piquet Jr., who both finished in the top five, in traffic. Post-race, Leffler said his truck was its best on the final run.

SFP 250

Results
Pos.DriverMake
2.Timothy PetersToyota
3.Brad KeselowskiRam
4.Nelson Piquet Jr.Chevrolet
5.Todd BodineToyota

"We were too tight at the start and tighter on the second and third runs," Leffler said. "At the end we finally loosened it up and got some speed."

"After you learn your driver, when they say 'tight' you can tell how tight by the tone of their voice," Ren said, citing the lost laps in two of their four races as cutting down that learning process. "We never made a pit stop at Daytona or Rockingham and this is our first mile-and-a-half, where you can hear the tone of your driver's voice when he's driving off into the corner at a buck-sixty [160 mph] or whatever.

"We're just not familiar with the tone of his voice as to how tight it is or how loose it's gonna be. That's part of the learning process and building chemistry."

"I know at Charlotte we'll be good," Leffler said. "We had a fast truck in qualifying and at the end of the race we were pretty good, so I just got to thank everybody for working hard. We got a whole race under our belt, so you just build on that information."

Ren started speaking about the comfort of being locked in and had to stop, he was laughing so hard.

"Who would've ever thought we'd be going to Charlotte, not even in the top 20 in the owner points?" he said rhetorically. "But it's easier to go there as we normally go, to sit on the pole, lead laps and win the race.

"We don't have to worry about having a flat tire in qualifying or anything that could happen. The year we've had so far, nothing would surprise me."