News & Media

Year in Review: Leffler fails to win in '11, future remains unclear

December 23, 2011, Bill Kimm,

Despite sixth in points, series veteran goes winless a fourth consecutive season

Of all the drivers who could have potentially benefited from the new rule stating drivers could only collect points in one national series, Jason Leffler was perhaps at the top of the list. At 36, Leffler isn't considered one of the "young guys," but he is a Nationwide Series regular and has more seat time than many of the other full-time drivers.

Add to that Leffler finding a new home at Turner Motorsports after the team purchased Leffler's old employer, Braun Racing, and Leffler was in prime position to compete for his first Nationwide title.

2011 statistics

Wins 0
Top-fives 2
Top-10s 12
Poles 0
DNFs 2
Laps Led 9
Avg. Start 13.0
Avg. Finish 13.9

It didn't happen, and in fact, despite finishing sixth in points, Leffler could look at 2011 as a disappointment. The 11-year Nationwide veteran went winless for a fourth consecutive season and had just two top-fives and 12 top-10s, both four-year lows.

Things to smile about

For the first time in his 11-year career, Leffler was the points leader in the Nationwide Series -- and he was there twice. Thanks to a strong start with top-11 finishes at Daytona, Phoenix and Las Vegas, Leffler finished eighth at Bristol and had a two-point lead heading to Fontana. An 11th at Fontana dropped Leffler from the lead but two races later, he held the point once again leaving Talladega.

"It's so early in the year, we aren't really thinking about points," Leffler said in Fontana. "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."

While he was never really a factor in the championship battle, Leffler was consistent enough to stay in the top six in points, his third-highest finish in the Nationwide Series.

The biggest race for Leffler was the July Daytona event, where Leffler posted a career-best second at the 2.5-mile superspeedway thanks to a last-lap push by then-teammate Reed Sorenson. It was just his eighth top-two finish in 292 career starts.

Reasons to frown

For the fourth consecutive season, Leffler failed to visit Victory Lane, and this was one of his main goals in 2011.

"I want to win some more races," Leffler said in March. "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."

That trip never happened.

But perhaps the biggest downer in Leffler's 2011 was becoming an integral part of the championship, albeit, unintentionally. In the penultimate race at Phoenix, Elliott Sadler, who was second in points, dove into the dogleg before Turn 3 and came up the track. Leffler tapped Sadler in the rear bumper, sending the No. 2 Chevrolet around and into the wall, dashing Sadler's championship hopes.

Leffler took responsibility and was remorseful after the incident.

"I was racing Aric [Almirola], but I take full responsibility," Leffler said. "I ran right into the back of him. It wasn't on purpose. It was a mistake on my part. I feel bad for him and his guys. It's all my fault. That's the last thing I wanted to do to Elliott and his guys."

Looking into the crystal ball

Despite a strong season, things are up in the air for Leffler and 2011 may have been his best opportunity at the championship.

Steve Turner and the folks at Turner Motorsports are making some changes for the future and it doesn't look good for Leffler. After six seasons with Leffler, sponsor Great Clips has told Turner Motorsports it would like to be partnered with a different driver. And in October, Turner said he would put up to four cars on the track but only one, driven by Justin Allgaier, would compete full time. The other three would be a rotating combination of current Turner drivers, up-and-coming drivers and Cup Series veterans.

So right now, things are uncertain for Leffler. If he stays at Turner, it looks to be in a part-time role. Leffler could look to run for another team, but at 36, he doesn't exactly have youth on his side. Leffler has expressed a desire to run in the Cup Series again, but rides there are at a premium and it doesn't appear owners are pounding at Leffler's door.

It will be interesting to see where Leffler ends up in 2012. Wherever it is, he will look to stretch his streak of top-10 points finishes to six and finally make that return trip to Victory Lane.