When Jason Leffler signed with Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM), he knew that he was going to be provided with fast Dollar General Tundras prepared by one of the best teams in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) garage. Case in point this weekend at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where Leffler will climb aboard "007," one of the most successful Tundras in KBM's stable, at a track where the No. 18 team's worst result in four starts is a third-place finish.
"007" is the same Tundra that Denny Hamlin drove to victory at Martinsville last October. In five starts last season, the truck collected three wins (Phoenix, New Hampshire and Martinsville), a runner-up finish and was at the front of the field for 404 of the 975 laps it completed.
Since taking to the .526-mile oval for the first time in April of 2010, KBM's No. 18 Tundra has been one of the trucks to beat at the Virginia track. After rain cancelled qualifying for the April race in 2010, Brian Ickler came from the 32nd-starting position to score an impressive third-place finish. Team owner-driver Kyle Busch captured the pole and finished second in the 2010 October race and backed it up with another runner-up finish last April. Busch then relinquished driving duties to his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Hamlin, who got the team over the hump and into Victory Lane at his home-state track last October.
This weekend will be Leffler's first trip to "The Paperclip" since finishing eighth when the NASCAR Nationwide Series made a cameo appearance in 2006. The 36-year-old driver has three previous Truck Series starts at Martinsville, tallying a best finish of sixth in the April 2002 race, and three NASCAR Sprint Cup Series starts, including a 12th-place finish in the April 2005 race.
After being wiped out in an early crash in the season-opening race at Daytona, a strong run at Martinsville will be vital to KBM's hopes of capturing its second Owner's Championship in three seasons - especially with three less races on the 2012 schedule.
While coming from behind to win a championship is a tall task, it's nothing new to this KBM team. In 2010, Busch was involved in an early accident at Daytona in his team's Truck Series debut. After spending time in the garage for repairs, he returned to the track 17 laps down and was relegated to a 22nd-place finish. The team responded with a series-leading eight wins that season en route to becoming the first team to capture the Owner's Championship in its inaugural season since the Truck Series debuted in 1995.
Leffler and KBM are hoping that history repeats itself - not only at Martinsville this weekend, but in the final Truck Series Owner's Championship standings.
Jason Leffler, Driver of the No. 18 NCWTS Dollar General Tundra:
It has been five years since you've raced at Martinsville, what will be the biggest challenge this weekend?
"I don't know if I can pinpoint one thing -- it's hard to tell. I think just being able to make some laps around the place, and we will have plenty of time for that in practice. I've run well there in the past -- although I might not have the results to show for it -- and I enjoy racing there. I'll be driving great equipment this weekend, so that will be a big advantage. The Dollar General Toyota Tundra should be good."
Is there a track on the Nationwide Series schedule that is similar to Martinsville?
"No. There is nothing that compares to Martinsville really -- it is its own animal. It's a hard track to find some place similar to go test to compare it to. You just have to go there and run. The last time I was there, was a one-off race for the Nationwide Series. Luckily, I've got quite a few laps under my belt there and enjoy the place. More than anything, if you enjoy racing there it is much easier to run well."
Eric Phillips, Crew Chief of the No. 18 NCWTS Dollar General Tundra:
Your drivers have finished third or better in five of your last six trips to Martinsville, what is your secret to the success?
"I think that I've been fortunate to have a good base package up there, and the biggest thing is I've had really good drivers. Everybody I've been to Martinsville with these last six races has always run well there. I'm looking forward to this weekend -- we're bringing a really good Tundra and we've got another really good driver in Jason."
In 2010, you overcame an early wreck at Daytona and came back to win the Owner's Championship. How much more difficult will that be this year with a 22-race schedule?
"It definitely will be more difficult, but it's so early in the season that you have more time to make those points up than if it happened late in the season. So, if we are going to have any issues, I'd rather have them early and have time to rebound. If you have an issue in the last three or four races, you really can't make it up. We just need to stay positive, work hard, and hopefully we can do it."