Jason Leffler is one of just a handful of drivers entered in Sunday's inaugural NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at Rockingham (N.C.) Speedway who has experienced firsthand racing at the historic 1-mile oval in one of NASCAR's top three divisions. Leffler's prior experience in managing tires on the aged surface combined with the valuable track time he and his No. 18 Dollar General Tundra team received participating in the Goodyear Tire Test last month make him one of the favorites to be celebrating in Victory Lane.
The 36-year-old driver has logged 1,784 laps around the high-banked track between five career NASCAR Nationwide Series starts and two in the Sprint Cup Series. Equally important to the laps Leffler posted in competition throughout his seven battles at "The Rock", are the 500 circuits he made there during the Goodyear Tire Test just over a month ago.
"We made a lot of laps over a two-day span at the tire test and we were able to learn a lot," said Leffler, who participated in last month's test along with competitors Timothy Peters and James Buescher. "We don't really get a chance to test anymore in general and when you are able to test, it has to be at a track that isn't on the schedule. So, when you get to go out and run laps at a track that is on the schedule it is very valuable. We ran over 500 laps in two days and the data we were able to collect is going to give us a little bit of an advantage heading into the race this weekend."
With the early portion of the Truck Series schedule consisting of more off weekends than races, the test also allowed crew chief Eric Phillips and the rest of the Dollar General Racing team to familiarize themselves with Leffler, who is making just his third start for Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) this weekend.
"I think being able to participate in the tire test was very beneficial not only in preparing for the Rockingham race, but in preparing for the rest of the season," said Phillips, who with his next trip to Victory Lane will tie KBM general manager Rick Ren for most career wins as a Truck Series crew chief. "It allowed Jason and I time to work together and improve our communication. We had a good run at Martinsville since the test and I'm confident that the Dollar General Tundra will be one of the trucks to beat on Sunday."
Jason Leffler, Driver of the No. 18 NCWTS Dollar General Tundra:
What did you think when you heard the Truck Series was racing at Rockingham?
"I thought it was great. They announced the Truck Series race before I actually had a ride in the Camping World Truck Series. Once we put this deal together with Dollar General and KBM, I was really excited about getting the chance to race Rockingham again. It's been awhile. I'm one of few guys that will be in the field that's actually raced Rockingham before. There's a lot of history, a lot of great races from the past and on top of that, it's just a fun track to drive. You're slipping and sliding the whole time. It's a multi-groove race track. Both ends of it are different, so from a driver's standpoint it's a really cool place to race at."
Will it be an advantage for you to have a tire management race?
"Maybe -- it will be an advantage to have good equipment and I have that with KBM. The Dollar General Tundra ran good at the test last month. You're going to need a good handling truck. We don't go to a lot of places anymore where tire management is really important. I think it might be more important on the Cup side than it is on the Nationwide side or the Camping World Truck side because they have so much more horsepower and we're kind of bogged down. From a driver's standpoint, I think that's fine."
Eric Phillips, Crew Chief of the No. 18 NCWTS Dollar General Tundra:
Will participating in the Goodyear tire test give you an advantage heading into the race?
"As far as this weekend goes, you wear tires out there so fast that I'm not sure how many laps of quality practice time we'll be able to get in. There is a lot of time allotted for practice, but you can only go about 20 laps on a set of tires before you are just hanging on and making laps. We put a lot of miles on the Dollar General Tundra over two days and I feel like we have a really good baseline package for when we unload on Friday. Now, we just have to see what the weather does and how the track reacts when it gets rubbered up."
Will drivers that have raced at Rockingham before have an advantage?
"I think the guys that have been there before are definitely going to have an advantage. It is a really tough race track -- it is really tricky and very technical. It is so slick and rough, especially when the sun comes out. Every lap, the tires go away more and more and you have to search around for grip. You have to move all over the race track and hunt for the best line. You'll see guys moving from the top to the bottom and then back up to the top again. Jason has raced here before and we made about 500 laps during the test last month, so I feel like he'll be very prepared."
As a veteran crew chief, are you looking forward to the strategy that will be involved racing at Rockingham?
"Most definitely -- I enjoy racing at places where the tires wear out and the drivers have to get up on the wheel and drive the thing on worn-out tires. Goodyear makes such a good tire these days and the surfaces of the tracks are a lot smoother, you don't see tires wear out like they use to. This weekend, we'll be able to make it about 60 laps total on a set of tires but after about 20 laps you're just going to be trying to hang on."