Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Kyle Busch are three NASCAR superstars widely recognized as "true racers." Drivers who are willing to get behind the wheel of any type of vehicle, at any size track of any shape with any type of surface, any day of the week.
Jason Leffler is another of NASCAR's "true racers." After spending the last six seasons driving full-time in the Nationwide Series, Leffler is trying to adjust to running a 15-race Truck Series schedule with Kyle Busch Motorsports. In an effort to keep his mind and body sharp behind the wheel, the California native has returned to where it all started, grassroots racing.
The former open-wheel standout is in the midst of a 14-day stretch where he is racing in four different series across three different states. He spent Memorial Day weekend in Indiana where he ran the Night Before the 500 USAC Midget Series race at Lucas Oil Raceway at Indianapolis - a.686-mile paved oval - Saturday, and the weekly Sprint car show at Kokomo Speedway - a ¼-mile dirt oval - Sunday.
The veteran driver hits the trails again this week with two more stops. Leffler's first stop will be Eldora Speedway - a half-mile clay oval in New Weston, Ohio - for Wednesday's 2012 Feed The Children Prelude to the Dream all-star dirt late model race. Shortly after the checkered flag drops, he will pack his bags, hop on a jet and head to Texas Motor Speedway - a 1.5-mile paved Quad-oval in Fort Worth - where he will drive the No. 18 Dollar General Tundra in Friday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series WinStar World Casino 400.
Leaving Texas Motor Speedway with a cowboy hat would be a fitting way for a hard-working racer to "cap" off a busy stretch on the trails.
Jason Leffler, Driver of the No. 18 NCWTS Dollar General Tundra:
What have you been doing to keep your driving skills sharp while driving a limited Truck Series schedule?
"I've been trying to race as much as I can outside of my limited Truck Series schedule. I went up to Indianapolis for the week of the 500 and raced a few times. Tuesday, I tested my sprint car and then raced it at Kokomo Speedway Sunday night. I also raced in the Night Before the 500 Midget race out at Lucas Oil Raceway Saturday. The start of this season -- with the way the Truck Series schedule is laid out -- I've had more downtime than I can ever remember since I started racing. So, just being able to get behind the wheel of something helps to keep me on top of my game -- both mentally and physically."
Are you excited about racing in the Prelude to the Dream this week?
"It is such an awesome event. It's hard racing, fun racing, and the best part is that it all goes to a good cause in Feed The Children. Tony Stewart and everybody over at True Speed work really hard on the event and it's a great success. To get a chance to run at Eldora and race against the group of drivers they have assembled is truly an honor. I'm driving the same car that I had last year and it was really fast. Chris Wall brings the car all the way from Southern Louisiana and I really appreciate all of his hard work."
Do you feel like your No. 18 Dollar General team is gaining momentum as you head to Texas?
"I think that Texas is going to be a great race for the Dollar General Tundra team. We had a great run at Charlotte and we'll be able to take a lot of the setup and things that we learned there and apply them to our Texas package. I think from a driver's standpoint, I'll be able to take a lot of things as far as the feel of the truck and what adjustments we made during the Charlotte race and apply them this weekend. I've always been fast at Texas and I'm looking forward to a really cool Friday night race there. It can't get here fast enough."
Eric Phillips, Crew Chief of the No. 18 NCWTS Dollar General Tundra:
You're bringing a brand new Tundra to Texas. What areas did you work on in making your latest chassis better?
"We've been working on quite a few things with some help from Toyota Racing Development over the last six months. This new chassis is a lot different than what we've run in the past, mainly aero wise -- we made quite a few changes on the body. After the Charlotte race, we took this truck to the wind tunnel and we were really happy with the results from that test. We're looking forward to getting on the track at Texas and seeing what we have."
Last year, you felt like you needed to improve the mile-and-a-half program. Do you feel like it has been better this year?
"Our speed is a lot better. The way we have been performing has definitely been better -- although at the end of the day we may not have the results to show for how well we have run. I really feel like our mile-and-a-half program is a lot stronger than it was a year ago. We showed a little bit of improvement at the end of last season, and then this year we've qualified better and have had really competitive race trucks."
What does it take to be successful at Texas Motor Speedway?
"You have to be able to run wide open for as many laps as possible. The guy that gets his truck where it is able to keep turning through the center of the corners but is snug enough that he can stay in the gas off of them, is the guy that is going to be successful. Everybody can run wide open the first 10 laps, but as the run progresses you have to start lifting a little bit. So, you have to work on making sure the truck turns in the center and the back end stays underneath it off of the corner."