Leffler earsn hard fought Eighth-Place finish at Martinsville
At Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, any driver will tell you that track position is valuable and having the inside lane for restarts is the easiest way advance through the field - especially in a 250-lap NASCAR Camping World Truck Series event. After starting 12th in Saturday's Kroger 250, Jason Leffler slowly but surely maneuvered his way into the top 10 and was on the cusp of a top-five finish in the closing laps of the race. Unfortunately, each time Leffler moved one position forward, he subsequently found himself on the outside lane for restarts and ended up moving two positions back once the race went back green.
The veteran driver was scored in the seventh position and destined for the inside lane for the final restart until Cale Gale was forced down pit road with a flat right front tire. After Gale pitted, Leffler moved up to the sixth spot and had to restart the race from the outside lane. Despite a magnificent effort to try and make the top lane work when the race resumed, the No. 18 Dollar General Tundra ended up surrendering two spots in the final laps and Leffler was forced to settle for a hard fought eighth-place finish in his second start for Kyle Busch Motorsports.
"The Dollar General Tundra handled great, but I qualified poorly and that put us behind from the start," said Leffler, who was making his first start at the .526-mile oval since 2006. "It's been awhile since I've been here and no matter how good you think you are, I was still a little rusty. It's a tough place to pass, but we worked hard all day and had ourselves in a position for a top five at the end. We just got used up by (Nelson) Piquet in the final laps and lost a couple spots."
In Saturday morning's qualifying session, Leffler got on the brakes a little hard into Turn 1 on his first lap and the Dollar General Tundra never seemed to recover. His lap of 19.995 seconds at 94.746 mph earned him the 12th starting position for the race.
The California native settled in just outside of the top 10 in the early stages of the race as he communicated to crew chief Eric Phillips that his Toyota was, "a little tight in and a little free off."
Leffler had worked his way into the ninth position on lap 76 when Joey Coulter made contact with the Turn 3 wall and brought out the second caution of the race. Phillips ordered the Dollar General Tundra down pit road for four fresh tires and a full tank of fuel. Upon completion of the pit stop, the No. 18 returned to the track scored in the 11th position.
The veteran driver continued to run just outside of the top 10 in the middle stages of the race as he reacquainted himself with the challenging paperclip-shaped oval. His lap times improved as the race progressed and were equally as fast as the top-five trucks, however, his progress was being halted by slower trucks in front of him.
"The truck is really good, especially on the long runs," Leffler communicated to his crew chief on lap 111. "We just need to get some track position."
A David Starr spin in Turn 2 brought out the fifth caution of the race on lap 159. Leffler communicated to Philips that his Toyota had tightened up in recent laps. When pit road opened, he came down pit road and the Dollar General Racing over-the-wall crew put on four fresh tires, made a trackbar adjustment, filled the truck with fuel and returned him to the track scored in the 12th position.
The Dollar General Tundra had moved into the ninth spot on lap 220 and was closing in on the sixth through eighth-place trucks when the sixth caution of the race occurred on lap 228. Leffler was in a position for the inside lane on the ensuing restart until Johnny Sauter was forced to pit for a mechanical issue.
The race restarted on lap 235 with Leffler scored in the eighth position. He quickly made his way into the seventh spot before a two-car accident in Turn 2 brought out another caution one lap later. Once again, it appeared that the No. 18 Toyota was positioned for the inside lane on the restart, but fifth-place runner Cale Gale had a tire go flat under caution and was forced to pit.
With Gale's absence from the top five, Leffler moved into the sixth position and was on the outside lane for the final restart with five laps remaining. He raced door-to-door with Timothy Peters for fifth place for two laps before settling back into the sixth position. With two laps to go, Nelson Piquet tucked inside Leffler as the two raced into Turn 3 and forced him up the race track. The aggressive move allowed Piquet to capture the sixth spot and also allowed rookie Ross Chastain to make his way past the No. 18 Dollar General Tundra into the seventh spot as the field took the white flag.
NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regular Kevin Harvick led 248 of the 250 laps en route to his 14th career NASCAR Camping World Truck Series victory. Rookie Ty Dillon finished 0.953 seconds behind Harvick in the second spot. James Buescher, Justin Lofton and Timothy Peters rounded out the top-five finishers.
There were seven caution periods for 49 laps. Seven drivers failed to finish the 250-lap race.
With his first top-10 finish of the season and 30th of his Truck Series career, Leffler moved up 20 positions to 16th in the series driver point standings after two races.