INDIANAPOLIS, June 16, 1998 - Notes and quotes from the Pep Boys Indy Racing League: Leffler sharp in rookie test: Jason Leffler is the latest USAC standout to become eligible to drive in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, as he...
INDIANAPOLIS, June 16, 1998 - Notes and quotes from the Pep Boys Indy Racing League:
Leffler sharp in rookie test: Jason Leffler is the latest USAC standout to become eligible to drive in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League, as he passed the IRL driver's test in impressive fashion June 9 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
Defending USAC national midget champion Leffler took the test in a G Force/Aurora/Firestone owned by Treadway Racing, which fields the Sprint PCS/RadioShack/QUALCOMM car driven by two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Arie Luyendyk. Treadway and other Firestone teams tested the 1.5-mile quad-oval at Texas last week.
Leffler, 22, breezed through the four phases of his rookie test, said three-time Indianapolis 500 champion Johnny Rutherford, the IRL observer at the test. Leffler completed 10 laps each between 190-195 mph and 195-200 mph to pass the first two phases of his test. After a two-hour break, Leffler cruised through the last two portions of the test, 10 laps apiece between 200-205 mph and above 205 mph.
During the final phase, Leffler cranked out laps between 207 and 219 mph, Rutherford said. His final lap was 219.3 mph, Rutherford said. That lap would have earned Leffler the No. 8 starting position in the True Value 500 on June 6 at TMS.
"He had no problems," Rutherford said of Leffler. "As far as talent as a driver, he probably could give Tony Stewart a run for his money in a proper car. He's a very intense young man. He knows what he wants to do and where he wants to be."
Leffler, from Long Beach, Calif., wasted little time getting acclimated to his first drive of a rear-engine, Indy-style car. His first three or four laps during the warmup period were in the 186-mph range, as the Treadway crew wanted Leffler to become comfortable. The crew then gave Leffler permission to try faster speeds. Three laps later, he cranked out a 218-mph lap, Rutherford said.
Impressive, especially for a guy who has earned his reputation while driving front-engine cars around short ovals across the country.
"For so many years, the rule was these guys couldn't graduate to this level because they didn't know how to drive rear-engine cars," Rutherford said. "We've proven that's a fallacy.
"We (Pep Boys IRL) have guys like Tony Stewart, Jimmy Kite, Billy Boat, Greg Ray, and he (Leffler) is in the same mold."
Other USAC drivers who have passed their IRL or Indianapolis 500 rookie tests this year include Brian Tyler, Dave Steele, Jack Hewitt, Danny Drinan, Donnie Beechler, Andy Michner and J.J. Yeley.
Leffler will continue to drive in USAC races as he pursues a Pep Boys IRL ride. He leads the USAC Silver Crown national standings by 38 points over Tyler. Leffler also is third in the USAC midget standings with a victory May 9 at Louisville, Ky.
Stewart third in IROC race: Pep Boys IRL points leader Tony Stewart finished third in the third round of the International Race of Champions series June 13 at Michigan Speedway, his best finish in the all-star circuit.
NASCAR Winston Cup drivers Jeff Burton and Mark Martin finished first and second, respectively, in the race between 12 top drivers from different racing series. All competitors race in identically prepared Pontiac Firebird Trans Ams.
The final round of the IROC series is July 31 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It's the first IROC race ever at the Brickyard.
Stewart climbed to seventh in the IROC point standings with the strong finish. The other Pep Boys IRL participant, two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Arie Luyendyk, finished seventh in the 50-lap race on the 2-mile oval at Michigan. Luyendyk is ninth in the point standings.
Quite the trend: Some of the brightest young talents in the Pep Boys Indy Racing League have risen from the USAC Silver Crown division, as the skills honed in that competitive class have helped drivers make a quick jump to the big league of open-wheel racing.
Well, it looks like driving a Pep Boys IRL car also helps drivers when they return to the Silver Crown ranks.
All USAC Silver Crown winners this season - Tony Stewart, Brian Tyler, Donnie Beechler and David Steele - have competed in at least one Pep Boys IRL race this season. Stewart has won two USAC Silver Crown features, the others one apiece.
Next event: New England 200, June 28, New Hampshire International Speedway, Loudon, N.H. Tickets are available by calling New Hampshire International Speedway at (603) 783-4931.
World Wide Web: http://www.indyracingleague.com