Stephen Leicht Shows Promise in TBR Debut at Richmond
Finished 24th in the No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet
RICHMOND, VA. (September 12, 2011) – Stephen Leicht wheeled the No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet from the 40th starting spot in the Wonderful Pistachios 400 this weekend. He drove the Tommy Baldwin Racing (TBR) entry to the third position before finishing 24th in his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series (NSCS) debut with TBR at Richmond International Raceway.
Locked into the 400-lap event, Leicht and the No. 36 team, headed by Crew Chief and TBR Owner Tommy Baldwin, focused on finding speed during race runs in both practice sessions. The Golden Corral Chevrolet posted the 46th- and 24th-fastest laps in first and final practice on Friday. Leicht turned a lap of 21.670 seconds and secured the 40th spot in the Wonderful Pistachios 400.
Leicht took the green flag from the outside of the 20th row. By the second yellow flag for a multicar incident on lap nine, the rookie drove up to the 24th position. Electing to stay out, the No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet restarted 21st on lap 20, but six laps later, Leicht radioed that the car was really loose on entry and chattered in the corner.
The third caution was called on lap 28 with the Golden Corral Chevrolet in the 26th position. Baldwin called Leicht down pit road for four tires and a spring rubber adjustment, and the No. 36 restarted 30th. The adjustment tightened up the car on initial throttle during the next run. By lap 38, the fourth yellow flag waved for a two-car incident on the backstretch. Baldwin called the Golden Corral Chevrolet down pit road for a four-tire stop and air pressure adjustment, and Leicht restarted 27th.
The Asheville, N.C., native radioed to the Golden Corral crew that the car struggled to turn in the corner. Leicht stayed out during the next caution. During the subsequent long, green-flag run, he raced the No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet up to the 24th position. The sixth caution was called on lap 118, and Baldwin once again took the opportunity to work on the No. 36 Chevrolet’s handling. The TBR team changed four tires and made minor adjustments.
Leicht restarted 23rd but fell back to 26th before he improved late in the run. By the lap 156 caution, the Golden Corral Chevrolet was back the 24th position. The 24-year-old racer told his crew that the car was the same as before, tight in the center and loose off the corner. He pit for four tires and chassis adjustments before restarting 26th.
A quick caution allowed the team to stay out and restart in the 22nd position on lap 169. Another quick caution found Leicht in the 20th position. A caution was called on lap 187 for a three-car incident in turn two with the No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet in the 19th position. Leicht drove down pit road for another four-tire stop and adjustments.
Once the field restarted on lap 191, they saw a long, green-flag run. Leicht lost ground in the beginning of the run but began to post the fastest laps on the track 30 laps into the run. By lap 237, he drove into the 17th position, and when the yellow flag flew on lap 247, he was up to the 11th spot. The team elected to pit for four tires and restarted 14th on lap 254. Leicht drove into the top-10 by lap 256 but fell to 14th by lap 276. He radioed to the crew that the Chevrolet began plowing the nose in the center of the turn.
A caution on lap 286 allowed to the team to make another pit stop for four tires and an air pressure adjustment. Once he was back out on the track, Leicht radioed that the oil pressure gauge said there was no oil pressure. With no other issues, the team hoped it was a broken oil gauge. The No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet restarted 17th on lap 291. Seven laps later another caution was called for a two-car incident with Leicht in the 20th position. Leicht explained that the car was loose coming off the corner, so Baldwin called him down pit road for a four-tire stop and air pressure adjustment.
The field restarted on lap 302 with Leicht crossing the line in 23rd. Eight laps later, the yellow flag fell for the 14th time. The team elected to stay out and save the last set of tires for later in the race. Leicht restarted third and was freight-trained, three-wide on the outside line. Finally able to get back in line, the Golden Corral Chevrolet was in the 20th position. Leicht radioed that the Chevrolet felt like it had a flat tire and was going to spin out. By lap 328, he told the crew that the car had no more rear grip. He fell a lap down to the leader on lap 346 while in the 23rd position.
By the final caution on lap 386, Leicht was in the 21st position, one lap down. The team made their final pit stop for four tires and an air pressure adjustment. The No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet restarted 24th, one lap down, on lap 388. He held the position for the final 12 laps and finished with a top-25 in his debut with the team.
The 24th-place finish kept the No. 36 Golden Corral Chevrolet in the 33rd position in NSCS Owner Points. The team is now 12 points behind the No. 13 team in 32nd and 19 points ahead of the No. 32 in 34th. The TBR crew is locked into the top-35 by 66 points.
“It felt great to be back in the racecar,” explained Leicht. “It was a blast when we were posting some of the fastest laps and climbing through the field. Unfortunately, the handling went away, and we couldn’t get it back. I’m very grateful to Tommy for giving me a chance and to Dave and Golden Corral for agreeing to switch cars so I was guaranteed to race. I learned a lot during the race and hope we can get some deals together to run some more races in the future.”