MOORESVILLE, N.C. (July 17, 2012) - Jason Leffler and the No. 18 Dollar General Racing team head to Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill. for Saturday's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series American Ethanol 225. Spearheading Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM) efforts atop the pit box - as they have since the team's inception in 2010 - will be a pair of Illinois natives, general manager Rick Ren and crew chief Eric Phillips.
With 27 career victories, Ren - who hails from Tilton, Ill., - is the winningest crew chief in Truck Series history. Phillips - a native of Canton, Ill. - has called the shots for 26 wins in his career, leaving him one win shy of moving into a tie with his boss atop the charts. Since KBM owner Kyle Busch hand-picked the duo to lead his Truck Series operation when it originated in 2010, the No. 18 Tundra team has visited Victory Lane 16 times and became the first team since NASCAR's third division originated in 1995 to capture an owner's championship in its inaugural season.
After an unusually rough start to the 2012 season, the Dollar General Racing team seems to finally be hitting its stride. Four races into its third campaign, the team had collected just one top-10 finish, failed to finish two races and found themselves ranked 24th in the Truck Series Owner's point standings. Behind four straight top-10 finishes from Leffler, and a 13th-place finish from Brian Scott in his KBM debut, the team has catapulted to 11th in the point standings with nine races completed.
While he will be making his first start in a truck at Chicagoland, Leffler has found the 1.5-mile D-Shaped oval to be one of his most productive tracks in NASCAR Nationwide Series (NNS) competition. The veteran driver posted three straight top-five finishes from July of 2009 to June of 2011 and over nine career NNS starts has registered four top-10 results.
Jason Leffler, Driver of the No. 18 NCWTS Dollar General Tundra:
As a driver, are there some trucks that you seem to take a liking to more than others? "I think so -- you always have your favorite car or truck. We've had a lot of speed with the Tundra that we are bringing this weekend in the few races that we've run it this year. The last time we raced it, in October at Charlotte, we had a legitimate shot to win that thing, so I'm looking forward to getting back behind the wheel of this particular Dollar General Tundra. The guys spent a lot of time on the finer details with that truck and seem to know what adjustments to make -- that makes my job a lot easier."
What makes Eric Phillips and Rick Ren successful as a duo? "They have a lot of mutual respect for each other. Rick has been a successful crew chief in the Truck Series and even though he is involved in all aspects of running KBM now, he is always right in the middle of things at the track doing everything he can to help make the Dollar General Tundra go faster. Eric has a ton of knowledge and has won a lot of races in the Truck Series. They have a great working relationship and Kyle (Busch) provides them with everything they need to succeed. It's a well-run organization and a well-oiled machine -- I enjoy driving the truck every time I get the chance."
Any added pressure to get a win for them this weekend at Chicagoland? "I wouldn't say that it is added pressure -- everybody on this race team is hungry for a win -- but going to Illinois, it would be nice to get those guys a win since it is considered their home track. We need to get Eric one more win so that he can tie Rick for the all-time wins and they can brag to each other some more."
Rick Ren, General Manager of the No. 18 NCWTS Dollar General Tundra:
What makes Eric Phillips a successful crew chief? "Eric pays a lot of attention to details. He's only been with a few teams, but he's worked with some really good race car drivers throughout his career. When you are with good drivers, they push you to excel at what you do and that makes you pay attention to all of the details. The details are what make a difference on a race team. Everybody can buy the same parts and everybody can put the same amount of air in their tires, but paying attention to detail is what makes the difference between front-running race teams and middle-running race teams."
Eric Phillips, Crew Chief of the No. 18 NCWTS Dollar General Tundra:
How big of an asset is it to have Rick Ren to lean on? "Rick has been very successful in the Truck Series over a long period of time and brings a lot of experience to the table. The more smart people you have around, the better it makes the race team. I bounce a lot of questions and ideas off of him. A lot of times you might have an idea on something you want to try and more times than not, he's either already done it or done something similar. That really helps with the learning curve when you are trying new things."
As an Illinois native, are you looking forward to this weekend's race in Chicago? "I'm really looking forward to going to Chicago this weekend with the Dollar General Racing team. Although I grew up in Illinois, Indianapolis was always the closest race to home for me, so without that race on the schedule this year, I consider this weekend my home race. We're bringing the same truck that we finished fourth with at Charlotte, and it has been fast every since we built it. We've been pretty solid on the mile-and-a-half tracks this season, hopefully we can step it up a little bit and get into the win column."
Jason Leffler's No. 18 Dollar General Tundra:
Chassis KBM-9: Friday's race will be the third time on the track this season and fifth career start for KBM-9. It is the same Tundra that Leffler drove to a season-best fourth-place finish at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway in May and also produced a season-best second-place qualifying effort at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City in April.