Mesa Marin: Short-tracks - NASCAR spotlight

Sunday's Lucas Oil 250 first of season's eight short-track races. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 19, 2003) -- After the disparate and unique challenges presented by Daytona International Speedway and Darlington Raceway, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series...

Sunday's Lucas Oil 250 first of season's eight short-track races.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (March 19, 2003) -- After the disparate and unique challenges presented by Daytona International Speedway and Darlington Raceway, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitors will display their short-track skills Sunday during the Lucas Oil 250 at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif.

Absent from the schedule in 2002, the half-mile paved oval is back, hosting its ninth series event.

Mesa Marin figures prominently in the history of the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series. The prototype racing truck -- a Ford F-150 -- was built at the facility. The first demonstration race for NASCAR Craftsman Trucks was held in July 30, 1994 before a packed grandstand.

Sunday's 250-lap, 125-mile event also kicks off an eight-race short track slate -- nearly a third of this year's 25-race schedule -- and will give fans a close-up view both of current NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series competitors and its future stars.

Ted Musgrave (No. 1 Mopar Performance Dodge) obviously fits the first category, having won from the Bud Pole when the series last visited Mesa Marin two years ago.

But the Illinois native -- who won in his first visit to the track -- will be joined by at least six competitors attempting to qualify for their first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race.

Among the newcomers is Bakersfield native Brandon Miller, the 2002 champion of the track's NASCAR Dodge Weekly Series Super Late Model division. Miller will drive the No. 6 Chevrolet owned by another former Mesa Marin champion -- and current NASCAR Winston Cup Series star -- Kevin Harvick.

Veteran driver Jason Leffler (No. 2 Team ASE Racing/Carquest Dodge), in a sense, could be considered a Mesa Marin rookie. The Lucas Oil 250 will be Leffler's first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series appearance at the track -- as a driver.

The former open-wheel champion, however, won't be seeing the facility for the first time. Indeed, Leffler's relationship with the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series goes right back to that inaugural demonstration event in which Leffler -- then 18-years-old -- was a member of P.J. Jones' winning pit crew.

"It was fun to do something brand-new and exciting like that," said Leffler, who a few years later won three consecutive U.S. Auto Club national midget championships. "I actually served as the tire specialist for the first race. I was thinking even then what a great thing the series was. I feel really fortunate to have been a part of that day, especially when you consider how successful the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series has become.

"As a kid, that was a really neat experience."

Leffler still wanted to compete in the Indianapolis 500 -- but the seeds had been planted, seeds that later would sprout into NASCAR Winston Cup, Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series competition.

"At that time at Mesa Marin, I dreamed of something like that, the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series," said Leffler. "To have a shot of driving something of that caliber. I have taken a funny, curvy path to get here but I am glad to be in this series with the opportunity I've been given."

Leffler, a California native who will be seeking his first NASCAR victory, obviously would be elated to pick up that first win at Mesa Marin Raceway.

"There will be so many family and friends in attendance," he said. "To win in front of them would be great."

-nascar-

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Series NASCAR Truck
Drivers Jason Leffler , Kevin Harvick , Ted Musgrave , Brandon Miller