JASON LEFFLER (No. 01 Cingular Wireless Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Leffler, a 26-year-old Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender from Long Beach, Calif., will make his 23rd NASCAR Winston Cup career start on Sunday and his first from the...
(No. 01 Cingular Wireless Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Leffler, a 26-year-old Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender from Long Beach, Calif., will make his 23rd NASCAR Winston Cup career start on Sunday and his first from the pole position. He won three poles last season in the NASCAR Busch Grand National Series. The three-time USAC Midget Champion will start in the top 10 for the first time in his short Winston Cup career on Sunday. His best previous starting spot was 11th at Michigan. Leffler talks about winning the pole, failing to qualify last week at Dover, his season, Sunday's race and the unexpected death of his 59-year-old father, Charlie, on Aug. 24, 2001.
"I went out to dinner last night with some close friends, and that's really about all we did. If we win Sunday, we'll do some serious celebrating then. It was a lot different than last Friday night (after failing to qualify at Dover). I certainly felt a lot better, and the funny thing is I told a lot of my close friends going into Dover that I felt like we could win the pole there then I end up going home. Here we are winning the pole a week later. A few of the guys on the crew and I went out last Friday night and talked about it. We had a relatively good time considering what happened, but it's a big boost being on the pole here. It helps the whole organization.
"The pole is a good accomplishment, but right now I'm thinking about Sunday and getting the car good. Matt Chambers (crew chief) made some good calls in practice as far as setup wise to get us some speed. If we can do that again, we could have a really good run Sunday. I was really worried about Jeff Gordon beating us. He's one guy you've got to dodge, but nobody expected me to be on the pole so that just goes to show you've got to watch out for everybody. Jeff is an awesome driver, so it was quite an accomplishment for us to hold him off.
"I raced some slot cars this morning with some fans. Some of the guys in the motorhome lot are really into it. I've got three at home, and they're really fun to work on. It gives me something to do during the week. I'm not heavily into it, but I enjoy doing it. I'm just kind of getting started. When I was in Indianapolis, I could go down to the midget shop and work on the cars are fiddle around. Here, I go down to the Winston Cup shop, but I can't put my hands on anything to work on. They won't let me. I just work on my RC cars.
"My father was a big race fan. He got me started. We went to Ascot Park, a famous dirt track is southern California. It's closed down now, but the Agajanians owned it and we went there to watch sprint cars every Saturday night. That's what got me interested in racing. My father died of a heart a ttack Bristol weekend. It was very unexpected. I'm sure he's proud. He worked really hard to get me to this level. He was a great father, and I really miss him. I wish he could have been here to see it, but we're looking forward to Sunday, and if we could win the race he would really be proud. He watched Winston Cup on TV a lot. He came to the west coast races, but he actually liked the sprint and midget races more than he liked these races. These are a little too big for him I guess, with the traveling show like they call it. My father was in real good health, and his heart attack was really a shock. I raced on Saturday night at Bristol after he died on Friday. It was tough, but he worked hard to get me here, and I just had to race. It kept my mind off of it for a few hours. I wrecked early on at Bristol, so it's been a bad couple of weeks. Hopefully this will turn us around.
"I just like to race and run good while I'm racing. All the other stuff just comes along with it. I'd race every night of the week if I could, if Chip (team owner Ganassi) would let me, but he won't right now. The better I run here, maybe the more bargaining power I'll have. Winston Cup is a lot tougher than Busch, and Busch was very tough, very competitive. It's big business. A lot of money is made whether you finish 43rd or win the race. Some people the will to win is not there. Whether you have a bad day or a good day, you still make more money than you ever thought you would. I want to win. That's why I'm here. I'm here to try to win and try to be the best of the best.
"We have a pretty good car, and I'm confident that whatever problems we run into the crew will fix it and get the car handling well. It's hard to say you can win a race. Everything has to go your way. I'll tell you one thing, I think we'll have a good car. You've got to keep your confidence up, especially at this level. It's easy to get down on yourself. The crew has been behind me 110 percent and that really helps. Racing is all I do, and this year I'll probably race less than I have in the last five years. Everybody talks about the long schedule. It seems kind of short to me. I wish I could get out and do some more racing. I've probably averaged 60 races a year the past five years. I think in '97 we did 75 races. We're used to going down the road in the back of the hauler going from race track to race track.
"We had to drive home from Kansas a couple of weeks ago when we were testing here. A lot of guys I rode back with kind of enjoyed it because it reminded everyone of the good old days back when you were short track racing. I drove for six hours, from Nashville home. They gave me the graveyard shift.
"I'm getting married in December in Hawaii. It's going to be a small deal with just some family members and close friends. I'm going to go over there and get hitched. I've been engaged to Allison East since last December. I've been going out with her about four years now. She's from Indianapolis. I met her up there."
(Team Manager Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates)
"This is Jason's type of track. He likes the fast, wide open places. They came out here and tested and ran real good. They were happy with the test, and he got a good lap yesterday. I think he thought he had something to prove and he's been down on himself lately, so it worked out good. Every practice session we were pretty quick, so we had a good car. We knew we had to work on a couple of little things. He got through turns one and two really good and I think that was the key. He was real disappointed after missing Dover. He ran so good up there the first time and felt like it was going to be a perfect opportunity for him to get a top 10 this year. We got up there and struggled the whole time and then slowed down in qualifying. He was really disappointed, as the whole team was, because we thought that was going to be our best race. That's the way this deal is. You've just got to keep digging. On the good days you can't get too high and on the bad days you can't too low.
"These cars are so big and heavy and they're unresponsive with the tires we have now. They don't have much grip compared to the open wheel stuff. I think that's the biggest thing he's been struggling with. He's learning every day and getting better and that's all we can ask for.
"He's really pretty much a loner. He doesn't hang with many people. He just sticks with his own game plan and really about the only people he talks to other than his family are the guys on the race team. When you're a rookie, that probably hurts him a little bit. If you walk around and talk to guys like Jeff Gordon and Dale Jarrett and all those guys, they'd just as soon the rookies learn as fast as they can so they create problems on the race track. That's probably hurt him some. He could have used some guidance from those guys, but that's just his own personality.
"We've struggled putting a whole race together. After qualifying, I obviously think he's got a shot to run real good. That's what's so hard about Winston Cup. There's a lot of guys that can run good for parts of the race. The guys that can put the whole race together, from telling the crew what they need to change on a stop to getting down pit road good and staying out of trouble on the track, it's pretty difficult. We'd be real happy to come out of here with a top 10 finish.
"I talked to Chip (Ganassi) after qualifying was over yesterday, and he was pretty happy. Obviously, we look at this as basically a first-year team. Now we've got a pole with both cars (teammate Sterling Marlin) and we've won a race and a 125-mile qualifier. We're extremely happy right now. We just need more consistency out of the 01 team and we'll be in good shape.
"We knew going into this deal it was going to take some time and we'd be struggling some at times. Obviously we didn't want to struggle as bad as we have, but that's part of the deal. This is a tough business, so we'll just keep digging as hard as we can.
"Kevin Harvick is a hell of a driver. He's got a great team behind him, and he's doing a great job. Between that and as well as Sterling is running and the success he has had this year, it's probably made it even tougher on Jason. I think Jason has a problem understanding Sterling. He tries to ask Sterling questions and pay attention. It's hard. It's a fine line between getting wrapped up in other driver's setups and what he's doing and just trying to get information out of him. I think Jason is getting better communicating with Sterling. A lot of times they're pretty close on their setups. At Indianapolis, Jason struggled in Happy Hour. He didn't have a good car at all. We went back on Sunday morning and duplicated Sterling's setup in Jason's car and he ran pretty good in the race. He didn't run as good as Sterling, but he was pretty quick. We share setups and there's been a couple of times this year when Jason has come up with a setup and Sterling tried it and liked it. It's worked out better than expected.
"Sterling isn't very far out of third place. We'd like to get in the top three. That was kind of our goal halfway through the season. We definitely need to stay in the top five. It's gone good for Sterling, but we can't let up now. We've got several races to go. We need to keep getting top 10 finishes and maybe we can win another race in the process.
"Jeff Gordon is pretty awesome anywhere. To beat Jeff for the pole was icing on the cake for Jason. We felt like Jason would shine at Chicago and here being on even ground with everyone else. You've got to be happy any time you get a pole, whether it's with the 01 or 40. We're tickled to have both of them with poles this year.
"Jeff Gordon is going to be tough to beat here Sunday. The 40 car has got a great car. They were awesome in practice in race trim, and we'll see how it goes with the 01. Hopefully we can improve on their race setup a little bit and we'll stay in the top 10 all day."