JASON LEFFLER (No. 01 Cingular Wireless Dodge Intrepid R/T) NOTE: Leffler, a 25-year-old Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender from Long Beach, Calif., finished 20th in Sunday's Talladega 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Leffler ranks 39th in...
JASON LEFFLER (No. 01 Cingular Wireless Dodge Intrepid R/T)
NOTE: Leffler, a 25-year-old Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender from Long Beach, Calif., finished 20th in Sunday's Talladega 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Leffler ranks 39th in the NASCAR Winston Cup Standings after nine races and fifth in the rookie standings. He failed to qualify at both short tracks this season but has finished 17th and 20th in his last two starts. Leffler will leave today for San Francisco and a two-day test session at Sears Point Raceway on Tuesday and Wednesday before heading to California Speedway. Leffler grew up 45 minutes away from the Fontana track and about 20 relatives and friends will be on hand to watch him race at the two-mile D-shaped oval on Sunday.
"My dad was a big race fan, and I got interested in driving sprint cars at Ascott Park Dirt Track on Saturday nights. I ran quarter midgets in the Pomona Valley Quarter Midget Association and ran USAC races at Ventura and Bakersfield. My parents (Charlie and Pat) are still big race fans. They live in Palm Desert, Calif., now, and they don't get to see me race that often. My brother Chris still lives in Long Beach, and they're all coming to the race this weekend.
"Chris (32) used to come to the track with my father and I and help us with the cars. He never raced. He was more of a skateboarder. I played around with the skateboards, too, but I always wanted to race. We've got about 20 people coming to the race this weekend, so I guess it's going to be like a homecoming. I'm really excited about it. We're flying out on a commercial flight today to San Francisco, and we're going to test at Sears Point for a couple of days. I've never been on that track before. We've got a brand new car for the road courses, so I'm going to get some laps. Sterling (teammate Marlin) finished second there last year, so we think we've got a good place to start setup wise.
"Matt Chambers (new crew chief) will be working with Andy Graves (team manager) and the guys out there. Matt and I got along real good for the first time Sunday at Talladega. He works well with Andy, and I think that's going to be a good combination.
"I wasn't supposed to drive Winston Cup this season. I was going to get in another year on the Busch circuit, but things didn't work out. This is going to be a learning year for me in Winston Cup. This time next year, I'll be better off with a year of Winston Cup racing under my belt. I wish I could have driven another season in Busch, but this is a great deal, and I'm glad things worked out like they did.
"Kevin Harvick and Kurt Busch are really doing well this season. They're at the head of the rookie class I guess you'd say, but that's not discouraging at all to me. I'm pleased when the other rookies do well. You can't pay too much attention to what they're doing or you'll wear yourself down. You just have to concentrate on your own deal. Kevin and Kurt have more stock car experience than I do, but I think it's great when a rookie wins a race or runs up front.
"I've raced once at California Speedway. We were in the Busch race out there last year, and we were running pretty good when I got in a wreck. That was the first race I thought I really had a handle on the car. We were up close to the top 10 when we had trouble, but I'm really looking forward to going back.
"We've got a solid team. Chip Ganassi is a great owner, and Andy Graves is a great guy to work with, too. He's the main reason I took this deal. He's hard on me at times, but he's trying to push me to the next level. I don't need someone patting me on the back all the time. Andy is a performance-type guy, and I am, too. We're going to keep improving, and we're going to keep pushing each other.
"It was very disappointing not qualifying for those two races this year (Bristol and Martinsville), but we just kept digging. You can't get down on yourself. I think we'll do well at California. We're taking the same car we had at Texas. We just need to put a whole race together. We were good at the end at Texas, but we were a little tight in the middle of the race and we struggled. Our goal was to qualify for all the races this season, but we've missed that one. We've exceeded some other goals, and we're on target with some others.
"Talladega was just a typical plate race. There was a lot of action, but nothing really stood out. I'd get up front, but I couldn't ever really get any help. That's just part of being a rookie. Sterling was running good on the bottom of the track, but my car wouldn't work well on the bottom. I couldn't hook up with him to draft. I think the new rules really hurt us in the race. It didn't show up too much in qualifying, but it did in the race I think.
"I'm not sure what role the tires will play at California Speedway, but the tires have been an issue all season. Last year the tires had more grip but they went away faster. The tires are harder and stay better longer this season, so pit strategy can often come into play. You have to adjust your driving style for the tires, too. I'd say it helps the guys with more experience because it's so easy to overdrive the car with these tires. I'm used to the lightweight cars with lots of horsepower, and you can drive those cars hard. You can't drive the Winston Cup cars as hard. You have to slow down to go fast sometimes, but I don't know if it'll be that way at California or not. I'm not sure we'll be lifting that much at California.
"We've had some good motors this year. Ernie Elliott has been doing a good job with our motors. Sterling has been running good every week. Sterling helps me a lot, too. He'll go out of his way to make sure I understand things that I ask him. Sometimes I might need an interpreter to really understand what he's saying, but Tony Glover is usually around and does a good job with that.
"I've got a three-year contract, and I feel pretty good about that. Chip Ganassi and Felix Sabates are great to work for. They don't mess around. They want to do what it takes to win, but they're willing to give me time to get the experience I need. Dodge has been working with us great, too. They give great technical support.
"I'm having a lot of fun. Cingular is a great sponsor to work with. I'm having to do more than I've ever done with sponsors, but that's the way it is in Winston Cup, and you learn how to deal with it. I just want to run better and nobody is putting more pressure on me to do that than myself. It would really be special to do well this weekend at California Speedway. I'd like to make it a worthwhile trip for all my friends and relatives who come out."