Racing on Thursday night rekindles fond memories for Jason Leffler. The former open wheel standout put his name on the racing map by winning several of the United States Auto Club (USAC) Thursday Night Thunder shows that were televised nationally in the late 90's. The California native is hoping that the UNOH 225 at Kentucky Speedway in Sparta will provide another sentimental moment in his racing career, as he aims for his first win behind the wheel of the No. 18 Dollar General Tundra for Kyle Busch Motorsports (KBM).
Leffler has rebounded from misfortunes that plagued the team earlier this season, posting a pair of solid finishes in his last two starts behind the wheel of KBM's flagship Tundra. The 36-year-old driver registered a season-best fourth-place finish in the N.C. Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway and after a one-race hiatus, which saw Brian Scott in the truck at Dover, returned with a sixth-place effort at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth.
While top-10 finishes are a step in the right direction, after leading the Series in victories each of its two seasons in existence, the No. 18 team is still looking for its first win of 2012. The venue for this week's race - located along the famous Kentucky Bourbon Trail - may be just the elixir that Leffler and his Dollar General Crew need, as both have previous success in the Truck Series at the 1.5-mile Tri-oval.
Leffler captured the pole for his first Truck Series event at Kentucky and led double-digit laps en route to fifth-place finishes in both of his previous starts in NASCAR's third division. The Dollar General Tundra is the defending UNOH 225 winner, as owner-driver Kyle Busch came from the rear of the field - after being late to the driver's meeting due to Sprint Cup Series testing - to earn his team's sixth 2011 victory. Busch also had the dominant truck in the 2010 event in The Bluegrass State, leading a race-high 73 laps before being relegated to a seventh-place finish, when the race was decided by fuel strategy.
Jason Leffler, Driver of the No. 18 NCWTS Dollar General Tundra:
Does running a Thursday night race bring back memories for you?
"It definitely brings back memories of the old Thursday Night Thunder. It should be a cool event and I think that the TV viewership should be pretty good. I was fortunate enough to win a lot of races on Thursday Night Thunder and it helped me get noticed by a lot of people -- it's too bad that it's not around today. Maybe we can get a few more truck races on Thursday night -- that would be pretty cool."
Is Kentucky the most unique of the mile-and-a-half tracks?
"For sure -- it has a lot of character. It's rough, it isn't banked as much as some of the other ones and it's really wide. It's a really cool place to drive. You have to get your truck handling right in order to have a lot of speed.
The team has showed improved results in your last few races, do you feel like you're on the cusp of your first KBM victory?
"Absolutely -- we had a shot to win at Charlotte and we are bringing the same truck that was decent at Texas. It was a new truck at Texas and since that race Eric (Phillips, crew chief) has fine tuned that thing. I look forward to running it with the updates he and the guys made and seeing how they go when we get on the racetrack. We have a lot of confidence rolling into Kentucky."
Eric Phillips, Crew Chief of the No. 18 NCWTS Dollar General Tundra:
What makes Kentucky a difficult track?
"With all the repaving that has gone on the last few years, it is really the only mile-and-a-half track that we go to that is really rough. It was rough when they originally built it, and over the years the pavement has gotten a lot older and it has gotten so rough. There are a lot of bumps, so it presents a lot of different things we have to work through. Trying to get the truck to ride through the bumps with the front end and still continue to try and turn is a difficult challenge."
How would you evaluate your team's performance so far this season?
"We've been fast. I feel like we've had really good trucks, but haven't been able to finish the weekend as strong as we've been when we unload. We had a lot of issues early in the season -- we had an engine issue, been in a wreck and a few other things of our own doing. I feel like we've had top-three or four race trucks every week in practice, but we haven't been able to finish that. Hopefully going into this weekend and this summer stretch, we can put those things behind us and be strong."