NASCAR Media Conference
July 13, 2010
THE MODERATOR: Thank you and good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to today's NASCAR Cam Video teleconference, in advance of Saturday night's NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Gateway International Raceway. And we've reached the second half of the season, and it's also the start of the second half of our stand-alone season, although the Nationwide Series will share the weekend with the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, which also races at Gateway, and that will be on Friday night.
Today we're joined by Jason Leffler, the driver of the No. 38 Great Clips Toyota. He's one of the veterans of our NASCAR Nationwide Series. He's currently 10th in the point standings, and comes off a fifth place finish at Chicagoland Speedway, and that tied his best result of the season.
Jason has two Top 5s and three Top 10s in seven career races at Gateway, and he was 14th in this race last year. Jason, thanks a lot for joining us today. We appreciate your time.
JASON LEFFLER: Thanks for having me.
THE MODERATOR: Your season started to turn around recently after kind of a rough start. You've had a couple of bumps in the road the last month. But a new crew chief has kind of brought a new outlook to your team. Talk about what Eddie Pardue brings to the table, and how your team can make a move in the second half especially during these three upcoming stand-alone races?
JASON LEFFLER: Yeah, well, having Eddie come on board was a big break for us. He brings a lot of things to the table. Number one: just the fact that he is the go-to guy which we haven't had for the last couple of months. You know, he's a leader. He's somebody that comes up with a plan, somebody that gets us through practice when we're just not running around on our own.
That, in itself, is really helpful and it's helped us get better results too.
THE MODERATOR: Questions for Jason, please.
Q. I want to ask about the new Nationwide Series, C.O.T. You drove it a couple weeks ago. It's going to be raced three more time this is year and full-time next year. First: What are your thoughts of the car? How does it race? How does it handle? What do you think of the looks? Do you think that's going to bring its own identity to that series?
JASON LEFFLER: Well, yeah, thanks for bringing that up. I'm really excited about the new car in the Nationwide Series. I had a blast driving it at Daytona. You had to drive it. I mean, there is no doubt about it. There was no riding around.
Some of the guys complained about the drivability, but I really enjoyed it, and I look forward to running it at Michigan. I think it will be a better test for us to see how the car's going to handle.
Obviously, want to run more races like that, you know, on a Michigan-style track or a mile and a half. I think it's awesome. I think it's a step in the right direction from a technology standpoint, from a safety standpoint. I know everybody was a little anxious, but I think it's definitely the right step.
I think it's going to help the series. I think if you look at some of the manufacturers what they've done as far as trying to trade identity for certain models, I think it's really cool. If you look at the Dodges and the Ford Mustangs, and you can tell the Toyota Camrys and the Chevys. So I think it's pretty exciting.
I think next year's going to be a really, really exciting year for the Nationwide Series. I look forward to working on the car. It's an unknown, so across the board I think it evens the playing field. You know, your set-ups aren't going to work that have worked in years past. The things you do to the race car are going to be totally different than what you think, and the way you drive them are totally different. But I like that. I like a little change every now and then.
Q. About change, kind of talk about that. NASCAR has mentioned tweaking the rules for the Chase formula. What change, if any, would you like to see in the Nationwide points rules?
JASON LEFFLER: I would definitely like to see a Chase format in the Nationwide rules. I think it would add a little excitement to the Nationwide Series. It seems that we get a runaway winner for the championship the last three or four years, which I think to reset everything with ten to go like they do on the Cup side would be cool. I would be all for a Chase format in the Nationwide Series, for sure.
Q. What you guys do is physical and mental. We know a lot of you do different things to keep fit. But do you study any kind of mental methods or do you just kind of wing it?
JASON LEFFLER: Well, I mean, you just kind of wing it. But I've been driving my whole life, so you have a certain routine that you do and certain things you think about. Maybe there is no technical term for that, but I think you are studying.
Obviously you think about the race before the start of the race, and that's one form of studying, and trying to build yourself and make yourself mentally stronger. It seems like you've just got to stay prepared. You've got to really think about the race the night before or even the weeks leading up to the race or the days leading up to the race.
You don't get to this level without being serious about it. If you're off having fun and messing around, you're not going to run very good. So there is nothing specifically, no certain science I try to study. But I'm really just into the job at hand, and that in itself is the way of studying and making yourself mentally stronger.
Q. The Joe Gibbs Racing cars and the 22 of Brad Keselowski, they've pretty much been dominant in the Nationwide Series this season. As far as the Gibbs' cars, they were good last year and have been for several years. Lot of success again in 2010. What are programs such as Braun Racing doing to try to catch up with the Gibbs cars?
JASON LEFFLER: Well, we work hard at it all the time. You can boil it down to resources. Obviously they have the resources that set them apart from all the other teams, but they also have the attitude that they're going to go at it at 110%. They're focused on their two race cars. They're not running three or four cars every week. They're focused on the 18 and 20, and that in itself is a big advantage.
Like you said, they've been really strong for the last three or four years. When they got hooked up with Toyota is what put them over the edge to where they're just dominant.
To be honest, when you go to the racetrack I -- I shouldn't say I -- but as a team we kind of compare ourselves to each other, maybe to the competitors that we can feed on on that weekend.
We don't even compare ourselves to the 18 because they're in their own time zone. But it all starts at the top. Joe Gibbs and their attitude, if they're going to do something, they're going to do it right. They're going to go at it 110%.
But we're working hard at Braun. We're trying to keep up with them. So far, you know, I think we're doing a really good job at it. Our resources aren't as big as theirs, but we do have really good resources with Toyota and we have a great group of people.
I think that's what sets us apart from some of the other Nationwide teams is the people that we have in the shop and what they can do. They do a lot with a little, and the attitudes they have. If it wasn't for the people, we wouldn't even be close to them.
Q. That was a question a moment ago about the new C.O.T. car in the Nationwide Series about establishing an identity for the Nationwide Series. You guys are going to have the first 30 stand alone races coming up this weekend in Gateway, then you go to O'Reilly and Iowa. You should have gigantic crowds at all three of those races. How important is that in terms of identification for the series when you can run these races, have big crowds and not lean on the Sprint Cup Series?
JASON LEFFLER: Yeah, it's a really important time for the Nationwide Series these three races. Like you said, we'll have a great crowd at all three of them. It's a good old-fashioned midwest racing. Lot of short track racing like that. Obviously I'm excited about going to ORP. It's one of my favorites. It is my favorite racetrack.
In Iowa, the new venue we had last year was just unbelievable the crowd support we got, and the support from the staff there at the racetrack. So look forward to it. But going to these stand-alone races is exciting for drivers. I think it's exciting for sponsors. I think if you asked Great Clips, they enjoy stand-alone races because we are the star of the show. We do fill the places up, and it's nice to be the star of the show every now and then.
Q. I was just wondering what are your impressions of Justin Allgaier this season? What have you seen from him?
JASON LEFFLER: My impressions of Justin Allgaier have been good from the start. He's always had a lot of talent. A funny story about Justin is I think three or four years ago, maybe three years ago. He came to me at the Chili Bowl, which is a midget race in January, and a mutual friend had him come talk to me. He wanted to know what he had to do to get to the next level, because he told me at the time he was going to be 22. And everybody told him if you don't have a deal down south in NASCAR by the time you're 22, you're done (laughing). I told him that's totally wrong.
You've got to win races and he went out and won the ARCA championship. But I thought it was funny that he thought his career was done at 22. He's a great talent. And he's run his whole life, and I think this year he's matured as a race car driver. Last year he was wild. But he's one of those guys that you always said when he figures out how to slow down, he's going to be hard to beat and he has been.
Driving for Roger Penske helps too. He's got a big, big career ahead of him, and you'll see him do great things in his career.
Q. You mentioned the maturity a little bit. What are the biggest differences you've seen in him between last year and this year?
JASON LEFFLER: Well, it's just funny. Little things on the racetrack. You know, it's funny you brought that up because even this weekend at Chicago, you know, I caught him with 20 laps into the race. And our car was really fast. He pointed me by and we drove off, you know, where that's a mature style of driving.
You've got to realize it's a 200-lap race. Last year if I caught him 20 laps into the race, he was going to race me really hard and we were going to wear our stuff out.
That's just some of the things you learn as the years go by down here in NASCAR is how to run your race for the duration. You know, you've got to be around at the end.
At that moment, even before that I had seen him mature. But when I caught him there and he pointed by and drove off, I thought that showed that he's really learning and really becoming a mature, professional racer.
Q. I was wondering if they do bring the Chase format into the Nationwide Series, will that maybe help the Cup guys coming down to as many races as they are because they're going to basically need to run the full season to get that championship.
JASON LEFFLER: Yeah, I don't know what it would do in that situation. We have Kyle and Kevin and Joey, they're all in the Top 10 and they're not running all the races.
But I definitely think the Chase format would work really well for the Nationwide Series. It kind of takes your ups and downs through the year, and as long as you can day in the Top 10, you can reset yourself there for the last ten races and maybe we'd see a different champion. Maybe we'd see a Nationwide-only driver win the championship. I think it would bring a lot of attention to the Nationwide Series, not that it doesn't already, but more is better.
So, I think it would be great to do next year in conjunction with the new car we have coming on full-time next year. It might be pretty exciting.
So, Brian France, if you're listening, maybe we ought to implement that.
Q. Obviously there's a lot of buzz about next year's schedule, not only for Sprint Cup but Nationwide and the criteria as well. If I'm not mistaken, a few months ago Jimmie Johnson, when he was questioned about should Atlanta lose a Cup race, should Martinsville lose a Cup race, he said that he would prefer just to go to each track once a season. Then you could add more tracks to the schedule. And I'm just wondering what is your take on that? Do you like going to the same track twice a season, or would you like to see a lot more tracks added and just go to a single racetrack once a year?
JASON LEFFLER: I think the more tracks you add into the schedule the better it is, but that's just preference for a race car driver. We go to places twice a year and they do fill the stands. There are some venues that maybe we need to only go do once a year.
You know, you go to California and the crowd is not there. And California is my home track, I love going there twice. But when you show up there and the stands aren't what they need to be, it's a little disappointing.
I think they can really look at it, which I'm sure they are, they can make adjustments to it. Just as a driver you just want to go where the most fans are at. There are some tracks that probably deserve two dates, but they decided that we were only going to every racetrack once a year, then so be it. I'd be all for it. But that's someone else's decision, not mine.
If it was up to me, I'd race three times a week, but I don't work on the race cars or pay for them (laughing).
THE MODERATOR: Before we let you go, we've got a question from one of our followers on Twitter, if you wouldn't mind answering that. And the question is what challenges does Gateway pose for you and your team specifically?
JASON LEFFLER: Well, that's a great question. Gateway is a unique racetrack because both corners, turns one and two, are so vastly different than three and four. So it's a compromise. It's a lot like Phoenix in that extent where you might give up one end for the other, so you're not going to get a perfect handling car.
One and two is really tight with some more banking there. That's a sharp turn. You're really low on RPMs. Three and four is a wide, wide sweeping corner. Seems like it goes on forever.
The challenge is to try to figure out what corner you want to work your best at and work on your car there. They both lead to really long straightaways. But I enjoy Gateway. It's a great racetrack, and a great question. But it's a compromise the whole time we're there.
THE MODERATOR: Jason is on Twitter, and you can follow him at@JasonLeffler, double word together. You can also follow the NASCAR Nationwide Series on Twitter.
Jason, thank you for answering that question. We appreciate it, and we thank you for your time today, and we'll see you this weekend at Gateway.
JASON LEFFLER: Awesome, thanks for having me on.
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