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Jun 14, 2013 - 06:54 PM
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Drivers Remember And Honor Leffler At Michigan
Posted by: ASkyler on Jun 14, 2013 - 04:29 PM
Feature Articles
Drivers Remember And Honor Leffler At Michigan


By Scott Held, Special to NASCAR Wire Service

BROOKLYN, Mich. -- The death of Jason Leffler was on the minds of several Sprint Cup drivers when they arrived at Michigan International Speedway on Friday.

Leffler, who made 73 Sprint Cup starts, was killed Wednesday after a violent crash during a sprint car race at Bridgeport Speedway, a dirt track in Swedesboro, N.J. He was 37. An autopsy found he died of blunt force neck trauma after he hit a wall.

Tony Stewart, who roomed with Leffler years ago, remembered a friend.

"I've known him a long time and we grew up racing together," he said. "I knew him as a roommate and teammate. I know he loved nothing more than being behind the wheel of a race car.

"His son, Charlie, that's the one we're thinking about the most right now."

 

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A Long Beach, Calif., native, Leffler completed just eight laps in his final Sprint Cup start last weekend at Pocono. He also won a pair of Nationwide Series races and once in the Camping World Truck Series.

“He was reportedly wearing a head and neck safety device on Wednesday.”

"I was shocked to hear what happened," Stewart added. "It's just a reminder of how dangerous our sport is but we've had a lot of safety innovations and it's proof that they'll never get to the stage where anybody is totally immune from getting hurt in a race car."

Defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski paid tribute to Leffler, whom he often raced against in the Nationwide Series, by adding the late driver's Twitter handle to the rear of his No. 2 Ford.

A decal reading "LEFturn" will be affixed to both NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide cars this weekend at Michigan.

TONY STEWART WRECKS PRIMARY CAR

Stewart had to resort to his backup car Friday morning after making contact with the wall coming out of turn 2 during the opening Sprint Cup practice session.

"I got loose and caught it but just ran out of race track," said Stewart, whose No. 14 Chevy sustained damage to the right side. "As the session went on, the track got more grip in it."

Stewart arrived here on a hot streak with three straight top-seven finishes in tow. He won for the first time two weeks ago at Dover and was fourth last weekend at Pocono.

"I feel like our organization is gaining on it," he said of the streak, which saw him jump from 21st to 13th in the standings. "I've been really encouraged the last couple of weeks.

"We definitely have made big gains in the last month so I'm pretty encouraged by that."

DALE JR.'S TIME AGAIN?

Dale Earnhardt Jr. last visited Victory Lane a year ago here and owner Rick Hendrick said he thought his driver looked even better heading into this weekend's race than he did in 2012, when he ended a 143-race dry spell.

Earnhardt wasn't sure.

"It's easier to see the truth from his position on the other side of the fence. It's more difficult to see growth and improvement when you're part of the team," he said. "You don't really notice when things get a little bit better or a little bit worse.

"We started the year off so good and I felt like we were starting the season better and were a better team but we came back to reality and had some rough weeks. We ran good this past weekend and I feel good about this weekend."

Earnhardt began the season with five straight top-seven finishes but only has cracked the top 10 four times since. He was third last weekend at Pocono and will start Sunday's race fourth in the season standings.

His No. 88 Chevy sported a new paint scheme Friday, combining the National Guard and "Man of Steel," director Zack Snyder's reboot of the Superman story that debuted in theaters this week.

"The car looks great," he said. "It's not difficult to come up with a cool paint scheme when you're working with Superman. Hopefully it's as fast as it looks good."

MIS INTRODUCES MANUFACTURERS' TROPHY

The world headquarters of General Motors Corp. and Ford Motor Co. are less than 80 miles from MIS and Toyota has a technical and design center in nearby Ann Arbor, making the two races here a sort of ‘home' track for all three automakers.

When the Sprint Cup Series returns in August, the three manufacturers will be competing for even more.

MIS President Roger Curtis announced the creation of a manufacturers' trophy, which will make its debut later this summer. The introduction of the Gen-6 car and its emphasis on restoring the ‘win on Sunday, sell on Monday' heritage was the inspiration.

"MIS is important, whether you're headquartered here or not," Curtis said. "This is the backyard of the manufacturers."

The winning nameplate gets a trophy and the bragging rights that come with it until the series returns here and the three automaker and MIS each will contribute $10,000 to help young people in the state seeking careers in the STEM fields -- science, technology, engineering and math.

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