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Jason Leffler
Jason Leffler
July 28th 2007 - By:  Mark W. Theisen

     CLERMONT, INDIANA;   22 races into it’s first full season in the NASCAR Busch Series Toyota Racing Development entered victory lane when Jason Leffler bested Greg Biffle, Davie Reutimann and series point leader Carl Edwards in an exiting late race battle to post only his second win in his Busch series career at O’Reilly Raceway Park in the annual running of the Kroger 200.
    Two late race cautions brought the field back together and set up the spirited run to the finish that saw two Ford drivers, Biffle and Edwards battle side-by-side for twenty laps and then two Toyota drivers, Reutimann and Leffler battle to the point of severe body slamming with Leffler prevailing at the end with a battled scared car in victory lane.

     Leffler, who cut his racing teeth in open wheel cars at O’Reilly Raceway Park and knew the nuances of the tight .686 mile track, used all that knowledge to best three drivers that compete on the Nextel Cup Series full time.

     “What a way to win a race,” said Leffler.  “To battle Biffle and Reutimann like that was awesome and to give Toyota its first Busch series win is really exciting.”

     Leffler, who started 5th, ran with the leaders all race long but saved his car for the end of the race, credited that strategy for winning the race.  “I knew I had to have tires and brakes at the end,” said Leffler, “ so I just watched and waited for my chance.”

      A crowd of 40,000, not a record, watched as pole sitter Aric Almirola was the class of the field for the first 100 laps and looked headed for his first “real” victory in the series after being credited with the win in Milwaukee in June after getting out of the car for relief driver Denny Hamlin, who went on to the race.

     The race was only 15 laps old when rookie Landon Cassill spun in the first turn with Richard Johns, Scott Wimmer and Kevin Hamlin all getting car damage as they darted in and out to avoid the spinning car of Cassill.

     Almirola jumped back into the lead on the restart and again pulled away from Kelly Bires, Leffler and Mike Bliss.  On lap 45 David Ragan spun in the fourth turn bringing out the second caution of the race that sent the leaders to the pits for their first of the race.

     Bobby East and Ron Hornaday Jr. stayed on the track, after having making their initial stop during the first caution and were the leaders on the restart followed by Almirola, Biffle, Jason Keller and Bliss.  Leffler dropped to his low point of the race, 10th following this stop and Edwards emerged in twelfth after having to start last in the field because of having Travis Kvapil qualify his car while he was at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway qualifying for tomorrow’s Allstate 400.

     East would lead two laps and Hornaday three before Almirola was back in front but this time he could not shake Biffle as the two set a torrid pace until the lap 70 when Brad Coleman and Scott Lagasse made contact on the front straighaway for caution number three.

     Brett Rowe’s blown tire and wall contact in the third turn on lap 97 set up the pivotal pit stop of the race as teams could not go the final distance without another fuel or tire stop.

     Deac McCaskill, Brian Keselowski and D.J. Kennington remained on the track as the rest of the lead lap cars made their stops with Biffle coming out ahead of Keller, Edwards, Reutimann and Hornaday.

     Almirola suffered through a terrible pit stop and came out in 12th and was not a factor for the win after having the best car the entire first half of the race.

     Biffle chased down the trio that had stayed on the track and look his first lead in the race on lap l03 and retained that lead through the next two yellows on laps 141 for a spin by Johns and 147 for an incident involving McCaskill.   McCaskill again spun on lap 157 and on the ensuing restart Edwards was able to get his nose ahead for one lap to lead the race before Biffle got back in front and for the next 20 laps the pair raced hard, side-by-side for the lead and it was that battle that possibly cost them the win as with excessive wear on their tires it allowed Reutimann and Leffler back into the picture. 

     With Edwards now slipping on his worn tires Reutimann was able to get by for second with Leffler in two.  This set up a battle between those two resulting in some very tough driving with first Reutimann slamming Leffler’s car to take second only to see Leffler recover and come back and apply the same slam to Reutimann’s car sending the latter reeling back.

     The final caution, for a spin by Jose Wise on the front stretch on lap 193 brought the field together with Reutimann pulling up along side Leffler to express his displeasure with the slam but on the restart Leffler quickly dispatched him and despite his well battered car was able to get alongside Biffle, who had used his tires up with the Edwards battle, being no challenge and Leffler took the lead with just the final three laps to go and sped away from the rest for the milestone win for Toyota.

     “I had to get rough at the end,” said Leffler.  “It had to get rough at the end because I could smell the victory.  I know the 99 (Reutimann) is probably not happy, but he was in my way to the checkered flag and I don’t think he raced me that cleanly either.  I roughed him up and he roughed me up and sometimes that has to be done.”

     Reutimann was not as apologetic as Leffler but in the end was gratified that Toyota got it is first victory, a victory that he thought he should have given them.

     “The tires really fell off,” said Biffle.  “I do not race this series full time, so I went for the win and in the end I could not hold him (Leffler) off.  I would not have driven the race any different.”  Biffle said his battle with Edwards was not the reason his tires went away at the end.  “We just had too many laps on them.”

     Hornaday finished fifth despite an early tire failure that forced him to pit out sequence and loose a lap that he ultimately got back through put strategy.

     Two pit crew members where struck during the early going of the race with a Hornaday member, Jake Lauder, being struck by a tire sent flying by Steven Wallace’s passing car.  Lauder remained down on pit road as the race restarted and was taken to the infield car center for treatment.  He was released later with bruises to his face but no broken bones.

     Edwards fourth place finish extended his run-a-way point lead to 852 over Reutimann with Leffler now moving into third but 947 points behind the leader.

     To show just how important knowledge and experience at O’Reilly Raceway Park is, Leffler had won sever previous race at the track in United States Auto Club midget and silver crown races.

     The Busch series now heads to its first race ever in Canada next Saturday in Montreal.