Last season, Turner Motorsports was just a small, family-operated race team trying to keep up with NASCAR competition. In 2011, they've become the competition as they have evolved into a premier, multi-team operation in the NASCAR Nationwide and Camping World Truck Series.
Turner Motorsports is bringing its "A-game" to Texas Motor Speedway for Friday evening's O'Reilly Auto Parts 300, with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Kasey Kahne piloting the No. 38 Great Clips Chevrolet.
It's a driver/sponsor combination that is familiar with winning in the Nationwide Series at The Great American Speedway as Kahne captured the 2005 O'Reilly 300 win with a No. 38 Great Clips car for Akins Motorsports.
Kahne has had two runs in the No. 38 Great Clips car so far this season - an 11th-place finish at Daytona and runner-up performance at Bristol, just 0.524 of a second behind winner Kyle Busch.
The team is chasing a Nationwide Series championship this season with an all-star lineup in its four Nationwide entries - NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars Kahne and Mark Martin, and Nationwide Series standouts Jason Leffler, Reed Sorenson and Justin Allgaier - and a new alliance with Chevrolet powerhouse Hendrick Motorsports, which is providing engine support for the organization's Nationwide and Camping World Truck teams.
Turner Motorsports earned its first win at Las Vegas Motor Speedway on March 5 with Martin piloting the No. 32 Chevrolet and its three full-time drivers currently are situated second (Leffler), third (Allgaier) and fifth (Sorenson) in Nationwide point standings. With NASCAR only allowing drivers to compete in one series championship, the opportunity has been enhanced for one of Turner's full-time Nationwide drivers to win the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series championship.
"It's a new team, new attitude, new equipment and everything," Leffler said regarding Turner Motorsports. "(Team owner) Steve Turner and everybody at Turner Motorsports have made one heck of a commitment to (us). There was a lot of talk in the beginning, but now to see everything come together with race cars on the ground with our Hendrick engines and new equipment, it's pretty awesome."
Leffler, 35, is in his 11th full-time season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series and is enjoying success with his No. 38 Great Clips Chevrolet team. In six starts this season, Leffler has an average finish of 9.0 with three top 10s. Leffler is on the heels of points leader Ricky Stenhouse Jr., separated by a mere 6 points.
"This is a big year for us," Leffler said. "I'm always excited to start a new season and you try to improve every year and I've seen more improvement with this team than I have in five years from an equipment standpoint. I'm confident we're going to win races and compete for the Nationwide Series championship."
Leffler has five top-10 finishes in his 13 starts at Texas Motor Speedway, including one top-five effort. In his first start at Texas - the 2000 Albertsons 300 - Leffler earned his first career pole.
"I love Texas," Leffler said. "You go there and it's a show and Texas has one of the best promoters in the business and I really enjoy what (Eddie Gossage) does there. I like night racing. It's fast and I think the fans will enjoy it. You always have sparks flying at Texas. I think the pace is going to pick up. You're probably going to feel like you're going a million miles an hour there, especially at night time. It just looks like you're going faster and feels like you're going faster, and everything seems to have a little more excitement to it." Allgaier, currently third in the Nationwide points standings, has two top-10 finishes with Turner's No. 31 team this season, including runner-up to Martin at Las Vegas. In five starts at Texas Motor Speedway, Allgaier has a best finish of 10th in the 2009 O'Reilly 300.
"I've got a great crew chief in Jimmy Elledge," Allgaier, 25, said. "I feel like we've really got a good opportunity to be successful. We've got great equipment and we've got an owner behind us that's putting his efforts towards it."
Sorenson, 25, has an average finish of 13.8 in his six races in 2011 with two top fives - consecutive fifth-place finishes in the first two races of the season. In seven races at Texas Motor Speedway, Sorenson has four top 10s, including three in the top five.
"Texas is one of my favorite places, actually," Sorenson said. "It's fast and for some reason you feel the speed a lot more than the other mile-and-a-half tracks. Texas is usually a good place where you can set your car for a short run or a long run and do what you want, and you can move around because there are a couple of different grooves you can run. So it seems to be one of the better places for us to race."
The O'Reilly Auto Parts 300 gets underway Friday evening at 7:30 p.m. CT and will mark the first night race in Texas Motor Speedway history for the NASCAR Nationwide Series. Tickets are still available and can be purchased by calling (817) 215-8500 or visiting www.texasmotorspeedway.com.