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Jason Leffler enjoys the challenge Phoenix provides

Jason Leffler
Jason Leffler

By Lee Montgomery
Special to the Sporting News NASCAR Wire Service

Jason Leffler considers Phoenix International Raceway a home away from home, as he's run well there and won at the 1-mile track in the past.

But his first on-track experience at PIR-which hosts this Saturday's Wypall 200 NASCAR Nationwide Series race-was hardly memorable.

Leffler, a Long Beach, Calif., native, was entered in a USAC Midget owned by his dad in the Copper World Classic in 1995. The car blew an engine in practice, and a sick Jason and his father spent several hours overnight changing it.

"We had to stay up basically all night and change a motor," Leffler said. "It was just my dad and I, and it took us a long time to change it. At the same time, I had some sort of food poisoning, so I was sick. It was not a good experience my first time there."

Leffler said he finished 10th in that first race but returned to win a Midget race in 1999 and a Silver Crown feature in 2000.

"The first experience there wasn't good, but we came back a couple years after that and ran really well and won some races," Leffler said.

The open-wheel success translated to stock cars, too. In his first appearance in a Nationwide car in 2000 for Joe Gibbs Racing, Leffler won the pole and finished second.

Over 12 starts in the series, he's won two poles and has two top-five and four top-10 finishes. Not bad for a guy who as a kid helped work on Midgets of PJ and Page Jones at Phoenix.

"It's just a place I always liked," Leffler said. "When I started driving here, I figured out some good tips. Tony Stewart helped me a lot. ... I've always enjoyed it. It's so unique. You've got to basically give up one end for the other to make your car as fast as you can on the one end and try to get it through the other end. It's a really cool place."

Leffler is referring to the different radius of each end of the track, with Turns 3 and 4 being the fastest end, with a larger radius despite less banking than Turns 1 and 2. Leffler says he tries to set up his car for Turns 3 and 4, if possible, though sometimes tires and the track itself make that difficult.

Leffler has undergone a transition this season, as Eddie Pardue has replaced Scott Zipadelli as his crew chief, and Steve Turner has taken over for Todd Braun as majority owner.

Still, the goal is to win, not look to 2011.

"There's a lot of things going on at the shop," said Leffler, who is eighth in the Nationwide standings. "The next two races, we're trying to win. To beat some of these guys in all-out speed is kind of impossible, but we try to put ourselves in position if something happens that we're able to capitalize. Phoenix is a place we can do that."

Nationwide Series fact box
Wypall 200
Where: Phoenix International Raceway; Avondale, Ariz.
When: Saturday, 4:30 p.m. Eastern
TV: ESPN2, 4 p.m. Eastern
Radio: MRN/Sirius Satellite Ch. 128
Race distance: 200 laps/200 miles
Qualifying: Saturday, 12:05 p.m. Eastern
Track layout: 1-mile oval
2009 winner: Carl Edwards
2009 polesitter: Denny Hamlin
Points leaders: 1. Brad Keselowski, 5,314; 2. Carl Edwards, 4,849; 3. Kyle Busch, 4,619; 4. Justin Allgaier, 4,402; 5. Paul Menard, 4,205; 6. Kevin Harvick, 4,044; 7. Trevor Bayne, 3,765; 8. Jason Leffler, 3,743; 9. Joey Logano, 3,717; 10. Steve Wallace, 3,688.