Jason Leffler

Biffle, Hendrick, Danica highlight NASCAR storylines in Michigan

Through the Gears: Four things we learned in the Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan
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<p> Reaction from Greg Biffle's win in NASCAR's Quicken Loans 400 at Michigan Interantional Speedway.</p>

Greg Biffle’s 19th career NASCAR Sprint Cup victory Sunday brought him into a tie on the all-time list with Dale Earnhardt Jr., the man most pundits claimed was supposed to win in the Irish Hills. It was like “Opposite Day” come to life, considering the two couldn’t be more different. Earnhardt, revered through his personality and last name, is the sport’s most popular driver. The whole grandstand shakes the second they see him in position to lead a lap.

NASCAR heads to Michigan, mourns loss of Jason Leffler

Geoffrey Miller's Five Things to Watch at Michigan
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<p> Geoffrey Miller pays tribute to Jason Leffler and highlights the five storylines to follow as the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series visits Michigan International Speedway.</p>

1. Reflecting on Jason Leffler, forever a hard charger
News of Jason Leffler’s death after a New Jersey sprint car crash ran fast, far and wide this week. His passing is, as it too often becomes, a startling reminder that race car drivers don’t compete in an arena like most other athletes.

The Long and Short of It: New Crew Chief, Engines and Outlook Working for Logano

Dustin Long Takes a Spin Around the NASCAR Circuit

by Dustin Long

Joey Logano says he’s worked with the same sports psychologist teammate Denny Hamlin has, but that’s not the only reason why Logano could do something in Sunday’s Las Vegas race that he hasn’t in more than a year.

After finishing ninth in the Daytona 500 and 10th last weekend at Phoenix, Logano will seek to score his third consecutive top-10 finish — something he hasn’t done since his late-season charge in 2010.

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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Dustin Long takes a spin around the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.</p>

GOOD SIGN  While Kevin Harvick might have been disappointed with finishing second at Phoenix last weekend after leading a race-high 88 laps, it didn’t diminish his enthusiasm for this season.

After the race, car owner Richard Childress congratulated Harvick on the radio for his run. Harvick replied: “It’s going to be a good year.”

Harvick was excited with his run after struggling at Phoenix last year and finishing 19th.

“They’ve done a good job over the winter,” Harvick said of his team. “And hopefully that continues over the next few weeks in the preparation that they’ve done through the winter.”

PIT STOPS  Goodyear held a tire test Tuesday at Rockingham Speedway in preparation for the April 15 Camping World Truck Series race there, the first NASCAR race at that track since the Cup Series left after 2004. Said Jason Leffler, among the drivers testing: “I’m just looking forward to coming back and seeing 35 other trucks out here racing hard to see what happens when the tires wear out and everybody gets slipping and sliding.” ... Dodge will reveal its 2013 Charger this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Prior to last weekend’s events at Phoenix International Raceway, Penske Racing announced it would switch to Ford at the conclusion of the 2012 season. “We do value our NASCAR program and will be evaluating the opportunities available moving forward,” Ralph Gilles, President and CEO SRT Brand and Motorsports, said. “As those opportunities materialize, we'll reveal our 2013 plans, not only in NASCAR but in other forms of motorsports.”

Follow Dustin on Twitter: @DustinLong


NASCAR on the Wrong Track(s)

New venues fail to attract new fans or retain old

by Vito Pugliese

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<p> Athlon Sports contributor Vito Pugliese notes that, while expansion for NASCAR is good, it can come at a cost if its new racetracks don't deliver.</p>

I was on hand at the track formerly known as Indianapolis Raceway Park in ’07 when Toyota scored its first Nationwide Series victory with series stalwart Jason Leffler and fellow Toyotian David Reutimann in hot pursuit. There was racing throughout the pack, a clear view of pit road from virtually any seat and a full grandstand, to boot. The next day, while at the Brickyard 400, no one could have been aware of what was transpiring between Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick in the closing laps, until Smoke let loose with one of his more memorable post-race interviews that was broadcast over the PA system.

What’s more, that race was one of the few that had a relatively full crowd, and considering the typical margin of victory at a Nationwide race, I fail to see how the move helps anyone.

What is doubly frustrating is that the tracks NASCAR should be at — or looking at visiting — are largely ignored. Since 2000, the margin of victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway — which lost a date to Kentucky — stands at 1.14 seconds, with some of the most memorable last-lap, down-to-the-stripe finishes in the sport’s history highlighting its finishes. The margin in Saturday night’s Kentucky race was .179 seconds, courtesy of a late-race, double-file restart. With the exception of the start of the race and a lap 142 restart, there wasn’t much memorable about the evening with the exception of Jamie McMurray’s smoke show in Turn 2 and the aerial view of traffic backed up for miles on I-71 (not that TNT acknowledged the significance of the shot).

The Nationwide race at Road America last month, which looked like musclecar bumper cars, drew over 50,000 on a Saturday — with half of the track not visible or even having a place to stand and watch. The NNS attendance at Daytona, a track synonymous with stock car racing? 50,000. There are clearly tracks NASCAR should be entertaining to entertain, rather than racing at a venue just because the guy who owns most of the tracks owns it.

Considering NASCAR needs to reach as many fans as possible, racing at as many new venues and in new areas of the country is necessary. Five years ago, I was of the mindset that NASCAR should predominately run in the southeastern United States, but make an effort to visit most every area of the country at tracks at least twice. That was fine. It helped build the sport and NASCAR could reap the benefits.

An attempt to build newer tracks in untraditional markets, however, has run into stiff opposition.

The planned Bristol-esque track that was long-rumored to be built on Long Island fizzled, and when a big push for a track to be built in Washington state in 2007 was broached, the speaker of the house in the state’s legislature accused Richard Petty of having a DUI, while another house member stated publicly that, “These are not the kind of people you would want living next door to you. They’d be the ones with the junky cars in the front yard and would try to slip around the law.”

Considering the precarious position the sport remains in as the economy dictates what survives and what dies, Jeff Burton’s sentiment is right on target: Going to different markets and areas of the country are key, but only if it produces a better product.

NASCAR was arguably at its best in the early- to mid-1990s, with exponential growth, interest, excitement, appropriate coverage to pique curiosity and a lack of over-saturation. Each time a new track was built, a little piece of the past died, though. That will come with any evolutionary step, but is it too much to ask for the old favorites like Atlanta and Darlington to not be substituted for calamities like the tracks in Fontana and Kentucky?

This isn’t to say that NASCAR’s oldest tracks haven’t had issues of their own. I once sat in traffic reminiscent of Kentucky’s going to Michigan International Speedway in the ’90s. When Charlotte Motor Speedway brought the term “levigation” into our vocabulary, it did so by destroying the finest 1.5-mile track that motorsports had ever known. And regardless of how brightly Bruton Smith paints the walls yellow, it is not the same track it once was.

We’ve all watched as chunks of the track at Martinsville and Daytona started flying around, while North Wilkesboro never really looked much different when it hosted its final race in 1996 than its first 40 years earlier. The difference is each of these places provides something special, having been witness to some of the greatest moments in the sport’s history. If they are going to be replaced by new locations, is it too much to ask that they produce something tangible — beyond ROI for ISC and SMI — in return?

New tracks are needed in NASCAR, no question. The problem is, the ones that are awarded new dates continually resemble the same ones that no one cares about in the first place. That points to a downward trend — and at the absolute wrong time for a sport that has some distinct challenges that lay ahead.