NASCAR driver Leffler dead after dirt track crash

11:17 PM, Jun 12, 2013   |    comments
Jason Leffler, shown here on July 21, 2012, won two Nationwide races and one Truck Series race in his NASCAR career.(Photo: Tyler Barrick, Getty Images for NASCAR)
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Staff and wire reports, USA TODAY Sports

NASCAR driver Jason Leffler died after an accident Wednesday night at a dirt car event at Bridgeport Speedway, according to a report by The Associated Press.

The 37-year-old Leffler, a two-time winner on the Nationwide Series, was pronounced dead shortly after 9 p.m., New Jersey State Police told The Associated Press.

Leffler was racing in a 410 Sprint car heat race at the 5/8-mile, high-banked dirt oval when his car flipped multiple times down the front straightaway, according to eyewitness Christopher Taitt, 40, of West Deptford, N.J. Leffler was in second place at the time of the crash.

Taitt said Leffler's car hit the wall and "then it was flopping all over." The track canceled the rest of the evening's schedule.

Leffler, 37, made 73 starts in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series - most recently at Pocono last weekend, where he finished 43rd. He had one top-10 finish in his Cup career and also won two races in the Nationwide Series, where he made 294 career starts.

Leffler, who was affectionately known as "lefTurn" and had the nickname written above the driver's side window on his race cars, leave behind a son, Charlie, 5.

Leffler started his career as an open-wheel star who won three consecutive USAC Midget championships from 1997-99. Following the path of former USAC star Tony Stewart, he signed with Joe Gibbs Racing for the Nationwide Series in 2000.

After finishing 20th in points with three pole positions and four top 10s in his rookie season, Leffler moved into NASCAR's premier Cup Series with Chip Ganassi Racing. He lasted only one year after failing to qualify for five of 36 races in 2001.

Leffler moved to the Camping World Truck Series for two years, scoring his first NASCAR national series victory at Dover International Speedway in 2003. He began dabbling in Cup again, making 10 starts for Haas CNC Racing that season.

In 2004, he earned his first Nationwide Series win and scored 17 top 10s in 27 starts with Haas CNC.

That earned him his second shot at Cup in 2005 as Joe Gibbs Racing expanded to a third car with FedEx sponsorship. Leffler, though, didn't last the season, being fired by the team after 21 races when he was ranked 35th in points and had failed to qualify for the Coca-Cola 600. Denny Hamlin took over the No. 11 car late in the season.

Leffler raced full time in Nationwide from 2006-11, earning his final national series win at Indianapolis Raceway Park in 2007 when he finished a career-high third in points.

He made 11 starts in Sprint Cup over the past four seasons.

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