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IndyCar community reflects on Leffler, an open-wheel star in the 1990s

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The racing community is very tight knit and when a loss of anyone occurs, it hits everyone in some way, shape or form. Though Jason Leffler’s NASCAR career was where he made most of his living from 2001 onward, he was a rising open-wheel star from the late 1990s through 2000.

Leffler, from Long Beach, Calif., started out racing USAC midgets. He promptly won three consecutive USAC Midget championships from 1997 to 1999, and in 1999, also won two of short track racing’s biggest events: the Turkey Night Grand Prix and the Copper World Classic.

He met Roger Penske in 1998 at the Hut 100, and his progress also caught the eye of Joe Gibbs. Leffler made his IndyCar debut as the replacement for a fairly big name in the sport, two-time Indianapolis 500 champion Arie Luyendyk, at Walt Disney World Speedway in 1999. A year later, in a car that had Penske support but was not Penske-entered, Leffler made his debut in the 2000 Indianapolis 500 and finished 17th.

A statement from INDYCAR said the following: “INDYCAR extends its deepest sympathies and condolences to the family of Jason Leffler for their tragic loss. Jason was a USAC champion who made three INDYCAR starts, including the 2000 Indianapolis 500. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family during this difficult time.”

This was from the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, and its COO Doug Boles: “We are very saddened at the passing of Jason Leffler. He was one of the most versatile race drivers in America, showing his talent by competing in the Indianapolis 500 and the Brickyard 400 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway during his career. He also displayed the skills that would help him reach the top levels of the sport by winning four USAC national series titles while winning on tracks throughout the Midwest. Jason was a terrific guy who always had time for everyone. Our deepest sympathies are extended to his entire family, team and fans.”

Lastly, Panther Racing fielded Leffler in several USAC Silver Crown races in 2004. From Panther’s managing partner/CEO John Barnes: “I was shocked to hear tonight about the passing of Jason Leffler. Jason was a friend and former driver of Panther Racing. He was one of the most versatile drivers I have ever met. He reminded me so much of Parnelli Jones. We will miss his fierce competitive spirit and his devilish attitude. He constitutes the old saying, ‘It isn’t the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.’ Jason was a small man with a huge right foot. Our prayers go out to his entire family, and especially his son Charlie.  He will be forever missed.”

Few of the current IndyCar drivers had the chance to race Leffler directly, but they share the sadness and the memories nonetheless. A sampling of tweets from the IndyCar community, drivers and teams, are below:






Sainz airlifted to hospital following practice crash

xxxx during final practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 10, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.
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Carlos Sainz Jr. has been airlifted to hospital after a big crash during the final free practice session for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday morning.

Under braking at turn 13, Sainz lost the backend of his Toro Rosso car, causing him to hit the left-hand wall before slamming into the TecPro barrier at the end of the run-off area.

The session was immediately red flagged as medical crews tended to Sainz, taking 20 minutes to extricate him from the Toro Rosso car due to how it had pitched under the barrier.

FIA media delegate Matteo Bonciani told reporters: “The driver is conscious and is still in the process of being extricated. When we know something, we will let you know.”

After being extricated from the car, Sainz was taken away on a stretcher before being placed in an ambulance, giving a thumbs up to let fans know that he was okay. He is also reported to have been talking to doctors in the medical centre after the crash.

Sainz has now been airlifted to hospital for further checks, and is set to miss qualifying later today, with Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost telling BBC Sport: “To sit him in the car immediately seems a bit risky, but we will wait and see.”

The damage caused to the TecPro barrier has also caused the planned GP3 race to be cancelled, giving the track workers time to carry out repairs ahead of the F1 qualifying session later today.

Qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix is live on NBCSN and Live Extra from 8am ET on Saturday.

Rosberg tops shortened FP3 in Russia after Sainz crash

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 09:  Nico Rosberg of Germany and Mercedes GP drives during practice for the Formula One Grand Prix of Russia at Sochi Autodrom on October 9, 2015 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Lars Baron/Getty Images)
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Nico Rosberg set the pace in final practice for the Russian Grand Prix on Saturday morning as the session was called early following a heavy crash for Toro Rosso driver Carlos Sainz Jr.

With 25 minutes remaining, the session was stopped when Sainz slammed into the wall at turn 13, pitching in under the TecPro barrier at the fastest point of the circuit.

A loss of power on the car meant that Toro Rosso could not make contact with its driver, causing concern as the medical crew was sent to the crash site to tend to Sainz.

Replays showed that Spaniard lost the back-end of his car under braking coming into turn 13, causing him to hit the wall on the left-hand side of the track before travelling down the track and into the wall at the end of the high-speed straight.

After being extricated from the car, Sainz was shown on TV cameras to be moving around on a stretcher, giving a thumbs up before being placed into an ambulance.

“The driver is conscious and is still in the process of being extricated,” FIA media chief Matteo Bonciani told reporters. “When we know something, we will let you know.”

Toro Rosso team boss Franz Tost added: “As far as I am informed, he is conscious. He is now with the doctor. I think that he is so far okay.”

With qualifying for the Russian Grand Prix due to start in just two hours’ time, it is unlikely that Sainz will be able to take part in the session, with Tost believing it to be “too risky”.

The amount of damage caused to the barrier could also result in delays across the course of Saturday’s running, with GP3 scheduled to race before the F1 qualifying session. The early sunset in Sochi could also cause problems towards the end of the day.