Police investigation: Mechanical failure led to Jason Leffler crash, death

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Following more than a week-long investigation, New Jersey state police said the wreck that claimed the life of NASCAR driver Jason Leffler in a June 12 dirt track race in Bridgeport, N.J., was caused by a mechanical problem.

While the report is not fully completed, several findings have come to light to explain much of the reason why Leffler’s car suddenly went out of control and flipped several times before coming to rest. Leffler was taken to a nearby hospital but was pronounced dead less than an hour after the wreck, which occurred shortly after 9 pm ET.

Police believe a torsion stop, which is part of the sprint car’s suspension, somehow broke off and became lodged between a wheel and the steering control system, rendering the car uncontrollable. The car came out of the fourth turn, spun, then hit the outside concrete retaining wall, flipping several times before coming to a rest, as well.

While the report has not determined how fast Leffler was going when the crash occurred, the police report said cars were averaging 135 mph and as high as 150 mph on both straightaways during the course of the race.

The official cause of death, as determined by a local medical examiner, has been ruled blunt-force injuries to Leffler’s neck.

Leffler, 37, was buried Wednesday, one week after the tragedy. He leaves behind a five-year-old son. A trust fund for Leffler’s son has been established by several of Leffler’s fellow NASCAR drivers.

Longtime friend and mentor Tony Stewart, a three-time Sprint Cup champion who also co-owns Stewart-Haas Racing and owns or has partial ownership in several short tracks like the New Jersey facility, said last week in Michigan that the facility was not at fault.

“It was an accident,” Stewart said. “Just like if you go out and there’s a car crash. It’s an accident. Nobody as a track owner wants to go through what happened this week, but it’s not due to a lack of effort on their part to try to make their facilities as safe as possible under the conditions they have.”

Marco Andretti confident that fewer tests won’t hurt Andretti Autosport

Photo: IndyCar
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A small point of debate around the 2018 aero kit has been the manufacturer test days that took place through the Fall of 2017 and into the beginning of 2018. Chiefly, the debate has centered around teams who hadn’t participated in those manufacturer test days and if they’re starting the 2018 Verizon IndyCar Series season at a disadvantage as a result.

Team Penske, Ed Carpenter Racing, and A.J. Foyt Racing completed test days for Chevrolet, with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports and Chip Ganassi Racing doing so for Honda.

That left teams like Andretti Autosport out of the mix, with some voicing concerns as a result.

However, in a press conference during testing at ISM Raceway last weekend, Marco Andretti explained that he thinks Andretti Autosport should be able to catch up on development, citing the team’s resources – they’re the only IndyCar team with four full-time cars in their stable – and the fact that everyone is still adapting to the new kit.

“I feel like it’s early enough days that, yes, we can catch up,” Andretti said at ISM Raceway. “When there is anything new, a new car, new aero kit, at-track days are huge. We can sim all these things we want. To really get out there and confirm what we’re learning back at the shop is another thing.”

Ryan Hunter-Reay during testing at ISM Raceway. Photo: IndyCar

Andretti continued, “Yeah, I don’t think we should look at it like we’re behind the eight ball. With a four-car team, that’s where we can use it to our benefit. So far so good.”

Teammate Ryan Hunter-Reay, echoed Andretti’s sentiments, adding that while the situation is not perfect, they will need to adapt to it in order to remain competitive.

“Any time you have a new car, to put it into perspective, we’re on track three days on a road course before we get to (the season open in St. Petersburg). That’s a very short amount of time. It’s obviously not ideal, but we’re just going to lace up our boots and get on with it. That’s all you can do.”

Andretti Autosport will have one more team test, at Sebring International Raceway later on in February, before the season-opening Firestone Grand Prix of St. Petersburg.

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