Tony Stewart and Jeff Gordon are two of the bigger names that American open-wheel racing has lost to NASCAR in the last quarter century. Part of it is the lack of a solid open-wheel ladder. Part of it is (sadly) more money in NASCAR. There are a multitude of factors.
Not only have those champions been lost, but so have others that haven’t been top level drivers. J.J. Yeley, A.J. Allemendinger, Robby Gordon and Jason Leffler are other names that have run the Indianapolis 500 but made more of a name by running NASCAR.
I have spent the better part of the last month listening to episodes of “The Talk of Gasoline Alley” as far back as 2000. I used to watch the Indianapolis 500 as a kid but there were some years once I was a little older that I missed it. I’ve learned a lot about the 500 over the past few years, but didn’t realize Leffler ran the 2000 race. He started the race 17th and also finished 17th.
Immediately upon hearing that he’d participated, I had to go look for an autograph. COMC and eBay are always the first place I look, just to see what it “out there.” After that, I looked at Sportslots and found an autograph, and it was just $1 to ship.
Just three days after his final NASCAR start, Leffler lost his life doing what he loved, racing. During a sprint car event, his car suffered a front suspension failure and he hit the wall. Leffler never won a race at NASCAR’s highest level, but he did win two races in the secondary series.
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“Part of it is the lack of a solid open-wheel ladder. Part of it is (sadly) more money in NASCAR.”
More of the 2nd, but a lot more of the first than people realize. Which is a shame. CART/Indy should be so much bigger than it is. Cuz let’s face it – it’s only the crashes that everyone wants in NASCAR. It’s so much cooler to watch a couple open wheel cars battle for position. One touch and they are both out, so there is a fine chess match going on. In NASCAR, you just bump your way around. Boring and BS.