A flat left rear tyre proved costly for Jason Leffler and the NetZero HiSpeed Racing team during the running of the Subway 500 at Martinsville Speedway on Sunday as the former single seater star failed to crack the top 20 in his final 2003 start for Gene Haas' eponymous squad.

Though disappointed, the team persevered to post a 27th-place finish in the final short-track event of the season.

45 cars competed for 43 starting spots Friday afternoon during qualifying for the race. Leffler posted a speed of 91.838 miles per hour around the .566-mile oval during his two-lap qualifying run, which earned him the 34th spot on the starting grid.

Leffler experienced a tight handling racecar for most of the Sunday's Subway 500. Crew chief Tony Furr and the team made adjustments to the car, including air pressure, wedge and track bar changes, during nearly every pit stop throughout the race.

Pit strategy helped Leffler run as high as fifth in the caution-filled event, but chances for a top-20 finish were dashed when Leffler was forced to duck down pit road after suddenly experiencing a flat left rear tire on Lap 322 while running in the 22nd spot.

The NetZero HiSpeed crew made quick work of the change and Leffler only lost two laps in the process. Leffler fell to 36th, but worked his way up to the 26th place by the time the chequered flag was shown.

"The NetZero HiSpeed Pontiac was too tight in the centre of the corners for most of the race," commented Leffler. "Tony made some good pit strategy calls that got us up near the front of the field, but there wasn't much we could do after we had the left rear tire go down. There was some hard racing out there, but we stayed out of trouble and made some good changes to the car. I wish we could have finished up there in the Top-20, which was where we belonged, but some days it's just not in the cards."

NASCAR veteran Ward Burton will be behind the wheel of the NetZero HiSpeed Pontiac beginning with the running of the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway this weekend as Leffler prepares for a full-time assault on the 2004 NASCAR Busch Series with Gene Haas' team.

Leffler will pilot the No. 00 Haas Automation Chevrolet in the Busch Series for the remaining four races on the 2003 schedule.



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