NASCAR veteran Jason Leffler, who made his first start of the year in the Sprint Cup Series last weekend at Pocono Raceway, was killed after a crash in a winged sprint car race in New Jersey on Wednesday night, New Jersey State Police officials confirmed.
He was 37.
Leffler was racing at Bridgeport Speedway in Swedesboro, a five-eighths-mile, high-banked dirt oval.
The NJSP launched an investigation into the accident, which is required by state law. The only information available on the accident was it involved "a malfunction of the car," police said.
Leffler was extracted from his car and airlifted to Crozer Chester Hospital in Chester, Pa., where he was pronounced dead at 9:02 p.m.
Leffler ran eight laps in Sunday's Sprint Cup Series race at Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa. It was his first start of the season in any of NASCAR's three national series.
"NASCAR extends its thoughts, prayers and deepest sympathies to the family of Jason Leffler who passed away earlier this evening," NASCAR said a statement.
"For more than a decade, Jason was a fierce competitor in our sport and he will be missed."
From 1990 to 2010, at least 382 drivers have died while racing in the United States, according to an Observer analysis of track deaths. Those include 196 deaths on small ovals and 95 deaths on drag strips.
At least seven drivers have died on New Jersey tracks since 1999, including two on small ovals, data show.
According to the Observer's records, the most recent small oval death in New Jersey took place in 2002 at Wall Township Speedway.
Leffler spent most of his decade-plus career in the Nationwide Series, running full schedules from 2006 to 2011. He had two wins, 42 top-five and 107 top-10 finishes.
His biggest break in NASCAR came in 2005, when Joe Gibbs Racing hired him to drive fulltime in the Cup series with a newly created team. Leffler, however, struggled from the beginning and was released after 19 starts.
Leffler began his career racing midget cars and was just the third driver to win three consecutive midget car championships.
He made his first and only start in the Indianapolis 500 in 2000 with Treadway Racing, with backing from Roger Penske's United Auto group.
Leffler qualified and finished 17th.
Leffler lived in Huntersville and is survived by 5-year-old son, Charlie Dean.
- By David Scott. ... Gavin Off contributed to this article.
Published in Charlotte Observer on June 14, 2013