This Week in Ford Racing
November 9, 2004
NASCAR Busch Series
Jason Keller, driver of the No. 22 Taurus, returns home to his native South Carolina this weekend hoping to notch his first victory at the 1.366-mile oval. Keller, who has a second-place finish to his credit at the egg-shaped track, spoke about the historical importance of Darlington and his situation for next season.
JASON KELLER -22-Miller High Life Ford Taurus
YOU RECENTLY SURPASSED THE $9 MILLION MARK IN CAREER BUSCH SERIES EARNINGS. IS THERE A SENSE OF ACCOMPLISHMENT BEING THE FIRST DRIVER TO REACH THAT MARK?
"Several people have asked me about that, but I kind of find it hard to look at those milestones because I still feel that I'm young in my career. It's nice to accomplish those goals and it's nice to be the first one, and I'm sure as I look back on those things later in my career I'll probably appreciate them more. It's a huge goal. I look back at what I won the very first race, and to come from $500 to $9 million is a pretty big comment."
BEING A SOUTH CAROLINA NATIVE, WHAT IS THE LEVEL OF IMPORTANCE THAT YOU PUT ON RACING AT DARLINGTON?
"It's huge. Me being a South Carolina boy, I've always put a lot of pressure on myself to go to Darlington and run well. There are a lot of friends and family that don't get to see me race all over the country through the year that come to Darlington. It's a huge South Carolina race for us and there aren't going to be a lot of South Carolina drivers in the field, so I'm kind of carrying the home state banner."
DOES THE FACT THAT NEXT YEAR'S RACE FALLS ON MOTHER'S DAY WEEKEND MAKE UP ANY OF THE SIGNIFICANCE OF LOSING THE LABOR DAY WEEKEND DATE?
"It will but it won't ever be the same. We always spent that weekend at Darlington and families have always spent that weekend there. I'm not saying that it's a bad thing that NASCAR changed the date, they changed it for their own reasons, but I just don't think that it will have the same feel that it always had."
DO YOU FEEL NASCAR IS MOVING AWAY FROM THE ROOTS OF RACING AND MIGHT JEOPARDIZE ALIENATING SOME OF ITS FANS?
"There's no question that they're moving away from the roots of racing, but I think the question that is better served is: Are it moving away too fast? I can't answer that because every time we question what NASCAR does, whether it's the points system, the schedule or whatever, I think they have a big crystal ball in Daytona because they seem to make the right calls at the right times. I'd rather go to Darlington twice and Rockingham twice because it's comfortable for us and convenient for us, but if I'm representing a major sponsor, we need to be in those major markets, too; I can see both sides of it."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CHASE FORMAT IN NEXTEL CUP, AND ARE YOU IN FAVOR OF IMPLEMENTING THAT SYSTEM IN THE BUSCH SERIES?
"I'm in favor of it because it has brought a lot of excitement to Cup racing. Now if I was the 8 car I wouldn't want it. The flip side of that is I look at what Jamie McMurray has done. He'd be inside the top 10 in points right now if the old system was still in place. I don't think we can look at what it has done over there to justify bringing it to our series. It's brought a lot of excitement and it's been good and I think it would bring a lot of excitement here. Realistically, you only have two guys in our series that can win the championship and it'd be nice to have more guys battling for it."
WHAT IS YOUR STATUS FOR NEXT SEASON?
"This is a lot of activity, but to say that I'm any closer I think would be a little bit of a stretch. There is a lot of activity and a lot of talk. I haven't ruled out the truck series and there are some things going on over there. I'd like to stay in the Busch Series and hopefully I can, and hopefully I can get something worked out with a Ford team."
ARE THE VETERAN DRIVERS BEING SHUFFLED OUT OF THE SERIES FOR YOUNG TALENT?
"There's no doubt about that. The writing is on the wall there. When I've talked to some of these teams they tell me that if they weren't going to use it as a development deal that I'd be at the top of their list. And, that's frustrating in a lot of ways, but it is what it is and I have to put myself in the best situation I can possibly put myself into, and I think there are some really good possibilities out there and they all have to pan out. There are more opportunities out there than I originally thought, and that's a good thing."
WOULD YOU CONSIDER TAKING A PART-TIME DRIVING ROLE?
"At this stage of the game I am only focusing on what I consider the potential for full-time deals. I'm not saying that's all I'll do, but right now, I haven't really focused on any part-time deals."
IS THE TRUCK SERIES NOW THE PLACE FOR VETERAN DRIVERS TO COMPETE?
"It looks like there's a lot of veteran drivers over there with Hamilton, Musgrave and all of those guys. There's a lot of experience over there and those guys race. They race hard and they race 25 times a year and they go to big markets now. I've never been over there, but it's something that I'm definitely looking at. I'm 34 years old, which I consider to be young and I feel like I can grow with an organization but you have to fulfill their needs. They have young 20-year-olds in their eye and that's just what it is."
WHAT IS YOUR IDEAL SITUATION FOR NEXT SEASON?
"It really depends on the sponsorship situation. This sport is so driven by sponsors. If the sponsor says we want that young guy in there then you have to give them what they want. I hope to be paired with a veteran next year and I think that I'm more successful by doing that. I just feel like I can feed off a veteran more, but on the flip side, I have been in this sport for a long time and I can give to a rookie when maybe another guy can't because I've been to all of these places and I know how the racing is supposed to be. If you ask me what I'd rather do, I'd rather be with a veteran two-car operation, but if some of these owners want a veteran in there to mentor a rookie, then I'll do that too."