Phoenix: Jason Keller race report

Top-10 Finish Cut Short in the Closing Laps of the Basha's Supermarket 200 (April 11, 2008) Avondale, Ariz. -- Jason Keller and the America's Incredible Pizza Company race team had a lot to look forward to Friday evening. The crew worked ...

Top-10 Finish Cut Short in the Closing Laps of the Basha's Supermarket 200

(April 11, 2008) Avondale, Ariz. -- Jason Keller and the America's Incredible Pizza Company race team had a lot to look forward to Friday evening. The crew worked relentlessly to turn around some handling issues during practice and that hard work paid off. Keller posted the seventh quickest qualifying time and it was apparent right from the start the No. 11 America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevy was a car to take seriously on-track. The story that would unfold from the green flag would bring about a lot of high's and low's for the team. In the end, a blown motor would be their demise and the team had to settle for a 32nd place finish.

CJM Racing arrived in the "Valley of the Sun" Wednesday morning to prepare for Friday evening's race under the lights. This would mark the first evening race for the NASCAR Nationwide Series this season.

The No. 11 America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet took to the track Thursday for two practice sessions and battled with handling in the corners. They opted against running mock qualifying runs and focused on race trim. By the day's end, Keller posted the 23rd quickest time with 28.210 seconds, 127.614 mph.

The crew worked on every aspect of the race car following the practice sessions and those changes proved beneficial as Keller was able to post the seventh quickest time in qualifying the following day. This marks the highest qualifying run for the team this season.

"I know I say it all the time but I really give these guys a lot of credit. They work long hours and work hard to get things right on these race cars. We just weren't happy with the handling of the race car after practice and they did everything they could to get the handling to where it needed to be," Keller remarked following qualifying.

As the sun began to set, 43-cars settled in for 200 laps under the desert sky. The 200-lap event would turn out to be anything but typical for the America's Incredible Pizza Company race team.

Keller and the No. 11 America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet started out strong despite a free in and tight off handling issue. The crew made their way down pit road on lap 34 for four tires, fuel and an air pressure adjustment. Keller restarted in the 11th position where the track action heated up and an on-track altercation with the No. 64 driven by David Stremme occurred. The damage to the right front fender was severe and the team came down pit road a total of four times for fender repair all while remaining on the lead lap.

On lap 82 the No. 11 machine was displayed in the 31st position and Keller began his quest to the front. It would take 80 laps before the America's Incredible Pizza Company race car was back up into the top-10. Keller passed 21 cars under green flag conditions and was the fastest race car on-track as the laps slowly dwindled down.

With 35 laps to go it became apparent that the No. 11 would need to pit a final time for fuel. Todd Gordon made the call to bring the America's Incredible Pizza Company machine in the final 10 laps for a quick fuel stop. As luck would have it, a caution flag waved on lap 178 enabling the team to get some much needed fuel. The events that occurred at that given moment altered the outcome of the race. Excitement turned to disappointment as Keller radioed in, "we just blew up."

The No. 11 entered pit road and upon a quick review it was evident that the evening would be cut short. Keller slowly coaxed the America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet into the garage area where it would remain for the rest of the race.

"It's heartbreaking. We had a strong race car. There was no doubt we could have finished in the top-10. At least we get to come back here (Phoenix) again later this year. We'll get it the second time around," a disappointed Keller remarked.

-credit: cjm

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Series NASCAR-NS