St. Louis: Jason Keller race report

CJM Racing Scores Their First Top-Five of the Season at Gateway (July 18, 2008) Madison, Ill. -- The America's Incredible Pizza Company race team has worked hard over the course of the 2008 season and the results proved it Saturday night...

CJM Racing Scores Their First Top-Five of the Season at Gateway

(July 18, 2008) Madison, Ill. -- The America's Incredible Pizza Company race team has worked hard over the course of the 2008 season and the results proved it Saturday night under the lights at Gateway. The team, in their first full season in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, qualified the No. 11 machine in the seventh position and then followed that up with a third place finish in the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250. The third place finish marked the first top-five for the CJM Racing organization since they hit the series last year.

Jason Keller is no stranger to Gateway International Raceway. Entering the event Saturday evening Keller's statistics spoke volumes. He has the most starts at the 1.25-mile facility (10), the most top-five finishes (6) and the most top-10 finishes (7) out of any active driver in the Nationwide Series. With that said, the expectations were certainly high heading into the event.

The America's Incredible Pizza Company race team unloaded one of their most dominate chassis' Friday morning and quickly got to work. After getting through technical inspection, Keller climbed into the No. 11 America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet for two practice sessions. In the first session Keller posted the 14th quickest time with a 34.416 second run, 130.753 mph. The team opted to forgo making a mock qualifying run in final practice and ended up 20th on the board with a 34.404 second run, 130.799 mph.

"We've put our focus on making the car race ready during the practice sessions. Over the last month or so we've opted to not make mock qualifying runs and so far it has worked out for us. Our qualifying hasn't suffered and we've had some solid finishes," explained crew chief Todd Gordon.

Early Saturday evening 47 cars went out one-by-one for qualifying. Keller was the 25th driver to make a two-lap qualifying run and was able to place the America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet in the seventh position for the race under the lights.

Shortly after the nine o'clock hour that evening, the green flag waved to signify the start of the Missouri-Illinois Dodge Dealers 250. Keller and 42 other cars kept it clean and avoided any on-track incidents.

After 20 laps, NASCAR displayed the yellow flag for a mandatory competition caution. Keller quickly came over the radio to describe the handling of the America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet. "There is no rear grip. Not entering, in the middle or on exit. Plus the front end is not turning at all. I don't know what has happened since practice but this car is completely different."

While some teams opted for fuel or two tires only, Todd Gordon called Keller down pit road for four tires, fuel, a track bar adjustment and a major change in air pressure.

The risky decision on a four tire stop paid off as Keller was able to quickly maneuver thru the field and gain back track position. The handling became less of an issue and Keller reported in that the front end was getting tighter as the laps continued but the rear grip was much better.

Three more pit stops were made on laps 64,112 and 142 as the 200-lap event continued. Gordon called for air pressure adjustments on all the stops to help rectify the front end handling woes.

A combination of quick work in the pit area, great calls on adjustments and Keller's aggressive drive to the front allowed the No. 11 America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet to race thru the field and never fall out of the top-10 for the second half of the race.

By the end of the evening the America's Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet was running lap times consistent with the leader. Keller moved up to the third position with 30 laps remaining and was able to maintain the position as the checkered flag flew on lap 200.

"I'm so pleased with the way things turned out tonight. A top-five finish for us is huge. These guys work so hard and Todd made some great calls tonight. It's a great feeling," Keller exclaimed.

-credit: cjm

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