This Week in Ford Racing May 21, 2002 NASCAR Busch Grand National Jason Keller captured his fourth win in 12 races this season last weekend at Nazareth Speedway. The victory also propelled Keller to the top of the Busch Series point standings...
This Week in Ford Racing
May 21, 2002
NASCAR Busch Grand National
Jason Keller captured his fourth win in 12 races this season last weekend at Nazareth Speedway. The victory also propelled Keller to the top of the Busch Series point standings for the fourth time this season. Keller, who entered the season with five Busch Series wins in an 11-year career, is close to doubling that win total in the 2002 season alone. Also notable is the fact that Keller captured ppc Racing's sixth win of the season, Robert Yates Racing's sixth consecutive win as an engine supplier and Ford Racing's ninth win of the season. Keith Barnwell, general manager of ppc racing and team owner for the No. 57 Albertsons Ford, spoke about the off-season changes at ppc Racing, not only within the organization, but the attitude of the team's senior driver as well.
KEITH BARNWELL, General Manager-ppc Racing:
HOW BIG OF AN ACCOMPLISHMENT WAS LAST WEEKEND'S ONE-TWO FINISH AT NAZARETH? "To be honest, that is one of the things right now that guys are as proud of that as anything they've ever done because we tried for three years with Jeff (Green) and it never happened. We've finished first and third a couple of times in the past three years, but we've never gone one and two, and in the 12th race with Scott (Riggs) and Jason (Keller), we've gone one and two and it's a huge sense of pride for this organization. We've got great Victory Lane photos that have both drivers, both crew chiefs and both teams, and that's something that we're really proud of."
AS AN ORGANIZATION, YOU'VE WON SIX OF THE FIRST 12 RACES OF THE SEASON. WAS THAT IMAGINABLE AT THE START OF THE SEASON? "Not at all. I think our goal when we started the year, and our goal when we start every year is to start with the hopes of having a championship year with both teams, and hopefully you get it with one. We knew Jason Keller was ready to step up because of some of the preparations in the off-season by he and the team. But, I don't think we were ever prepared for the way he has taken to it by storm. And Jason will be the first to tell you that it's a total team effort. He has benefited by having Scott here. That's not to take anything away from Jeff, but it is a different atmosphere. These guys have worked great together and they enjoy each other's company; they're just like our two teams - they work great together. I think that Jason said his goal - and when we he started the season he had five career wins - was to double his career wins at the end of this year, and I think he's going to do it."
WHAT HAS BEEN THE BIGGEST CHANGE IN JASON KELLER FROM LAST SEASON TO THIS YEAR THAT HAS ALLOWED HIM TO STEP UP TO THE NEXT LEVEL? "That's tough because I think several things happened. We challenged him over the off-season. We do a big management conference every year out in Keystone, Colorado. This year we took Greg (Pollex) and myself, both crew chiefs, both drivers and our team engineer. When we went out there we all talked for three days about goals and accomplishments and things that we wanted to do. We challenged Jason to lead this race organization. I think he went home, thought about it and has accepted the role of being the senior member of ppc Racing. We want him to have input and to tell us his thoughts about everything. If you're not happy, don't be passive; tell us what's wrong. If the car is not turning, tell us about it, let us know. That along with Harold (Holly) and Steve (Addington) working together has made all the difference. The beauty of having two really good teams and two really good crew chiefs is that they do talk together. Steve can go over to Harold and say, 'We're not turning in the center good,' and Harold can do the same thing and the other one can offer his advice. We're not all egoed up over here to where we don't ask for help when we need it. I think that's very important."
RUMORS ABOUT THE DEPARTURE OF JEFF GREEN FROM PPC STARTED EARLY IN THE SEASON LAST YEAR. JASON KELLER'S NAME HAS BEEN MENTIONED IN THE RUMOR MILL AS A REPLACEMENT IN A WINSTON CUP RIDE. AS AN ORGANIZATION, HOW DO YOU DEAL WITH THESE SITUATIONS AND MAINTAIN THE TEAM'S FOCUS? "It's gotten kinda comical. With Jeff, it was really kind of different because he went ahead and got in the car, so we had a pretty good idea that he was leaving. With Jason, Jason Keller tells me that if we sign a sponsor, he intends to be in the 57 car. Now, if Jason gets an offer from Robert Yates or DEI, he has to look at it. If he gets these offers, that means once again that we've done our job. We're a Busch Grand National team and we prepare people to take the next step to go to the next level. We did an awesome job of preparing Jeff Green to move on and that's what he did. Now, Jason is a little bit different to where I believe that Jason Keller really enjoys his race team, he enjoys being here and he enjoys the Busch Series. If we do our job and get a sponsor signed, we expect that Jason will be back with us again. Now if he doesn't, and this is where it gets funny, people called me last year every day - drivers, media, crew members - and said, 'Hey, Jeff is leaving, what are you going to do?' I'll tell you what we're going to do, we're going to race. I had people call me two weeks ago and say, 'What are you going to do if Jason leaves?' My response was the same: 'We're going to race.' We're a race team. Drivers come and they go. There's nothing crass about that at all. It's no different than any other business in the world. Here at the end of the street, we have a bank. They have people that go to work there and stay for two to three years, and they leave, too. If he leaves, we wish him the best of luck and all of the success in the world, but we sincerely hopes that he stays. That's kinda where we are right now."
GREG POLLEX HAS RUN A WINSTON CUP OPERATION BEFORE. IS THERE TALK ABOUT PUTTING JASON IN A CUP CAR? "We'd love to do that. We have options. Albertsons and Nestle have the option of running Cup races in their contracts, so either one of them could call on us to run some Cup races at any time. I think that at some point in time, we're going to have to run some Cup races to see if that's what we want to do, but we are committed to the Busch Series and we've been loyal, but with the way things are going in the Busch Series, with sponsorship and purses, we have to look at the Cup side as another alternative."
PPC RACING MADE THE OFF-SEASON SWITCH TO ROBERT YATES RACING MOTORS. HOW MUCH OF AN IMPACT HAS THAT MADE IN THE PERFORMANCE OF THE TWO RACE TEAMS? "We're ecstatic, totally ecstatic about the way those Yates motors have performed. To draw off of what I said before, we would like to be the right arm of Robert Yates Racing. If we could get in a situation where we could go run some Cup races in affiliation with Robert Yates Racing, then that's what we want to do. Doug and Robert Yates are great engine suppliers, and number two, they're great people. I think that's what has made this so successful. When people look at ppc Racing, I hope that somewhere, sometime down the line, they will look at us in the same light as Robert and Doug Yates. They're good, honest and hard-working people and we feel that that's what we're trying to emulate over here. I think it's a good fit for all parties. They've been a big part of early-season success, and with 34 races on the schedule, I'd sure like to win half of them. But I'd tell you like what I'd like to do, too - I'd like to go through and pick out the purses I want to win."