Darlington has special meaning for South Carolina native Jason Keller. NASCAR Busch Series title contender caught stock-car fever at famed track as a teenage fan DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2002) - Jason Keller returns to his home state this...
Darlington has special meaning for South Carolina native Jason Keller. NASCAR Busch Series title contender caught stock-car fever at famed track as a teenage fan
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Aug. 28, 2002) - Jason Keller returns to his home state this week and in the process returns to the place where his love of NASCAR originated.
The year was 1985. The event was the Southern 500 at famed Darlington Raceway in Darlington, S.C.
Keller and his father Joe were looking to salvage a weekend. A go-kart race in which Keller was entered had been canceled, so father and son detoured on the way home to Greenville, S.C., to watch some stock-car racing. It was a good choice. That day they watched Bill Elliott win the"Winston Million", a $1 million bonus awarded (from 1985-97) to a driver winning at least three of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series' designated "major" events. (Daytona 500, Winston 500, World 600 and Southern 500 as they were then known.)
Keller was 15 years old at the time. Now he is 32 and chasing a huge bonus of his own. The 2002 NASCAR Busch Series champion's point fund bonus could approach $1 million; last year's champion Kevin Harvick got an $890,000 point fund bonus.
Keller (No. 57 Albertsons Ford) is second in the series points standings, 78 behind Greg Biffle (No. 60 Grainger Ford), coming into Saturday's South Carolina 200 at Darlington. His career-best finish in the standings was second in 2000.
Keller has never won at Darlington, in 18 previous starts. He has never even led a race there. But he has been in contention. His last four races on the 1.366-mile"egg-shaped" oval have resulted in top-five finishes. (He was fourth in this season's spring race.)
"I have looked forward to going back to Darlington since the spring... you would think I've won there before," he said." Being a South Carolina native, Darlington will always hold a special place in my heart.
A victory at Darlington would mean more to me than winning at Daytona."
Keller and Biffle are tied for the series lead in victories with four apiece. Keller might well be leading the championship chase, were it not for four"DNFs" (did not finish) over the last 3½ months. He comes into this week's race riding momentum from a solid performance at Bristol where he qualified on the pole and finished ninth after 200 laps of close-quarters battle.
Keller's Bristol run actually continued momentum that has been marred only by a DNF at Michigan International Speedway two weeks ago. Keller has finished in the top 10 in seven of his last eight races.
"I'm going into this race with such an open mind that I can't wait to see what we can do," Keller said."The Albertsons team has been so consistent at Darlington the last few races there, that I know we can contend for the win.
"I know the track is tough. I know the track is slick and I know it's tough to find grip.
"I just love the challenge of it all."