BUSCH: Jeff Keller could not catch teammate

In any other year but 2000, Keller would have been in prime position to win the Busch Series championship. However, Green's thorough dismantling of the entire series limited Keller to a second-place finish in the year-end standings, marking the ...

In any other year but 2000, Keller would have been in prime position to win the Busch Series championship. However, Green's thorough dismantling of the entire series limited Keller to a second-place finish in the year-end standings, marking the first top-5 points finish of his nine-year career.

"I think we had 13 top-5 runs this year," said Keller, who notched career-highs in top-5s and top-10s in 2000. "If someone would have told me at the beginning of the year that I'd finish in the top-5 13 times, I'd say I'm the champion. We beat everyone else by 300 points, so normally that would have been a championship year, but Jeff raised the bar a lot, lot higher."

While Green's six wins and record 25 top-5 finishes snagged most of the headlines away from his ppc Racing teammate, Keller made his fair share of noise as well. At Dover in June, Keller stole the lead from rookie Kevin Harvick midway through the 200-lap affair to notch career victory number four and extend his love affair with concrete racetracks. Of Keller's career win total, all but one have come on concrete racetracks.

After the Dover victory, the No. 57 team changed its focus - it was time for an all out assault on second place.

"Not many people realize it, but by midseason we were already 500 points behind Jeff, so being able to run and compete and try to catch him was virtually impossible," Keller said. "We were marred all the way back early in the season to 15th in the points. So we sat down as a group and said, 'Hey okay let's take this one race at a time and see where we end up.'

"From that Dover win on, we did that and really jumped back up through the points and only lost by 615 points, and I say 'only' because we were 500 behind by midseason. That's a big positive for us, because it showed us that if we're right all year long, we can compete week in and week out with the best there is in this Busch Series."

And that's what he did all year long. Keller ran up front at nearly every venue, including a Bristol thriller in the fall in which he overcame a stalled engine on the final caution to battle Harvick in a late-race dash to the checkers. That was the ?? top-5 run of his season. He'd never had more than six before. Top-5s, and not wins, are what make a championship team.

"Jeff's wins this year were certainly impressive, but the top-5s were way more impressive," Keller said. "To be that competitive that many times is unheard of. When you think about all the variables, all the crashes, all the mechanical failures that happen, and to finish that many times in the top-5, that's what every single racecar driver is striving for.

"I know how hard it is to finish in the top-5, and it's not easy. If you want to have any chance at a championship, it starts with top-5s." -nascar.com-

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Series NASCAR XFINITY