NASCAR Busch Series Jason Keller, driver of the No. 57 Taurus, has methodically climbed his way up the NASCAR Busch Series standings the past few races and has hopes of continuing that trend this weekend. Sixteen races into the season, Keller...
NASCAR Busch Series
Jason Keller, driver of the No. 57 Taurus, has methodically climbed his way up the NASCAR Busch Series standings the past few races and has hopes of continuing that trend this weekend. Sixteen races into the season, Keller sits fifth in the point standings, 125 points out of the lead, as the series heads to The Milwaukee Mile. Keller shared his thoughts on the health of the series, his relationship with his crew chief, Steve Addington, and the progress of his ppc Racing teammate, Scott Riggs.
JASON KELLER-57-Albertsons Ford Taurus
THERE HAVE BEEN SUGGESTIONS THAT IN ORDER TO LOWER THE IMPACT OF LAPPED TRAFFIC IN THE BUSCH SERIES RACES THAT THE FIELD SHOULD BE SHORTENED. WHAT ARE YOU THOUGHTS ON SHORTENING THE FIELDS FOR BUSCH RACES?
"When I started it was 34 or 36 cars in the starting field. It was actually fewer cars, and it was tougher to make the race. I think that made me, in some sense, a better driver because I had to go faster to get in the race. I had to push it a little bit more to get in the race. But, I did miss some races early in my career. There just doesn't need to be such a large gap from the fastest qualifier to the last qualifier, whatever the last qualifier is, if it's 36th- fastest or 30th-fastest. Whatever that number is, there just doesn't need to be a tremendous amount of spread because there's nowhere to hide on the race track. I use that scenario a lot, but there's nowhere to hide. When the groove is right around the bottom, everybody is going to be right around the bottom, and if you catch a guy and you're 10 mph faster than he is, it's going to cause problems. Right now the rule is as it is, and I don't mind it being the top 36 qualifiers as long as the top 36 are within some sort of reasonable time."
SHOULD THERE BE A MINIMUM SPEED ESTABLISHED FOR QUALIFYING JUST AS THERE IS FOR THE RACE?
"I think so. I think a scenario that needs to be investigated. When I came into the series back with my dad, if you were a half-second off, you missed the race. There wasn't a two-second spread. I don't want to say it was a lot tougher back then, but to qualify you had to really pick up the pace; you had to be pretty close. The number of cars doesn't scare me as much as how slow some of the qualifiers are from 30 on back. I think there needs to be some sort of percentage to work out so they're not quite as slow as they are."
IS THE SERIES STILL HURTING FROM THE NASCAR-MANDATED ENGINE PACKAGE THAT CHANGED THE COMPRESSION RATIOS FROM 9:1 TO 12:1 AT THE START OF THE 2001 SEASON?
"I'm not so sure that's playing such a factor as much as the economy is. I honestly feel like it's the economy. Some sponsors are unsure about which way the economy is going. I'm even getting very selective in my investments. I think as far the economy goes, there aren't an abundance of sponsors to get some of these teams the necessary funding."
WHAT IS YOUR INTERPRETATION OF THE RULE OF RACING BACK TO THE CAUTION FLAG?
"In some of those situations, like passing back to the caution, NASCAR leaves it up to the drivers. Some drivers race hard back to the cautions and some are more gentleman about it. What that rule is doing is making everybody race back to the cautions. That one right there will probably cause some accidents before they have another rule to fix it."
YOUR TEAMMATE, SCOTT RIGGS, SAT ATOP THE POINT STANDINGS FOR ONE WEEK FOLLOWING HIS WIN AT NASHVILLE. DID YOU EXPECT HIM TO AVOID A SOPHOMORE SLUMP AND CONTRIBUTE MORE TO THE ORGANIZATION THIS SEASON NOW THAT HE'S LOST THE ROOKIE STRIPE?
"I think so. Riggs, his deal fell about midway through last year, and he kind of gets the bad rap for it, but it wasn't anything of his doing. I look for Scott, and that's one of the reasons why I mention him in the championship contender category, I look for Scott to do really good things. Doug Randolph, his crew chief, I like what I see there and I've seen him around the shop and I've e talked to him a lot. I think one of the main competitors in the Busch Series will be right in the same shop that I'm in."
YOU HAVE BEEN TEAMED WITH STEVE ADDINGTON FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS. IS THAT RELATIONSHIP STILL PROSPERING?
"It's just a great combination. Any time you can go and know what each other is talking about and how we're talking about it. It's just a fantastic combination. But no matter how long you're together, sometimes you hit a rut and need to go test and do some things to get back on track. We know that it's not going to be all rosy. We know that there are going to be some ups and downs, and there's going to be a lot of competition, but I wouldn't take it any other way. I'd take my combination to run for the championship over anybody else's. I look at what we did in 2002 and had we not had a couple of mechanical failures and maybe a couple of breaks go our way, we could have easily have won the championship. It wasn't like we were way, way off in 2002, and I feel like we can continue to make that better and be better in 2003."
DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU GAVE AWAY THE CHAMPIONSHIP LAST SEASON WITH SOME MISSED OPPORTUNITIES?
"I think Kansas City set the tone. We were within 30 points and running in the top five most of the day to have a mechanical failure. It did set the tone for the remainder of the season. I don't want to say we gave it away because it wasn't anything intentional. Our mechanical failures, they weren't the same all of the races. We had three different mechanical failures in the engine, but it wasn't a lack of preparation on the engine part or a lack of preparation on anyone's part. It was just things that came up and bit us. Michigan is a prime example. Biffle was the first car out and we're running third with 20 laps to go and have a mechanical failure. That's when we could have truly capitalized, but we weren't able to."
WITH YOUR CONTINUED SUCCESS AND COMMITMENT TO THE BUSCH SERIES OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU'RE THE ELDER STATESMAN?
"Ron (Hornaday) is a whole lot older than I am. I've chose to stay in the Busch Series to wait on the right opportunity. I've chosen to stay in the Busch Series because I do want a championship. I don't think that's anything to hide. I like my chances and I like my chances to try to win a championship, and it's very important to me. I hate to say that I've stayed in it so long to win a championship and get so close so many times and not do it. I'm really pushing towards that. I don't know when my Busch Series competition is going to end, but I'm not as old as Ron."
YOU'VE BEEN GIVEN TO OPPORTUNITY TO RUN THE CHICAGOLAND RACE IN THE WINSTON CUP RACE.
"I see it as a great opportunity for me because I can still focus on the Busch car and the Busch Series, but see what the Winston Cup Series is about. You never know until you get over there. It may not be for me, or it may be the perfect thing for me. You don't know. Actually Ford was gracious enough to give me the go-ahead to do this, and ppc was gracious enough. It is a one-race opportunity for me to test the waters and see what the Winston Cup Series is about. Is it a sign of things to come? I don't know. Everybody can read in it what they want to, but it's truly a one-race opportunity for me to go and test with a Winston Cup team, for me to race for a Winston Cup team and for me to see what it's like."
ARE THERE ANY DISCUSSIONS ABOUT RUNNING A FEW WINSTON CUP RACES IN A PPC RACING CAR?
"We've talked about it over the last couple of years, and we just haven't been able to put the financial funding together. I'd love to do that. I'd love nothing more than to do that. That would make me so comfortable and it would be just great for me to do that. It's just so hard to find any financial backing and it seems that all of our financial backing has been found for the Busch Series, so we haven't had that opportunity. I would love to, though. Are there plans? We've kicked it around for the past couple of years. I think that was why everyone said, 'Let's give Jason the right to do this Winston Cup deal' because we haven't been able to put together anything at ppc. We'll see what happens."