BUSCH: Daytona Test: Ford Racing Jason Keller interview

Busch Series Open Test Session January 21, 2002 Daytona International Speedway Testing for the Busch Series EAS/GNC Live Well 300 scheduled for February 16 kicked off today at Daytona International Speedway, and among the 18 competitors...

Busch Series Open Test Session
January 21, 2002
Daytona International Speedway

Testing for the Busch Series EAS/GNC Live Well 300 scheduled for February 16 kicked off today at Daytona International Speedway, and among the 18 competitors attending the first of two test sessions is pre-season championship favorite Jason Keller, who finished third in the 2001 final standings. Keller, who posted one win and 14 top-five finishes in 33 races last season, is looking to improve upon his seventh-place finish in last year's season-opener at the 2.5-mile speedway. Keller spoke about the importance of the test, the addition of Scott Riggs as his ppc Racing teammate and the state of the Busch Series for 2002.

JASON KELLER-57-Albertsons Ford Taurus

YOU ARE THE HIGHEST RETURNING POINTS FINISHER FROM LAST SEASON. ARE YOU MORE ANXIOUS OR EXCITED ABOUT GETTING BACK IN THE CAR?
"It's a lot more anticipation more than anything. You just want to get back going to get in the swing of things, and Daytona is so tough to get into the swing of things. It's a different style of racing than we're used to throughout the year. But, there's always excitement around Daytona whether you like it or you don't like it. This is one of the few places that's guaranteed to be exciting no matter what your situation is, and I think once we get back going, we'll be OK. Right now we're just trying to contain the excitement and enthusiasm and get into the routine we'll be using the entire year and not just here."

IS IT A DISADVANTAGE BEING IN THE FIRST OF THE TWO TEST SESSIONS?
"I think it's a little bit more of an advantage for us because we want to get this out of the way and go test at Darlington next week. We really want to test one place for our open motors to try to get a little bit of a feel for our new motor program. That's what we're going to do at Darlington next week. I'm not saying that we just want to get this over with, but we want to get this one out of our way and really focus on some things next week."

YOUR TEAMMATE SCOTT RIGGS IS IN THE SECOND TEST SESSION. WITH ONLY ONE DAY SEPARATING THE TWO SESSIONS, CAN HE APPLY WHAT YOU LEARN OVER THE NEXT 48 HOURS TO HIS CAR?
"I'm sure there are some things they can apply. They won't be able to change much aerodynamically before they get down here, but they can use the gearing combinations that we find most successful. I think that they'll have a little bit better starting place than us because we'll try some things, and if we know that they definitely don't work, then they won't waste their time. On the flip side, since we will have tried some things and ruled some things out, maybe they'll get further along and we can learn from them when they come back to the shop. I look at it as 96 hours of testing between the two teams rather than 48 hours if we were both here at the same time. I think it's a win-win situation. More than anything else, we want to get as much done as we can. It's so hard to come in here for two days because the first day is almost shot by the time you go through tech, do the template drill and kinda figure out what you can and can't do and fix some things. Lunch rolls around real fast and it doesn't matter what time you get on the track, you're forced to sit out that hour. It's going to be a short afternoon, that's for sure."

YOU'RE ONE OF THE PRE-SEASON FAVORITES TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP THIS YEAR. ARE YOU FEELING A GREATER AMOUNT OF PRESSURE THIS YEAR?
"It's definitely new to me, but there are a lot of things that are the same when it comes to this team - the way the race car is and the way the race team is. It should be even stronger now than it ever has been, but only time will tell if we can put all those things together and gain a lot of points. It's nice to have a lot of things the same. You don't have to learn the crew and you don't have to learn the manufacturer, like we had to at the beginning of last year. That in itself is going to make us a lot stronger."

DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE AHEAD OF THE GAME THIS YEAR?
"We're a lot further ahead than I ever have been. I don't know if you can ever get ahead of the game, but we're a lot further along than we ever have been."

YOU'RE FORCED TO TAKE ON A NEW ROLE WITHIN THE PPC RACING ORGANIZATION THIS YEAR WITH THE ADDITION OF A ROOKIE TEAMMATE, SCOTT RIGGS. ARE YOU COMFORTABLE WITH THAT ROLE?
"It's going to be a little bit of a different role for me as far as I think he will lean on me a little more because I have been at these tracks a number of times that he hasn't been to. But I've been here a long time, and if I can't do it by now, then I can't do it. I think Scott is enough of a talent that he will contribute back to this whole organization right away. We want two strong teams. We don't want one strong team and one weak team; that's not going to do any of us any good. We need two strong teams, and that's going to make both of us better."

THE ONLY CHANGE TO THE NO.57 TEAM THIS YEAR IS THE SWITCH TO YATES MOTORS.
"That's not going to be much of an adjustment. We know that they have a great motor program, so we just want to make sure all of our gearings are the way that they were last year. We want to make sure that our notes from last year stay the same and that all of this spills over. That's why we really want to get an open race track test in before the beginning of the season. I think that test at Darlington will tell us if we can use our notes from last year or if we have to adjust on them."

DO YOU FEEL THAT THIS TESTING FORMAT BASED OFF OF OWNER POINTS IS A BETTER GAUGE ON THE COMPETITIVENESS BETWEEN MANUFACTURERS?
"I don't think it's a gauge at all because I think some of them may be sandbagging, but that's just the way it is. That and the fact you see some teams with two different makes doesn't make it any easier."

THE PONTIACS SEEM TO COME OUT OF THE WOODWORK AT THE SUPERSPEEDWAYS.
"They definitely have an aero-advantage here, but there are 32 races that aren't held on superspeedways, so you can't get caught up in that too much. This is just one race, and, yes, we want to come down here and do well and we expect to come down here and do well, but for us, we need to focus on the big picture and that's 34 races. I'm not going to cry about anything, but when we go to Rockingham and wear them out, I don't want them crying about the Fords."

YOU ARE ONE OF THE MOST CONSISTENT DRIVERS ON THE CIRCUIT. YOU DON'T PILE UP THE MOST WINS EACH SEASON, BUT YOU ARE CONSISTENTLY POSTING TOP-FIVE FINISHES. CAN YOU DO THAT AGAIN THIS YEAR AND WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"We have to get some more wins this year to contend for the championship. Most of the guys that win the championship win four, five or six races a year and that's something we need to focus on. We've let a couple slip away from us over the past two seasons, so we just need to be more calculating and not let any slip away. If we get all that's coming to us, we'll be OK. We just need to be real smart and calculating."

THE BUSCH SERIES RACE AT DAYTONA ONLY HAS ONE ROUND OF QUALIFYING THIS YEAR. HOW DOES THAT AFFECT HOW YOU APPROACH QUALIFYING AND THE RACE?
"It's a little bit different. I just saw the schedule today and it's a little different. Usually, we don't get on the race track on Thursday, but that's fine, it will allow us to get in race trim a day early. I just hope we have a good field. I hope this isn't happening because they are anticipating a small field. There aren't a whole lot of cars here today and it doesn't look like there are going to be a lot of cars here at the end of the week. Hopefully there are some teams that show up in February that aren't here testing. We still have a few weeks left, and if some teams don't make it here, maybe they'll test at Talladega beforehand."

THERE WAS CONCERN SHOWN AT THE BEGINNING OF LAST YEAR IN TERMS OF THE CAR COUNT AT THE BUSCH RACES. DO YOU FEEL THAT THIS YEAR WILL SEE A FURTHER DECREASE IN THE NUMBER OF COMPETITORS OR DO YOU SEE A RECOVERY?
"I think we're still left questioning it because of the way the economy is right now. I don't think it has anything to do with the series, but the way the economy is. I think more than any other sport, NASCAR is a barometer for the economy. When things start getting bad, companies have to cut back on certain things and sponsorships always seem the first to go. Only time will tell. In years past, when the economy turns around, you see more companies get back into the sport and hopefully that will be the case later in the year. Hopefully the economy doesn't suffer so long that it has a long-term effect on the sport."

THERE WERE A FEW TEAMS THAT SHOWED UP EVERY RACE LAST YEAR JUST TO FILL THE FIELD. IS THERE A NEED TO SHORTEN THE FIELD TO 36 CARS?
"I don't know about that. That's definitely an issue that I don't have to deal with and don't want to deal with. It's tough because I've been there when I was going through the ranks and was trying to qualify for races and couldn't make races. I'm not going to totally complain about those guys. If they're really there to try to learn and do the best with what they have, that's OK. If they're there just to fill the field, then I have a little bit of a problem with that. You just have to draw the line at what's really good for the sport, and that something for people above me to decide."

-ford racing-

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Jason Keller , Scott Riggs