BUSCH: Fontana II: Jason Keller race report

Keller pilots Kleenex Ford Fusion to 17th in "Hot" Camping World 300 Veteran battles through extreme heat and handling issues for top twenty Fontana, CA (September 1, 2007) ... If you're a race fan who loves "hot" NASCAR Busch Series action,...

Keller pilots Kleenex Ford Fusion to 17th in "Hot" Camping World 300

Veteran battles through extreme heat and handling issues for top twenty

Fontana, CA (September 1, 2007) ... If you're a race fan who loves "hot" NASCAR Busch Series action, California Speedway was the track for you last weekend. The competition on the track in the Camping World 300 was as fierce as ever, but the extreme heat conditions made this race very difficult for drivers and crews. With temperatures soaring over 110 degrees and the heat index near 120, just "surviving" this event was a goal for many teams. Jason Keller not only survived, but drove the #27 Kleenex Ford Fusion to a 17th-place finish.

Practice began on Friday morning at California Speedway, and drivers and teams learned very quickly that the heat was going to be a major factor this weekend. Not only was it hot working conditions, but the heat made the 2-mile California Speedway very slick. Plus, the Busch Series teams would have two practice sessions before noon, then wait five hours to qualify shortly after five o'clock. Certainly, track conditions would be different.

Keller was the third driver to make his qualifying attempt, and responded with a fast lap of 41.430 seconds / 173.787 mph to earn the 29th starting position on the grid.

Saturday, heat conditions for race day were just as unbearable as the day before. Nevertheless, Keller quickly gained six positions in the first three laps before the initial caution of the 150-lap event waved. However, by lap 15, Keller was running 25th and reported to Crew Chief Newt Moore that his Kleenex Ford Fusion "had to run on the bottom of the track because it starts bouncing if I run a higher line". Ten laps later, Keller reported that the handling was "getting worse and his car will not turn". With constant encouragement from Moore, Keller was able to maintain his position until his first pit stop of the evening on lap 44. During this "green-flag stop", the Kleenex crew changed four tires, refueled, and made major adjustments to air pressure and the track bar. Keller reentered the race in 31st position, one lap down to the leader.

Keller was running 28th when the red flag was displayed to the field after a grinding crash by the #88 car in turn two. When the field went back under yellow conditions, Keller made another pit stop for tires, fuel, wedge, track bar, and air pressure adjustments. Keller would restart 26th on lap 74.

Still battling a handling condition, Keller stated that his Ford was "loose in, tight through the center and exit". When caution waved on lap 94 for another accident in turn two, Keller headed to pit road for fuel, tires, and a track bar adjustment. After the restart, Keller moved back into the top twenty on lap 101. During the next twenty-five laps, Keller battled for the "lucky dog" position, the first car one lap down to the leaders. Finally, on lap 138, caution waved and Keller received the "lucky dog" and was placed back on the lead lap in the 17th position. However, laps and time ran out with the #27 Kleenex Ford Fusion in the 17th position.

"Man, this was a really tough race," a tired Jason Keller stated after the race. "I'm really tired, but the team hung in there and we salvaged a decent finish. The car just would not run up off the bottom, the bouncing made it different to handle. I didn't have the best car tonight, but the Newt (Crew Chief Moore) and the Kleenex crew kept battling and making adjustments during the race to get us better. The hot conditions made it very difficult for everyone, and I appreciate the effort of this team under these conditions. It wasn't what any of us wanted, but we survived tonight."

The NASCAR Busch Series now heads east to Richmond International Raceway for the Emerson 250 on Friday night, September 7th. Essentially a one-day show, practice begins at 8:30 a.m. ET next Friday, with qualifying set for 4:05 p.m. ET. The 250-lap, 187.5-mile race is set for an 8:00 p.m. ET start. ESPN2 will provide television coverage with MRN and Sirius NASCAR Radio Channel 128 handling the radio broadcast. Bobby East will drive the #27 Kleenex Ford Fusion in the Emerson 250.

-credit: brewco

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Drivers Jason Keller , Bobby East