NASCAR Busch Grand National Jason Keller is in the midst of a career-defining season. Sure, the 32-year-old South Carolina native has finished the past two seasons with a top-three points finish, but Keller, an 11-year Busch Series...
NASCAR Busch Grand National
Jason Keller is in the midst of a career-defining season. Sure, the 32-year-old South Carolina native has finished the past two seasons with a top-three points finish, but Keller, an 11-year Busch Series veteran, only had five career Busch Series victories heading into the 2002 season. Already this season, he has nearly doubled that total, winning four times in the first 12 races. Even more impressive is that Keller, who currently sits second in the point standings heading into this weekend's race at Gateway International Raceway, is the only driver in the top five that has not fallen from the top five all year. Keller spoke about his season to date and the announcement that he along with his current sponsor, Albertsons, would once again team up in 2003 on the Busch circuit.
JASON KELLER-57-Albertsons Ford Taurus
YOU HAVEN'T BEEN TO VICTORY LANE SINCE NEW HAMPSHIRE, BUT YOU REMAIN IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP HUNT.
"Consistency is what it's going to take. Wins are nice, and we definitely want to win more races, but we know that sometimes you're going to get beat on fuel mileage and things like that, and you have to be consistent and stay consistent and that's what our focus is really on."
WITH THE BATTLE DEVELOPING BETWEEN YOU AND GREG BIFFLE FOR THE POINTS LEAD, DO YOU BASE YOUR RACE STRATEGY OFF OF WHAT HE'S DOING?
"No, I don't think you can start doing that. You're aware of those things, but his fuel mileage is going to be different from mine, and you just have to stay within your own game. I don't think you can start dictating what we do and what he does because we have different engine builders and things of that nature."
FUEL MILEAGE ASIDE, DO YOU LOOK AT WHAT THEY'RE DOING IN TERMS OF PIT STRATEGY AND LET THAT INFLUENCE WHAT YOU MAY DO?
"We haven't yet. Now, if we get down toward Homestead and things get really, really tight, we may, but we haven't gotten into focusing on what Biffle is doing, and I'm sure he's not just focusing on what we're doing. Not yet anyway."
YOU ANNOUNCED LAST WEEKEND THAT YOU WILL RETURN TO THE NO. 57 CAR WITH YOUR CURRENT SPONSOR FOR ANOTHER SEASON. HOW IMPORTANT WAS IT FOR YOU TO GET THAT DEAL DONE TO REMOVE ANY OUTSIDE DISTRACTIONS FROM YOUR TEAM?
"It was a big deal. I've re-signed with Albertsons in the Busch Series along with ppc Racing; I'm pretty excited about that. I think the earlier we do it the better because now we don't have any distractions. I know where I'm going to be next year and I know that we're going to have a sponsor next year and there are a lot of things that we don't have to worry about. We don't have to focus on different things; we can focus on the task at hand. Biffle knows where he's going to be next year, although he's not going to be in the Busch Series, he doesn't have a whole of distractions, either. It's going to be real tough going down the stretch battling with our two teams battling, but it was real important for me to get our program out together for next year before we close out the year. I think when we go to Daytona next year - and this will only be the third year of our deal - but we will probably have one of the longest running driver-sponsor relationships in the Busch garage. I think that says a lot about this organization and what we're trying to accomplish on a yearly basis. "
IS THERE ANY CHANCE OF RUNNING A FEW CUP RACES NEXT YEAR?
"There's a lot of hope that we can get something put together, but sponsorship is going to decide that. I haven't heard any further, talks or anything, about talking to sponsors about doing that. The team, I know we want to do a couple of races, but we have to just make it happen."
DO YOU FEEL CONFIDENT THAT YOU CAN TAKE YOUR CURRENT TEAM TO THE WINSTON CUP LEVEL AND BE COMPETITIVE?
"I think collectively as a race team, we can get the job done. It's going to be tough to do; it's going to be tough to make happen. I'll put my guys up against anybody. I think we have enough resources at ppc Racing, we could run a couple of races. We would have to test and do a lot of things, but I think we could go, make the race and be competitive."
YOU WERE RUMORED TO HAVE HAD AN OPPORTUNITY IN WINSTON CUP NEXT YEAR. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE TO STAY IN THE BUSCH SERIES?
"The Busch Series really fits my lifestyle. It fits my lifestyle with my family. I'm at lunch with my family on a Tuesday afternoon and we're getting ready to see a movie. Those are the kinds of things that I enjoy. The Busch Series is demanding and there are a lot of things that you have to do, but there again, the Winston Cup Series is three or four times more demanding than the Busch Series. I look at it as a whole. Naturally, I would definitely take the opportunity if the right Winston Cup opportunity came along, but it hasn't, so I'm just really focusing on what we're doing here at ppc Racing."
THE NEXT THREE RACES - ST. LOUIS, PIKES PEAK AND INDIANAPOLIS - YOU FINISHED IN THE TOP FIVE AT ALL THREE VENUES LAST YEAR. HOW IMPORTANT ARE THESE NEXT THREE RACES IN YOUR QUEST FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP?
"I am definitely looking forward to these next three races. I've got some great memories of St. Louis last year, racing with Harvick there late in the race. I typically run well at Pikes Peak, and I've won twice at Indy, so the next three races, I've had a lot of success, but I'm excited about all of the tracks this year. We went to Chicago, a mile-and-a-half track, and we ran well there, something we didn't always do last year. There aren't really any places that we've gone to that we haven't run well. We've made some mistakes, and a few of the races have played out where we've had some problems, but our performance has been there every week. We just need to start capitalizing on it and continue to put ourselves in this points battle."
DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU'VE HAD YOUR SHARE OF BAD LUCK ALREADY THIS SEASON?
"We've gotten caught up in two accidents and had two DNFs that we had nothing to do with. It was a case of people wrecking in front of us or people hitting us and causing a wreck. I hadn't had but one DNF in the last 30-something starts, and I've had three in the last 10 races. And really only one of those was mechanically related that something we traced back that broke in the motor. Our consistency has been there over the last couple of years, but it seems like we've had some bad luck. We can't have any more down the stretch because either myself or Biffle, or maybe even Sprague or my teammate Scott Riggs, somebody from here on out, I feel like is going to have a run of really, really good races and pull themselves away from the field."