This Week in Ford Racing May 18, 2004 NASCAR Busch Series After failing to post a top-five finish in the first nine races of the NASCAR Busch Series season, Jason Keller, driver of the No. 22 Taurus, has strung together two consecutive ...
This Week in Ford Racing
May 18, 2004
NASCAR Busch Series
After failing to post a top-five finish in the first nine races of the NASCAR Busch Series season, Jason Keller, driver of the No. 22 Taurus, has strung together two consecutive top-fives, including a fifth-place showing in last weekend's race at Richmond International Raceway. Currently sixth in the driver point standings, Keller returns Nazareth Speedway as a previous race winner for this weekend's Goulds Pumps ITT Industries 200. Keller, a South Carolina native, shared his feeling on NASCAR's realignment plans, and the progress his team has made under the leadership of crew chief Wes Ward.
JASON KELLER -22-ppc Racing Ford Taurus
IT APPEARS THAT YOUR TEAM HAS FOUND ITS STRIDE IN THE PAST FEW WEEKS.
"Someone asked me what I expected out of this year, and I just said I really hope we can stay in the game until we can get our act together, until we can learn our communication, so it's kind of going as planned as I had hoped it would. Naturally, we didn't get the performances at some of the race tracks that I had hoped for, but there's so much new. We really had to work through some issues. We still have some tough race tracks for me coming up, but hopefully we can jump those hurdles, and it's nice to run good at St. Louis and Richmond to give us a boost of confidence that we can communicate well and perform well. It's got our juices flowing in the right way. You can talk about it as long as you want to talk about it, but you've got to get it done on the race track and the last couple of weeks we've been able to get it done on the race track and in the pits. Everyone's juices are going pretty good right now."
FOR YOU AND YOUR TEAM, WAS THE START OF THIS SEASON MORE ABOUT BRIDGING THE COMMUNICATION GAP WITH A NEW CHIEF RATHER GETTING USED TO THE NEW TIRE AND RULES PACKAGE?
"I think for us it was the communication because Wes (Ward, crew chief) didn't know what really, really tight was for me. And, in his defense, he shouldn't have known what really, really tight was for me. We've adapted a little bit different system; we're working on a number system so that gives us what degree it is tight or what degree it is loose. We're working on that and that's something I've never done, so it's new for me as well. We're doing everything we can to bridge that gap. Throw in the tires with all of this, and I didn't really know what maybe I needed to feel. It's still going to be hard. Like I said, we're not done by any means, and I'm not saying we're communicating perfectly, but we're definitely headed in the right direction."
DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'VE GOTTEN BACK IN THE CHAMPIONSHIP HUNT?
"I'd say that if we continue on our path, we're going to be a title contender. I probably know as well as anyone, there are all kinds of obstacles that you have to go over and under and everything else, but I really haven't focused on the championship, and I don't think it's time for us to do that. I think we need to stay in the game, I believe that, but I think you have to get closer than we are right now to be able to see the prize. We need to keep working hard, and in 10 races, hopefully we're close enough to where we look and say 'OK, now this is something we need to focus on.'"
NASCAR ANNOUNCED ITS 2005 REALIGNMENT PLANS LAST WEEKEND WITH DARLINGTON LOSING ONE OF ITS DATES AND ROCKINGHAM, A TRACK YOU HAVE WON AT BEFORE, LOSING ITS RACE EVENT ALL TOGETHER.
"And it looks like I'm going to lose another one in Nazareth. They're taking all of the tracks that I've won on away from me. If I answer that question one way, the die-hard fans are going to say that I'm selling out, but NASCAR has a direction for the sport and they haven't let us down yet. Do I agree with losing a Darlington? No, most definitely not, because I'm a South Carolina guy and I still wish we had a couple at Myrtle Beach. I'm kind of in limbo because NASCAR has a direction for us and hopefully that direction grows our sport and hopefully it doesn't run the die-hards out of the sport, but we'll have to wait and see."
THERE ARE RUMORS ABOUT BRINGING NASCAR TO MEXICO CITY. DO YOU FEEL THE NEED TO EXPAND NASCAR RACING OUTSIDE THE BOUNDARIES OF THE UNITED STATES?
"If they sell Miller High Life beer in Mexico City, I'll drive the Miller High Life Taurus in Mexico City. Five years ago would I have thought it would even be rumored to race a race outside of the U.S.? No, but I'm sure there are a lot of fans in Mexico City that would love to see a NASCAR event. I have to put my owner's cap on, but if it helps the sponsors and it helps the sport, I think it's something we have to look at. I don't think it's something we have to accept yet because we haven't gotten to that point, but I think we have to look at it and ask, 'Do our sponsors need that demographic and that area to sell their products?' I'm not totally for it, but I'm not totally against it either."
WILL A MOVE OUTSIDE THE U.S. BENEFIT THE MAJORITY OF THE SERIES' SPONSORS?
"Who's to say that it won't bring sponsors into our series that need that market? I'm sure they've got their Mexican beer down there, but I'm sure Miller sells product in Mexico City as well. It will work for some sponsors and I'm sure some sponsors could care less. If it helps in some way to grow the series and boost the series then I think we need to look at it."
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT ONCE AGAIN COMPETING ON ROAD COURSES?
"I really like Watkins Glen and that's the only road course that I've ever run on. I think it would be crazy to have just one road course race. If we have two, that's getting up there where it's feasible to build a couple of good road-racing cars. We only had one road race a year for a long time, and that was really tough on the owners to have specialized cars for those races."
FOUR OF THE NEXT SIX BUSCH SERIES EVENTS ARE NOT RUN IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE NEXTEL CUP SERIES. IS THIS A STRETCH THAT YOU LOOK FORWARD TO AS A BUSCH SERIES REGULAR?
"It's OK. To me, I don't focus on them any differently. I go out there and after every practice I look to see who's the fastest and hope I'm the fastest. I don't really look at it any differently, and now it's really not stand alone events. I'm hearing all these Cup guys are going to fly back and forth to race, so it look like they're going to be in the field no matter if the Cup Series is racing with us or not."
AS A DRIVER, IS THERE A DIFFERENT FEELING AT THE RACE TRACK WHEN THE BUSCH SERIES IS MAIN EVENT?
"It is different, but we'll go into Kentucky and it will be a sell-out crowd. We'll go to Nashville and it will be a sell-out crowd. There is excitement, but it is a little bit different and I kind of like being the top dogs there, and it works for us."
THE RACE AT GATEWAY WAS THE FIRST OF THREE ONE-DAY EVENTS FOR THE BUSCH SERIES THIS SEASON. DOES NASCAR NEED TO LOOK AT MAKING MORE EVENTS ONE-DAY SHOWS?
"Most definitely. It's the best thing for us because these crew guys spend so much time on the road anyway, another day or two home for them, they deserve every bit of that. I know one-day shows are a long, hard day, but it's worth it to get that extra time at home."
WITH TWO YOUNG CHILDREN, DO YOU ENJOY RACING ON FRIDAY NIGHTS?
"I had a fantastic weekend this weekend. I raced up at Richmond on Friday. We were fortunate to have a good week, I came back and I was on the pitcher's mound pitching to my son's baseball team at nine o'clock Saturday morning. It was like having a weekend home. We raced on Friday night, we did what we needed to do and I went to Commerce, Georgia, and went to the drag race on Sunday. I like that. I don't get the chance to do that a lot, especially since we don't have that many off weeks."