This Week in Ford Racing April 1, 2003 NASCAR Busch Grand National Jason Keller, driver of the No. 57 Taurus, has been a full-time Busch Series competitor since 1994 when he drove for his father, Joe, and family-owned Kel Racing. Keller, who...
This Week in Ford Racing
April 1, 2003
NASCAR Busch Grand National
Jason Keller, driver of the No. 57 Taurus, has been a full-time Busch Series competitor since 1994 when he drove for his father, Joe, and family-owned Kel Racing. Keller, who is currently second in the Busch Series point standings, has seen the series evolve from 34-car fields and 9:1 compression motors to 43-car fields and 12:1 compression motors, rules aimed at mimicking the Winston Cup Series. By way of his vast Busch Series experience, Keller has become one of the leaders of the series, contributing to the weekly rookie drivers' meeting, where he offers insight on the nuances of each track. Keller spoke about the recent issues concerning the rules of competition and his season to date as he returns to Talladega Superspeedway, the defending winner of the Aaron's 312.
JASON KELLER-57-Albertsons Ford Taurus:
THERE HAS BEEN A LOT OF DISCUSSION ON THE RULES OF COMPETITION STEMMING FROM BOTH RACES LAST WEEKEND IN TEXAS. WHAT ARE YOUR FEELINGS ON THE RULING TO BLACK-FLAG A DRIVER WHO PASSES ON THE LEFT-HAND SIDE ON A RESTART, EVEN IF IT IS TO AVOID CONTACT?
"It's a judgement call. I try my best to look at it from both sides. From a driver's standpoint, if you let off the gas when somebody spins their tires in front of you, you're probably going to get run over from the back. First of all, what Brian (Vickers) did was his first instinct - not run into the back of him and go wherever you can. For him, he came to the left. If he would have let up, everybody would have run over him from behind him, so what Brian did probably avoided an accident, but he got himself in trouble by doing that. I also look at it from NASCAR's standpoint, it's a rule so that you don't get people going crazy on restarts. You try to get good, consistent restarts. I think the rule needs to have some sort of, I don't want to say provisions in it, but maybe that if it's a situation where somebody spins their tires in front of you, maybe they may look at it differently. I talked to Scott Riggs today, my teammate, and he got in the same situation at Rockingham. It played out the same way and he got black-flagged. I guess they are being consistent, but as a driver, I don't like people to be trying to pass me on restarts, but again, there may need to be some leeway to look at it."
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."
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. I can understand Bobby (Hamilton, Jr.) being discouraged, the lapped cars discouraged me at Bristol. 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."
ARE THE WINSTON CUP COMPETITORS THAT ARE RUNNING THE BUSCH SERIES RACES KEEPING SOME OF THE SLOWER CARS OFF THE TRACK?
"I don't want to say it's helping to send the slower guys home. If the guys that are coming into the series are having trouble trying to get up to speed, they should have to be so fast to make the race. The Winston Cup guys that come down are usually faster and they do fill up more positions. I do like the Winston Cup guys there because it allows me to compete against guys that I will hopefully be competing against in the future to know how I am and my race team is. It's a double-edge sword. We don't want to send rookies home that may be the future of the sport, either."
YOU WON THE BUSCH SERIES RACE AT TALLADEGA LAST YEAR, A RACE IN WHICH ONLY THREE CARS FINISHED ON THE LEAD LAP DUE TO A MASSIVE ACCIDENT. THE ACCIDENT HAPPENED EARLY IN THE RACE BEFORE LAPPED TRAFFIC COULD BE AN ISSUE. IS TALLADEGA WIDE ENOUGH TO AVOID CONTACT WITH LAPPED CARS? "Talladega has a lot of room. Lapped cars or slow cars won't be an issue there. We were running second when the big accident happened last year and it happened from fourth on back. The third- and fourth-place cars bumped and that's what started the chain reaction from fourth on back. We were actually fast enough to be in front of that accident, Stacy Compton and myself. Stacy pulled me right to the front. But, there are so many unknowns going into Talladega for us this year. We built a brand-new superspeedway car. It's never been tested because we wrecked our one at Daytona, and that was our workhorse. There are going to be so many unknowns and that's why I was at the shop today. I don't want to say I'm concerned, but you put so much effort in your superspeedway cars as far as winter testing. We tested Talladega and Daytona with the car we ran three times last year. That car probably had five tests on it and three or four races and it was wrecked at Daytona, so there are a lot of unknowns for us going into Talladega."
YOU WERE INVOLVED IN A VICIOUS ACCIDENT LATE IN THE RACE AT DAYTONA IN FEBRUARY. WAS IT A CASE OF RACING HARD AT THE END OF THE RACE?
"There were some guys up front that were new to the series and I feel like, for the most part, everybody was using their heads. I felt like it was a careless situation that caused the accident at the end of the race. Some people say that you're supposed to race harder at the end of the race. Yeah, you're supposed to race harder, but you're not supposed to race carelessly. Talladega is usually a little bit easier than Daytona as far as the chassis never coming into play. You're really not sliding around; you're just pretty much going on pure speed. I was happy the way we had positioned ourselves late in the race at Daytona, probably in the top 10, and it was going to be a real good finish, but unfortunately for us, it didn't end that way."
YOU ARE CURRENTLY SECOND IN THE POINT STANDINGS, ALTHOUGH IT IS STILL EARLY IN THE SEASON TO BE MENTIONING THE POINTS RACE. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT WHERE YOU STAND HEADING INTO TALLADEGA, THE SEVENTH OF 34 RACES THIS SEASON?
"You say that it's too early to focus on points, but as competitors, our series is totally focused on points. We focus on points from testing at Daytona in January. That's something that we all talk about. I'm a little disappointed from last weekend. I felt like things were going our way. I look at Daytona as an unfortunate situation. It was nothing of our doing; it wasn't like we were careless as a race team. Then at Texas, to have such high hopes after qualifying on the pole, we really just made some mistakes and that's one of the reasons that I've been up at the shop today. But, I think that we have such strong team that we can sit down, know where we made mistakes and go forward. We have positioned ourselves pretty good, but there's going to be a lot of tough competition. The competition is probably going to come from behind us as much as anything because some of the teams are getting their acts together and we need to get our act together as well."