This Week in Ford Racing February 4, 2003 NASCAR Busch Grand National Jason Keller, driver of the No. 57 Albertsons Taurus, enters the 2003 Busch Series season as the highest returning points finisher and a favorite to win this year's ...
This Week in Ford Racing
February 4, 2003
NASCAR Busch Grand National
Jason Keller, driver of the No. 57 Albertsons Taurus, enters the 2003 Busch Series season as the highest returning points finisher and a favorite to win this year's championship. The 32-year-old Keller is often mistaken as one of the oldest competitors in the series, a statistic more reflective of his 12 years of experience in Busch Series competition. Veteran-like consistency, however, has been the key to success for Keller as he has finished each of the past three seasons in the top three in points, and nearly doubled his total career wins in 2002 with four victories. Keller spoke about the upcoming season and his thoughts on the championship race for 2003.
JASON KELLER-57-Albertsons Ford Taurus:
HEADING INTO THE 2003 SEASON, DO YOU FEEL LIKE YOU'RE A FAVORITE TO WIN THE CHAMPIONSHIP? "Our expectations this year are no different than they were in 2002. We expected to contend for the championship and do the things we did in 2002, and our expectations are the same for 2003. We know that there is going to be a lot of competition, but we're expecting to run up front and run for the championship."
WITH GREG BIFFLE, JACK SPRAGUE AND JAMIE MCMURRAY ALL GRADUATING TO THE WINSTON CUP SERIES, WHO DO YOU EXPECT TO BE CONTENDING WITH FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP THIS SEASON? "You can look at it on paper and say that (Ron) Hornaday has a fantastic opportunity with Childress, Wimmer has a great opportunity where he is because of his late-season success, and my teammate, he's got all of the resources that I've got. But you just don't know until you get to the race track and until you get into the races. I think there are a number of people that have the potential to be very competitive, but until you get there you never know. Mentioning all of those different driver combinations, Steve Addington and I are the only returning driver-crew chief combinations out of those. You just don't know what combinations are going to click and which ones are not."
PRE-SEASON TESTING FOR DAYTONA GETS MOST OF THE COVERAGE IN JANUARY LEADING UP TO THE RACE IN DAYTONA. HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT YOUR OFF-SEASON PREPARATIONS GOING INTO THE SEASON-OPENING EVENT? "I feel very comfortable. Our superspeedway program was much better in 2002 than it had ever been. I think we can build on that. The only bad thing about it is that we were able to the same superspeedway car to all three races last year, so we've got a little bit older version Ford Taurus than some of the other guys have. That's a good thing and a bad thing. We didn't get to build a new car because we didn't tear up our cars. I'll take the not tearing up the car and having a little bit older version of the car. The car seems to draft real well, and I've been in this business long enough to know to test as hard as you can, but when it comes to the drop of the green flag in the race, that's when it counts."
WITH THE NEW LIMIT ON TESTING, HOW DO YOU PLAN TO USE YOUR TESTS THIS YEAR? "We've tried to look at where we're weak and we have used two tests already this year. We chose to go to Talladega because of NASCAR's new shock rule in the Busch Series, and we used the test in Daytona, which is mandatory. We're limited on testing anyway. I think we may use one more around April, and then we'll probably save the other two towards the end of the summer just to make sure we have something down the stretch. We want to make sure that we're not missing something or getting our setups off and need to test and then not have one. I'd rather have a couple of tests and need them later."
THERE HAVEN'T BEEN MANY RULE CHANGES IN TERMS OF THE TEMPLATES FROM LAST SEASON. "That's a good thing because that means we had a lot to go on. We should be able to continue to build with what Steve and me have done over the last two years. I'm pretty excited about it and looking forward to it."
YOU HAVE BEEN TEAMED WITH STEVE ADDINGTON FOR A NUMBER OF YEARS. IS THAT RELATIONSHIP STILL PROSPERING? "It's just a great combination. Any time you can go and know what each other is talking about and how we're talking about it. It's just a fantastic combination. But no matter how long you're together, sometimes you hit a rut and need to go test and do some things to get back on track. We know that it's not going to be all rosy. We know that there are going to be some ups and downs, and there's going to be a lot of competition, but I wouldn't take it any other way. I'd take my combination to run for the championship over anybody else's. I look at what we did in 2002 and had we not had a couple of mechanical failures and maybe a couple of breaks go our way, we could have easily have won the championship. It wasn't like we were way, way off in 2002, and I feel like we can continue to make that better and be better in 2003."
DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU GAVE AWAY THE CHAMPION SHIP LAST SEASON WITH SOME MISSED OPPORTUNITIES? "I think Kansas City set the tone. We were within 30 points and running in the top five most of the day to have a mechanical failure. It did set the tone for the remainder of the season. I don't want to say we gave it away because it wasn't anything intentional. Our mechanical failures, they weren't the same all of the races. We had three different mechanical failures in the engine, but it wasn't a lack of preparation on the engine part or a lack of preparation on anyone's part. It was just things that came up and bit us. Michigan is a prime example. Biffle was the first car out and we're running third with 20 laps to go and have a mechanical failure. That's when we could have truly capitalized, but we weren't able to."
WITH YOUR CONTINUED SUCCESS AND COMMITMENT TO THE BUSCH SERIES OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS, DO YOU FEEL THAT YOU'RE THE ELDER STATESMAN? "Ron (Hornaday) is a whole lot older than I am. I've chose to stay in the Busch Series to wait on the right opportunity. I've chosen to stay in the Busch Series because I do want a championship. I don't think that's anything to hide. I like my chances and I like my chances to try to win a championship, and it's very important to me. I hate to say that I've stayed in it so long to win a championship and get so close so many times and not do it. I'm really pushing towards that. I don't know when my Busch Series competition is going to end, but I'm not as old as Ron."
DO YOU FEEL YOU NEED TO TAKE A VETERAN ROLE IN THE SERIES, PERHAPS A MORE VOCAL ROLE? "I probably need to but that's not my personality. It's kinda hard to take that role. I'm comfortable in the Busch Series. I love the Busch Series; it's been very good to me. It's been a way for me to fit my lifestyle. I've been able to spend a lot of time with my kids and I've been noticed because of what I have done in the Busch Series. Hopefully this will be one more chapter, I don' want to say my final chapter, but it will be one more chapter in my Busch Series story and hopefully it will be a good one."
DO YOU WANT TO GO OUT ON TOP? WILL YOU CONSIDER RUNNING WINSTON CUP FULL-TIME IF YOU WIN THE BUSCH SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP IN 2003? "I was asked that last week and I kinda take a different approach to that. I don't know the answer to that yet. Ever since I came into the Busch Series, the coolest thing I thought there was is the Busch champion being able to park in the number one spot. I've parked in the number two spot and the number three spot, but I've always dreamed about walking in the garage area and seeing that No. 57 parked up front with me driving it. I don't know that's just something that I've dreamed about. It's a quirky thing to dream about, but I think it would be cool to walk into the garage area every week and have that first parking spot in the garage area."
YOU'VE BEEN GIVEN TO OPPORTUNITY TO RUN THE CHICAGOLAND RACE IN THE WINSTON CUP RACE. "I see it as a great opportunity for me because I can still focus on the Busch car and the Busch Series, but see what the Winston Cup Series is about. You never know until you get over there. It may not be for me, or it may be the perfect thing for me. You don't know. Actually Ford was gracious enough to give me the go-ahead to do this, and ppc was gracious enough. It is a one-race opportunity for me to test the waters and see what the Winston Cup Series is about. Is it a sign of things to come? I don't know. Everybody can read in it what they want to, but it's truly a one-race opportunity for me to go and test with a Winston Cup team, for me to race for a Winston Cup team and for me to see what it's like."
ARE THERE ANY DISCUSSIONS ABOUT RUNNING A FEW WINSTON CUP RACES IN A PPC RACING CAR? "We've talked about it over the last couple of years, and we just haven't been able to put the financial funding together. I'd love to do that. I'd love nothing more than to do that. That would make me so comfortable and it would be just great for me to do that. It's just so hard to find any financial backing and it seems that all of our financial backing has been found for the Busch Series, so we haven't had that opportunity. I would love to, though. Are there plans? We've kicked it around for the past couple of years. I think that was why everyone said, 'Let's give Jason the right to do this Winston Cup deal' because we haven't been able to put together anything at ppc. We'll see what happens."
DO YOU EXPECT YOUR TEAMMATE, SCOTT RIGGS, TO AVOID A SOPHOMORE SLUMP AND CONTRIBUTE MORE TO THE ORGANIZATION THIS SEASON NOW THAT HE'S LOST THE ROOKIE STRIPE? "I think so. Riggs, his deal fell about midway through last year, and he kind of gets the bad rap for it, but it wasn't anything of his doing. I look for Scott, and that's one of the reasons why I mention him in the championship contender category, I look for Scott to do really good things. Doug Randolph, his crew chief, I've not tested with him yet, but I like what I see there and I've seen him around the shop and I've talked to him a lot. I think one of the main competitors in the Busch Series will be right in the same shop that I'm in. I'm looking forward to that. I'm looking forward to getting both of these ppc cars back in the top two or three in the points and racing head to head like I'm used to."