Fontana II: Justin Keller race report

KELLER CONTINUES LATE CHARGE WITH ANOTHER TOP 10 Veteran Chasing Youngsters Wallace and Allgaier in NNS Point Standings NASHVILLE, Tenn., Oct., 12, 2009 -- As the NASCAR Nationwide Series season begins to wind down, all the talk about the battle...

KELLER CONTINUES LATE CHARGE WITH ANOTHER TOP 10
Veteran Chasing Youngsters Wallace and Allgaier in NNS Point Standings

NASHVILLE, Tenn., Oct., 12, 2009 -- As the NASCAR Nationwide Series season begins to wind down, all the talk about the battle for fifth place in the point standings has been focused on Justin Allgaier and Steve Wallace. With a 10th-place finish in Saturday's Copart 300 at Auto Club Speedway, veteran Jason Keller continues to gain ground on the youngsters and remains in the mix for the coveted fifth spot with just five races remaining on the schedule.

After the early morning fog cleared from over Auto Club Speedway Saturday morning, Keller was the fifth car to tour the two-mile track and posted a qualifying lap of 177.751 mph. Keller registered the 13th best time, earning his best starting position at Fontana since he started on the front row in 2002.

In the early stages of the race Keller quickly fell from the top 15 as he communicated to crew chief Todd Gordon that his No. 27 Cottonelle Ford Fusion lacked rear grip. When the first caution occurred on lap 42, Gordon decided to make no adjustments to the car and just take four tires and fuel, hoping that as the race progressed the track would tighten.

Keller remained in the top 20 as the race progressed but still was still battling a loose race car, especially entering the corners. When a caution for debris occurred on lap 71, Keller came down pit road where the Kleenex Racing crew filled his No. 27 Ford Fusion with fuel, put on four fresh tires, and lowered the trackbar one round. When another caution occurred on lap 83, Gordon made the decision to bring Keller down pit road for a fuel-only electing to save a fresh set of tires for late in the race.

The Greenville, S.C., native was running 17th when several cars got together in turn 2 bringing out the caution on lap 124. Gordon's decision to save tires paid off and Keller brought his No. 27 Cottonelle Ford Fusion down pit road for four tires and fuel. The majority of the top-15 cars did not have a fresh set of tires remaining and remained on the track.

When the race went back to green flag conditions on lap 135, Keller was scored 18th. Over the next five laps the he maneuvered his way past five cars and was in 13th when the yellow-flag waved for the eighth time of the race.

The veteran continued his march into the top 10 and was running 8th when the race's late caution spree continued when a three-wide battle for the lead sent Denny Hamlin crashing into the wall on lap 142. As the green-flag dropped on lap 146, Keller spun his tires and by the time the field was back up to speed had fell to 14th.

The yellow-flag would fly for the final time on lap 147 setting up a green-white-checker finish. Keller restarted from 13th and maneuvered the Cottonelle Ford Fusion pass three more cars over the last two laps to earn his second top-10 finish in the last three races, and eighth of the season.

"Today was another prime example of maximizing finishes," Keller said. "For most of the day we didn't have a top 10 car but the entire team kept battling and turned it into one. The pit crew was solid all day long and we gained positions almost every time off pit road. Todd made a great call to save a set of tires for the end of the race which helped us get by some cars on old tires in the last few laps. All in all it was a great team effort and hopefully we can keep the momentum up as we head into the last five races."

By finishing ahead of Steve Wallace in each of the last three races, Keller has cut the deficit for sixth place in the NASCAR Nationwide Series point standings in half. Keller trailed Wallace by 141 points before Dover but has narrowed the margin to 70 with five races remaining. Over that span Keller has also gained 39 points on fifth-place Justin Allgaier and currently trails the rookie by 122.

Keller and the Kleenex Racing team head to the Lowe's Motor Speedway Friday for the running of the Dollar General 300.

-credit: bcr

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About this article
Series NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Jason Keller , Denny Hamlin , Justin Allgaier , Steve Wallace