NASCAR Busch Series veteran Jason Keller will attempt to make his 418th start in Friday night's Dollar General 300, which would break the series record he holds with Tommy Houston. Keller, 37, took some time recently to reflect on some of the most memorable moments of his career.
FIRST WIN: Keller's first Busch Series victory came in his 63rd try. He started third and finished first at what's now O'Reilly Raceway Park near Indianapolis on Aug. 4, 1995. He had finished second just five races earlier at Myrtle Beach. "It was special because it was with my own race team, owned by my dad" Joe, Jason Keller said. "It was a combination of a lot of hard work, including how we put that deal together, and the people we had working with us."
DUELING TO THE FINISH WITH MARK MARTIN: Martin is the all-time Busch Series leader in wins (47) and one of the most respected veterans in the sport. Keller earned his only win of the 2000 season, holding off Martin by 0.262 seconds at Dover (Del.) International Speedway.The track has been the site of much of Martin's success in the Nextel Cup and Busch series. He had five top-five finishes and a win in 11 Busch races at the track.
"That was extremely special because Mark is one of the best in the series and he is awesome at Dover," Keller said. "Anytime you beat one of the Cup drivers, it's big. Mark is a class guy."
ONLY RESTRICTOR-PLATE VICTORY: Keller's background was primarily in short-track racing and, although he had a few good finishes on the series' superspeedways of Daytona Beach, Fla., and Talladega, Ala., it took a wild set of circumstances for him to earn his only victory on a restrictor-plate track. In 2002 at Talladega Superspeedway, an enormous wreck erupted 14 laps in, collecting more than half the field. Keller ended up with the win, one of only three cars on the lead lap.
"It was the largest wreck in Busch Series history," he said. "I remember Jeff Purvis broke a motor and I saw later when I watched the race they were interviewing him in the garage and he was still in seventh place. That's how bad it was."
END OF CHAMPIONSHIP RUN: For much of 2002, Greg Biffle and Keller battled for the series championship. Heading into the Sept. 28 race at Kansas, Biffle led Keller by just 36 points. But Kansas turned out to be a bad omen."The year Greg and I were racing for the championship, we were running head-to-head every week and I broke a motor at Kansas, which probably made the gap (in points) too wide to overcome," Keller said. "My hopes were dashed."
With Keller's 30th-place finish, Biffle opened a 128-point advantage.
TOUGH TEAMMATE: The 2000 season was special for Keller at ppc Racing. He spent most of the season battling teammate Jeff Green for the championship. They finished first and second, with Green ending up with a then-record 616-point advantage. Green had six wins, 25 top-five and 27 top-10 finishes that season. Keller had one win, 13 top-five and 19 top-10s.
"We were very competitive with each other. I knew that if I beat Jeff, I was probably going to win the race and knew that if he beat me, he was probably going to win," Keller said. "He just beat me a lot more than I beat him."
Top five drivers in career Busch Series starts:
|1. Tommy Houston||417|
|3. Elton Sawyer||392|
|4. David Green||386|
|5. Kenny Wallace||384|