NASCAR Media Conference
July 17, 2007
TRACEY JUDD: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference in advance of Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series race, the Gateway 250, which will be held at Gateway International Raceway under the lights.
We have three guests today who are involved in three different NASCAR series. NASCAR Busch Series veteran Jason Keller, NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series points leader Mike Skinner and NASCAR Grand National Division Busch East Series driver Peyton Sellers. All three gentlemen are scheduled to join us today.
We do have one of those gentlemen with us. That would be Jason Keller. Jason, welcome, thanks for joining us.
JASON KELLER: Thanks for having me today. I look forward to some exciting questions and answers today.
TRACEY JUDD: 2007 is shaping up to be quite an exciting season for you. First you're back in the NASCAR Busch Series. Saturday night at Gateway you'll once again set a new career earnings mark when you surpass $11 million in career winnings. If your schedule holds as it is, come October at Lowe's Motor Speedway, you look to become the series all-time starts leader with 418, breaking that long-standing mark held by Tommy Houston. Once again, you're quietly stepping into the record books.
How appropriate is it that one of your marks should be falling at Gateway, which is located in the home city of our series sponsor, Anheuser-Busch?
JASON KELLER: Well, I don't think of any better place. I can't think of any better place. Anheuser-Busch has been such a great mainstay in NASCAR for so many years. It's nice to be able to go. I'm going to be spending some time with the Anheuser-Busch guys on Thursday. I'm looking forward to that.
It's great. The CJM team, we talked a couple months ago about how things may could play out over the next couple of months to maybe try to break the record. I was very adamant. I mean, I would love -- if I am going to break this record, I want to break it when it's still the Busch Series. I want to be known as the driver with the most Busch Series starts. That was one of the things is important to me. Hopefully we can do that come October. If not then, late October.
Just looking forward to every race as we run it. But that was some of the things popped up over the last couple of months that's very near and dear to my heart.
TRACEY JUDD: You're the first driver in series history to $9 million in earnings, then $10 million in earnings, now $11 million in earnings over a career that expands 17 years. But again just at 37 years of age, what does that mean to you to have that much earnings power, if you will, over a long period of time, yet still at such a young age having so much more to give to this sport?
JASON KELLER: I appreciate you clarifying my age. A lot of people think because I've been in the Busch Series for so long, I would be in the over 40, 45 ranks. I often laugh about it. I was kind of a young gun when the young guns weren't cool.
I've had a long and great career in the Busch Series. I've never viewed the Busch Series as a steppingstone. I've always viewed the Busch Series as a great place to race and a great opportunity to be able to race for a living.
It's been good to me over the years. You'll have to ask my wife the earnings questions. I don't know how much money I make. She seems to keep up with that. All in all, it's been great. I'm glad to be back part of the series that I love so much, and to be back on a regular basis. I know I've been kind of in and out sporadic over the last 12 months. It was important to get back in the series that I really, really love. Looking forward to hopefully 400 more starts if it all works right.
TRACEY JUDD: Let's go to questions from the media for Jason Keller
Q. NASCAR is increasingly vigilant about enforcing the rule book this year. How do you and your team balance staying within the rules with showing ingenuity and finding an edge?
JASON KELLER: Well, that's something that we've battled for a long time. I just think NASCAR has gotten more strict, so to speak, on what they do to you after they catch you.
I think as much as anything now NASCAR is setting a precedent in the Cup Series with the Car of Tomorrow. They're not having many gray areas. It's black and white. You can touch the car here, but you can't touch the car there.
I think as much as anything it's just NASCAR making sure that they set the precedent of how this new Car of Tomorrow, how the new era of NASCAR is going to be handled.
Knock on wood. We haven't seen a whole lot of difference in how they handle the Busch Series per se. The Cup Series has definitely seen a difference in how they handle those infractions.
Q. Do you think there's still a place in this sport for ingenuity?
JASON KELLER: Oh, most definitely. That's why you see some teams running good and some teams running bad. There's a lot of areas that are still available for development and to try to gain an edge. That's why you see some of the teams running really good and some of them struggling a little bit.
Some people have classified it maybe they don't want to see it become an IROC Series or something on that note. But I don't think we're anywhere close to that. Aerodynamically you might be a little closer to that because of the Car of Tomorrow package. Mechanically I think there's still a long ways to go.
Q. You've been in the Busch Series a lot of years. What are the biggest changes you've seen over the time you've driven the series?
JASON KELLER: Well, one is that we race west of the Mississippi. When I came into the series, I can remember going to Las Vegas for the first time, having to get on an airplane, flying out to Las Vegas. It was such a huge deal. Now it's old hat to us.
We race all over the country, even internationally. I think probably the biggest thing for me is just that the series has expanded so much. We're going into markets that I never would have thought we would be in when I first started the Busch Series. A little bit of that is disappointment. Although I know the markets are very important, I miss some of the Myrtle Beach, South Carolina races, I miss some of the smaller venues because that's kind of what I started out racing.
With growth comes some things that you have to just get over. The series has definitely, definitely grown geographically is probably the biggest thing.
Q. Busch races in Mexico, Montréal. Do you see a team when NASCAR might be a global sport?
JASON KELLER: I would think there's NASCAR fans -- well, I know there are NASCAR fans all over the world. I don't know how much more it can grow. When you start trying to expand to different continents, I think we're pretty limited of how many -- there's not a lot of open weekends now. To start trying to maybe model yourself after the Formula One concept where you race in different continents on different weeks, they don't race near as many races as NASCAR does per year.
You may have to ask someone in NASCAR, but from where I'm sitting, I just don't know how feasible that will be. I never thought we'd be racing in Mexico City either. They proved me wrong there. It's been very successful. Wherever they throw the green flag, hopefully I'll be part of it.
Q. I'm assuming there's probably going to be a new title sponsor coming to the series right away. Do you see that as an opportunity to do something, shake up the format like they did in Cup when NEXTEL came along?
JASON KELLER: It would definitely be the time period to do something if that comes about.
It is very exciting, the Chase. It's very exciting. I say that from a fan perspective. I find myself really following who's going to make the Chase or who isn't going to make the Chase. Then I find myself following the last schedule races there a little bit closer than I used to.
I don't know. If they do do something in the Busch Series, whatever the name's gonna be, I would hope they incorporate something that doesn't have 10 Cup drivers part of the Chase or whatever it may be. I don't know what the scenario would be. I would hope that somehow, some way it can still be a Busch Series championship, so to speak, and hopefully we can continue. I don't mind the shake-up, but I just hope it doesn't cater to just the Cup teams.
Q. If you could dictate what was going to happen yourself, what would you suggest?
JASON KELLER: Anybody with ever over 400 starts automatically makes the Chase (laughter). That would be me. No, I'm just kidding.
I don't know. I've said all along, kind of goes back a little bit, I don't mind the Cup guys being part of the series. I think they have to compete against themselves somehow not to override the series, maybe limit how many of the Cup drivers can make a Chase, if you're in the top 30 in points or top 35 in points, maybe limit to how many can make the Chase. I don't mind racing against those guys, but it's hard when you've got so many of them.
The format in the Cup Series is working really good. They tweak it every year. Every year they get a lot of criticism that they're changing it up, maybe not going to make it as exciting. But it seems to gain excitement every year, gain notoriety. That format's worked pretty good. I just don't think it will be as cut and dry in the Busch Series. I think it would have to have some type of limitation on how many Cup drivers can make it.
Q. Going back, you're a two-time winner at O'Reilly Raceway Park, first Busch Series win there. How eager are you to get back out for the Kroger 200? What do you like about coming to Indianapolis?
JASON KELLER: I'm not going to fault you for talking about a place that I really enjoy. I guess the official name is ORP. I have two trophies in my office that say IRP. Looking very much forward to getting back to Indianapolis. Any time you got the memories I have at that place, it's very special.
Had a great run last year. I filled in for one of the Brewco cars. We were running in the top five, got in a bang-up about two-thirds of the race. I think that breeds my confidence as much as anything.
I mean, I go there with so much confidence that I can go there and run well and even have a shot at winning the race.
Q. Talk about Gateway this weekend. What is it about that place that's so unique, akin to Pocono on the Cup circuit?
JASON KELLER: I think just the differences of the shape. The shape is different. Because it's so different in turns one and two, which is very tight and really, really wide and sweeping in three and four, you can never get into a rhythm and get your car working great on both ends. I never have.
I know the times that I've run really well there, I've been really, really loose on one end and really, really good on the other. I think that's what really poses such a challenge there at St. Louis is because you have these really long straightaways and then you've got such a tight corner in one and two. A lot of drivers don't like it because it's so different on one end compared to the other.
I think it brings an element in that keeps you on your toes and keeps you really, really with an open mind to make sure you don't get your car so good on one end and not as well on the other.
Just brings a lot of different elements in.
Q. With you joining the season as late as you have, trying to get this team off and running, how has your work come along so far this season and how much more do you think you need to bring to the table?
JASON KELLER: The CJM team that I'm driving the limited schedule for this year has been fantastic. I mean, we actually did not even start talking about the concept of putting this team together till March. To go from really just an idea to here we are five races into what we've done together, and we've had some success. We've been able to run well on several different occasions.
It's just a testimony to what type people we have at CJM. A lot of the CJM players, so to speak, the people working there, they're former people that have worked with me. It was no surprise. I think that's what has really helped bridge the gap, so to speak. This weekend at St. Louis, next week at IRP, I'll be back in a Brewco car. I had already committed to Brewco early in the season to run some of the races, which I was very glad to be able to have some races scheduled.
I've been kind of jumping back and forth from the Brewco program to the CJM program. One thing I can say, both teams have given me such a true effort in that they've really put their heart and soul into it, haven't just viewed me as a plug-in driver. I feel very good about both opportunities and look forward to building both of them.
Q. Do you think it will ever get back to a time when guys come into the series and say I like the Busch concept, I like the schedule, they'll just be totally committed to the Busch Series?
JASON KELLER: I sure hope so. That's one of the things that I miss the most. People in the Busch Series, different people have always had different agendas. Some have merely used it as a practice for their Sunday race. Some have used it for driver development for maybe a year to get a little bit of seat time to move to Cup. It used to have that element where some of us, myself, Randy LaJoie, Elton Sawyer, some of these guys used it for a home. We were comfortable being there. We loved the schedule. We were able to represent great sponsors.
The third element I'm talking about has gone away a little bit, but I hope that doesn't go away entirely. I hope I'm one of the ones that can carry the flag and get it back as part of a key element of the Busch Series.
Only time will tell. Trends of the series have come and gone. Hopefully that trend will kind of come back. You have to look at it, and one of the reasons I say it's not a trend any more is because some of the people that would probably do that and structure that are maybe Todd Bodine, Ted Musgrave, and they've been able to do that in the Truck Series, Jack Sprague, those guys. It's not that the Busch Series is not healthy, it's just there's another avenue for people to find a home that don't have to race on Sunday.
Hopefully we can get some more of the guys that view the Busch Series as a solid racing series that we can make our home and not just use it as a steppingstone.
Q. With your experience, the teams you've driven for, what kind of collection do you have? Do you have enough mementos to start your own museum?
JASON KELLER: I tell you what, I've got a lot for sure. I'm kind of a helmet and suit collector. I've got one of my helmets and suits from all the teams I've driven for. All my sponsors, been very blessed to have great sponsors. I've got a lot of mementos. I've building a little room now at the house so hopefully I can get all that displayed.
It's nice to go back. I'm making myself feel old here a little bit. It's nice to go back and look how I've been able to move to this point. It's not over by any means. I'm looking forward to gaining many more, collecting many more items, but it's definitely nice to be able to look at those and think about the good times as well as the bad. It's all part of growing.
Q. Have you heard anything about NASCAR starting to talk about the Busch Series getting their own Car of Tomorrow? Would you lobby for that?
JASON KELLER: I think right now I would lobby against it. The reason being I think the Busch Series its own identity away from the Cup Series. I think that was one of the things -- I don't think it was NASCAR's malicious intent to make the cars really close to the same. But over the years they've kind of evolved to where the Cup cars and the Busch Series cars are very close in how they drive, how they feel, a lot of the key elements.
Now with the Cup Car of Tomorrow, I've talked to numerous Cup drivers. They say they feel totally different. They drive differently. They feel different. Some of the information you get on the Busch car doesn't translate to the Cup car.
I was talking about the trends of the series. I think that's maybe what will pull us back around to where you'll always have Cup drivers driving the Busch Series, but it won't be quite so dominated by the Cup Series drivers and the Cup Series teams. I'm not so worried about the drivers as I am about the influx of the Cup Series teams, so to speak.
I would hope that NASCAR would leave the Busch Series right now as is, let us separate ourselves a little bit technically from the Cup Series. If they do that, do that a couple years down the road.
Q. When you started your career, you probably started go-kart racing, dirt tracks. With the way NASCAR is headed with all the technology, seems like a young person, because we in the media get questions by young people, eight or 10 years old, you almost have to tell them you better become a mechanical engineer.
JASON KELLER: I think NASCAR has moved to the point of definitely needing -- that you have to be just more optional. You can't just be a great driver. You have to be able to have the skills to drive. You have to have the skills to market yourself. You have to have the skills mechanically to be able to communicate about the car.
I think NASCAR has gotten more technical. You have to have a larger notebook, so to speak. You have to have more value. You've got to be able to not just be one of those but be a lot of things. It's only because it's gotten so competitive. It used to be your pool was a lot smaller to pull from. Now it's very large. When you got people like Juan Montoya, Pablo, wanting to come, a lot of Canadian driver interest, too. It's not like you're just pulling from the Southeast pool of drivers. You're pulling from a lot of different drivers. It is very difficult to establish yourself and get yourself into any NASCAR series, not just one of the top ones.
TRACEY JUDD: Jason, we appreciate you taking the time to join us today. We wish you the best of luck on Saturday. See you at Gateway.
JASON KELLER: As always, thank you. Look forward to St. Louis this weekend.
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