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Keller Overcomes the Odds to Finish in the Top-15 at Chicago

Jason Keller
Jason Keller
(July 11, 2008) Joliet, Ill. – When looking back at the events surrounding Chicagoland Speedway one thing is apparent. The America’s Incredible Pizza Company race team and veteran driver Jason Keller were not going to give up. The team came back from a less than stellar qualifying effort starting in the 33rd position and then battled back from going a lap down early in the race to finish out the evening on the lead lap in the 14th position.

In the last 10 races CJM Racing has not finished outside of the top-20 and the team came into Chicagoland hoping to keep that streak alive. With a lot of determination and hard work that hope became a reality Friday evening.

The America’s Incredible Pizza Company race team unloaded chassis #03 Thursday morning. This was the same car they had raced earlier this year at Kentucky where the team qualified second and posted a top-10 finish.

The same scenario would not play out as practice got underway later that afternoon. Battling a loose handling race car, the team made some major adjustments in first practice. Unfortunately the opportunity to test out those adjustments would not fall in the teams favor. Rain once again caused NASCAR to cancel the final practice session. Keller posted the 21st quickest time out of 50 cars with a 31.344 second lap, 172.282 mph in his first session.

Moving on to qualifying the following day, Keller drew the fourth qualifying spot. As the heat moved in and the sun beat down, the No. 11 America’s Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet took to the track. Due to the early qualifying draw and the hot temperatures at hand, Keller ran a disappointing time of 31.665 seconds; placing the No. 11 in the 33rd position for Friday night’s race under the lights.

Starting in the back of the field, Keller knew he had to move quickly thru the 43-car field and avoid any on-track incidents early on. Within 20 laps the America’s Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet moved up five spots to the 28th position. As he continued to pass cars under green flag conditions, the leader was gaining momentum too and passed Keller on lap 33 to place the No. 11 machine on lap down.

Desperate to keep valuable track position, Keller stayed directly behind the leader until green flag pit stops started to cycle thru around lap 50. The leaders came down pit road and Keller stayed out on track. One lap before Keller’s scheduled pit stop the caution flag waved and the pit strategy allowed the America’s Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet to regain its position on the lead lap.

The No. 11 was then brought down pit road for four tires, fuel, an air pressure and wedge adjustment to help alleviate a loose handling race car.

Back out on track and running in the fifth position, Keller kept the No. 11 machine out front until the loose handling condition reared its ugly head again. Dropping a few positions to 12th, crew chief Todd Gordon called Keller to pit road under caution on lap 88. The America’s Incredible Pizza Company crew quickly changed four tires and added some Sunoco fuel. An air pressure adjustment was made to help the handling woes.

In the second half of the 200-lap event, the No. 11 kept pace with the lead cars and ran anywhere from the fourth position to the 12th position. A final pit stop was made on lap 153 for tires, fuel and an aggressive track bar adjustment.

Keller restarted in the 13th position with only 40 laps remaining. The on-track action heated up as every car jockeyed for position. The America’s Incredible Pizza Company Chevrolet held strong but would fall one position at the very end to finish out the evening in the 14th position.

“We overcame a lot of obstacles this week at Chicago. Losing our final practice session didn’t help and then to qualify where we did was pretty disappointing. We made some adjustments throughout the race, got the handling under control and were able to run lap times the same as the leaders. Overall I’m happy with where we ended up. We’re learning more every week and applying that every chance we get,” Keller explained.

The NASCAR Nationwide Series will be in St. Louis next week as the teams compete at Gateway International Raceway. The race will be aired live on ESPN2 at 9:00 pm (EST).

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