The Frontstretch: Jason Keller's Future Looks Bleak, As Does Support For the Busch Series Rookies by Toni Montgomery -- Sunday April 23, 2006

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Jason Keller's Future Looks Bleak, As Does Support For the Busch Series Rookies

Second Fiddle: Around the Busch and Craftsman Truck Series · Toni Montgomery · Sunday April 23, 2006

 

I gave the Buschwhackers a rest the last time I took my turn for Second Fiddle, but it looks like I need to revisit the subject again. This time around, though, I have a few other observations on things going on in the Busch Series, specifically concerning Jason Keller, Busch Series veterans, Busch Series rookies, and the fans.

Let’s start with Keller. It was announced last week that Jason Keller and the Phoenix Racing Team have parted ways. The information released by the James Finch #1 team did not come out and say it was a performance issue with the driver, although that’s what I read between the lines, because it went on to mention they would be evaluating their program. Whenever a team says someone is “evaluating”, the driver they just ushered out the door usually seems to be the issue.

Keller sat 12th in driver points only eight races into the season (he has dropped to 19th since). In other years, that could have merited disappointment from a Busch team owner, but I really think any owner of a regular Busch team in nowadays would have to rethink their standards thanks to the presence of the Buschwhackers. Those full-time Cup drivers currently hold six of the Top 10 points positions. If a rule were put in place to prohibit these drivers from competing for the Busch championship, they would effectively be removed from those spots, and Keller would have been sixth. In that case, I’d be surprised to see any owner dumping a driver who was just outside the Top 5 in points.

However, the reality is that Keller has been released…so now what kind of situation does Keller face in the free agent market? A dreary one, in my opinion. Only nine races into the season, the movements of other teams as far as looking for new drivers haven’t really started yet. On top of that, Keller will turn 36 this week, so while he has years of good racing ahead of him, he is not the hot, young talent most owners are looking for. Unfortunately, I think Keller will be the latest driver on a list of Busch veterans that includes David Green, Tim Fedewa, Mike McLaughlin (now retired), and Randy Lajoie who found the hunt for a new ride much more difficult than they should have. Out of that list, Green is the only one who has had much luck so far, and that came only after a long search and some time off the race track during which he wondered if he’d ever drive in NASCAR again.

Unfortunately, it seems Keller got pretty shabby treatment in this case, especially for a guy closing in on the most starts in Busch Series history. For now, Mike Wallace takes the seat on an interim basis, but I hope we don’t see yet another Cup driver in that car when the smoke clears.

That covers Keller and the veterans, so what was it I wanted to say about the Busch Series rookies? Only that they have long been the biggest defenders of Cup drivers running in Busch races, but I’m seeing signs that even those allies have had enough. Poring through the rookie comments each week for the Busch Breakdowns here on Frontstretch, it seems to me we have a rather downbeat class of rookies. Why? Well, most of them haven’t been getting quite the finishes they had been expecting. Most aren’t getting the qualifying results they expected. Some are getting beat up on the track a little more than they expected. What is the reason for this? Are they simply just not talented enough? It’s a little early to tell in every case, but I’m betting the answer is some of them are in fact very talented.

So, what’s the problem then? Well, the Busch rookies are overrun with Cup drivers taking the top qualifying spots and the top finishing positions, which is ironic considering the rookies have always defended the Cup drivers running in Busch by saying it gives them a chance to race against the best and improve their skills. With the competition notched up so far, though, these rookies are simply not in a good learning environment anymore. Other than Burney Lamar, most of the rookies haven’t even been in spitting distance of the Cup drivers on race day. Exactly how far behind they are hit home when one of them (Joel Kauffman, I believe it was) commented on NBS 24/7 that he was looking forward to Nashville when there wouldn’t be as many Cup drivers so that he might be able to actually get a decent qualifying spot and feel like he was in the race.

Last but not least, there are the “new” Busch Series fans. I don’t know what to make of the statistics I’m seeing. Attendance and ratings keep climbing, giving the impression that fans like to see all of the Cup drivers running in the Busch races. I have had comments on previous articles from fans who said just that. I have also had comments from fans who are outraged and disappointed to see all of those Cup drivers taking over the series. I see letters from these fans constantly saying they have given up watching Busch races because of it. So, what’s the truth? I’m certainly curious. I fall into the disgusted group of media and fans, in case you haven’t already figured that out, and there’s a lot more where I came from. So how can ratings and attendance be rising when there are so many disgusted fans? Well, maybe the squeaky wheels are just the loudest ones.

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Sue
04/24/2006 06:40 PM
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I’m not a fan of Cuplite either. It’s all money diven. Think about it. If you had the choice to pay $100+ for a seat @ a Cup race to see your driver and fight traffic on Sunday – OR- cheaper Busch tickets for the family and less traffic and still get to see most of the Cup drivers that NASCAR promotes what would you do? Fans aren’t stupid. They can figure out how to see everything they want and not pay the high $$$ Brian France seems to think all fans have in endless supply.

As heavy handed as Brian France is in other areas you wonder why he whimps out at “just saying no” to so many Cup drivers in a series that is suppose to bring us the new up coming talent for future Cup.

Bottom line is that Brian France listens to $$$ and the individual fan doesn’t have enough to support new ideas to become facts in the sport.

Remember 85% didn’t want the Chase but once we were told we’d love it that was good enough for Brian France.

Thank you for listening. Good article.

Robby
04/24/2006 08:41 PM
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Do other major sports allow this? Do major league baseball players go to the minors for practice??? No. The answer is simple, greed. Nascar will never be what other sports are because of who is running the show. Wich brings me to another point, is this communism or racing? Funny how the Frances want new owners in the series but not new owners of Nascar itself as a business. Anyways, why not just switch the car model, take all points and $$ away unless the cup drivers are running a full Busch schedule also? (wich would be great because cup and busch are not always at the same track, so they would really have to “earn it” if they wanted it, thus deterring most cup drivers), and then allow more testing so cup drivers wouldn’t view it as such a big deal to race Busch races. Originally we were told they cut back on tests to help cut back on costs, wich would help smaller teams and hopefully attract new ownership. Bunch o’ crap if you ask me. The small teams are still struggling and there is one new owner/team in cup (wich doesn’t make up for those who have left). It seems like France cut back on testing to further control the sport, a greedy move. Furthermore, Nascar needs its version of a AA league, Cup drivers dont belong there, and as far as the cheap people who go to Busch races to avoid paying to see the cup race, but still get to see thier drivers, one word, France. He is dilluting his own product, one more word, greed.

steve
04/25/2006 07:39 AM
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“Do other major sports allow this? Do major league baseball players go to the minors for practice??? No.”

The correct answer is yes, it happens all the time for rehab, timing, and other reasons. They don’t play in both at the same time, however…

Robby
04/25/2006 09:58 PM
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Steve, do guys like you have nothing better to do than sit around reading other’s responses only to to make them politically correct???? U know what I meant, you will never see Jeter in a AA game, ever.

Drake
04/26/2006 03:56 AM
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Re Robby and Steve: First, Busch is nothing like AA baseball. In fact, it’s not even equivilant to AAA baseball. That’s ARCA if you want to make that analogy.

Second, if you’re using baseball analogies, tell me when MLB bought in new owners for the entire leauge please.

Third, Nobody knew what you meant then since you didn’t mention Jeter in the first comment. If that’s what you meant, it’s still a bad analogy since, like I said earlier, Busch isn’t even comparable to AAA in the baseball world, much less AA.

Unless you “meant” AAA and not AA. Wouldn’t want to be accused of ‘politically’ correcting your incorrect statements.

Desmond Hobson
04/26/2006 11:23 AM
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I have heard a rumor that Jason Keller’s driving style was not aggressive enough to suit owner James Finch; that could be why he was released.

Robby
04/26/2006 06:37 PM
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hey drake your opinion is worthless…you just want to be heard…

Robby
04/26/2006 06:40 PM
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furthermore if you aren’t smart enough to understand what I meant (without having a little problem w/everything said), maybe you should stick to something a little less complicated…

 

Contact Toni Montgomery

Recent articles from Toni Montgomery:

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IF you want to know more about Toni Montgomery or to see all of her Frontstretch articles, check out her archive and bio page.