Jason Smith/Getty Images for NASCAR
Jeff Green is ready to return to the Nationwide Series with Key Motorsports.
Curtis Key thinks he has put all the pieces in place to start building a Nationwide Series team. Starting Friday at Richmond International Raceway, he'll find out how much progress Key Motorsports really has made.
On paper, it's hard to argue with Key's optimism. Then again, plenty of teams that have looked good on paper have struggled on the track. But with former champion Jeff Green
behind the wheel and a winning crew chief in Tommy Morgan, Key's foundation can't be faulted on experience.
Key Motorsports competed in the then-Busch Series for six years -- starting 88 races beginning in 1993 -- before Key stepped out of NASCAR's top ranks for a stretch. He has eased back into the national level by running a full-time team the past three years in the Craftsman Truck Series, but the team hasn't had much success.
That hasn't deterred Key when it comes to returning to the Nationwide Series, though. He went and bought four Chevrolets that Dale Earnhardt Inc. wasn't using this season. Key says he's better prepared to take this step now than he was years ago.
"When I last competed in the series, I didn't have a lot of money and faced an uphill battle from day one," Key said. "But I talked to a lot of people and learned some valuable lessons back then, so when I made the decision to get back into the series last year, I knew what I needed to do to be competitive and finally succeed."
In Green, the team has a proven winner, but he hasn't been running full time this season and last raced regularly in the Nationwide Series in 2002, when he made 22 starts. One advantage Green has is that the series held a test session at the track, giving him a chance to work with the team and begin building a rapport with Morgan.
"We are thrilled that Jeff was available and then agreed to drive for us," Key said. "He is certainly an experienced driver, and he really helped us get this race car ready. If everything goes well at Richmond, my early plan is to also run the races at Darlington and Charlotte in May. That should give us a pretty good barometer as to where we stand and just how competitive we can be in this series."
Morgan, a former crew chief in the series at Roush Fenway Racing, is the team's director of competition in addition to serving as the crew chief for the Nationwide Series effort. Morgan agrees Green's experience has been vital.
"The car really did well in that Richmond test, and having someone behind the wheel with the level of experience and success in this series that a Jeff Green has certainly was a major factor," Morgan said. "Things obviously started slowly for us at the test, but by the halfway mark of the second day, the [car] was running with some of the series' best race cars and drivers. Jeff gave us great feedback, and the more he ran, the better he got.
"We know we have a good piece and just hope that we can catch some breaks to get into the race [47 cars are entered] and then run every lap
Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.