AP Photo/Jim Cole
Jason Keller stepped into the No. 27 after Brad Coleman left for a Cup opportunity.
In a perfect world, Jason Keller
would have finished out the Nationwide Series season with CJM Racing, battling the likes of Mike Wallace
, Jason Leffler
, Marcos Ambrose
and David Stremme
for a spot in the top 10 in points.
Heading into Friday night's Dollar General 300 at Lowe's Motor Speedway, Keller is 11th in points, just 74 points behind 10th-place Ambrose. Stremme is 12th in points, just six behind Keller. Wallace and Leffler hold down the eighth and ninth spots, but could slip out of the top 10 with a tough race or two down the stretch.
All but Keller, though, at least have the advantage of finishing the season with the team they've been driving for since the season began in February. Keller, meanwhile, will be making just his third start of the year with a Baker Curb Racing team that's struggled to find stability.
But Keller is doing all he can to make the best of a bad situation. Once informed that CJM was planning on turning to a younger driver (Scott Lagasse Jr.
) for 2009, Keller went and found a ride with Baker Curb, which was looking for a driver since Brad Coleman
left to pursue a Sprint Cup Series opportunity.
Baker Curb opened the year as a two-car team, but lack of sponsorship forced it to close the No. 37 team and lay off a number of employees. Shawn Parker, crew chief of the No. 27, left even before Coleman.
Keller, for one, is glad to be a part of the rebuilding effort.
"They have a lot of uncertainty in their program," said Keller of a team with relatively new owners in Gary Baker and Mike Curb. "We're just trying to eliminate a lot of those [questions]. I'm going to be the driver the rest of this year and [for] 2009. That's one thing they're going to mark off their worry list.
"We know there are big hurdles, but right now we've got to attack them one step at a time and, right now, that's what we have to do."
Keller's goals are twofold: he wants to finish in the top 10 and he wants to build chemistry within the team that will carry into the offseason and lead to a quick start next year.
"[The top 10] is going to be tough, but that is our goal as a driver," Keller said. "But we're trying to learn each other as well. It's going to be a tough battle, but I have to set my goals high. And that's what I'm going to do."
Keller helped CJM Racing build its foundation, and co-owner Tony Mullet said he's thanked Keller repeatedly for his contribution to the team. Keller could have finished the year with the team, but knew it was beneficial for everyone if he could get started with Baker Curb while Lagasse got his feet wet with CJM.
The one downside is it makes his quest of finishing in the top 10 more daunting.
"I was hoping to be there for five or six years -- or 10 years," Keller said. "But the sport is an ever-changing sport and this was a change they chose to go into. Luckily for me, I landed on my feet with a great opportunity."
Mark Ashenfelter is an editor at ESPN. He can be reached at email@example.com.