BRISTOL, Tenn. – Jason Keller’s hair looks a little more gray after a difficult start to the NASCAR Nationwide Series season with Tri-Star Motorsports.
Keller’s No. 35 Chevrolet team was formed 10 days before the start of the season, and he missed both the Daytona and Las Vegas races. Since Keller’s team is new, it is not locked into the first five races of 2010.
"I took it real personal to start with, and I still take it personal," Keller said Friday at Bristol Motor Speedway. "But a lot of guys have to go through it if they didn’t have that safety net. That’s the hard part of starting a team with no net. I tell you what, the last three weeks have been a lot of sleepless nights wishing I had a mulligan.
"You don’t get a mulligan here. You’ve got to man up and do it, and that’s what we’re going to do."
The team is still scrambling to get cars ready, all the while going to the race track to try to qualify for races.
"We’re really trying to catch up," Keller said. "The West Coast swing took a lot out of us because we tried to do a lot with little. A lot of stuff is in the works, but especially when you’re with a smaller team, they just don’t happen overnight. We’re getting some more parts and pieces that will help us, but we’ve got to race in the meantime, too.
"As far as I know, our focus hasn’t changed. We’re building a race team from the ground up, starting 10 days prior to Daytona. With all that said, we’ve hit some bumps in the road. But by everyone’s indication to me, we’re still focused on what we’ve got to focus on. We’ve just got to get better."
Keller said the team is simply focused on getting better in the short-term, while not talking much about what will happen down the road. Keller’s No. 35 car is still devoid of sponsorship logos.
"I do know we’re talking about travel for a little while," Keller said. "I’ve been part of that discussion, which is good."
Keller simply wants the new team to be a competitive product instead of simply struggling to make races. His teammate, Tony Raines, is locked in the first five races based on owners standings from 2009, but neither team is where it wants to be.
"I feel very good that we’re going to do that, but along with the 34 (of Raines), there’s certain things we’ve got to have," Keller said. "I want the 35 to help the 34, and vice versa. But we can’t do that unless we’ve got the right parts and piece. We know we’re not going to get all the parts and pieces at the same time. We’ve got to prioritize, too."
There’s a lot of work to do, but Keller is confident the team can do it. Plus, his record-extending 500th start is looming at Darlington – not far from his hometown of Greeneville, S.C. – provided he makes the next several races.
"Nobody said it was going to be easy," Keller said. "I’ve had to really soul-search here. It’s harder than I’d hoped. I knew it was going to be hard. But I still feel good about it."