Second straight August pole for Keller

By Jeff Birchfield
STAR Staff

   BRISTOL -- Jason Keller enjoys the view.
   For the second straight year, the Greenville, SC driver will start the Food City 250 NASCAR Busch Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway from the pole position.
   "We unloaded and the car wasn't that good," said the driver of the No. 57 Albertson's Ford. "We made some really big changes to the car. You don't usually make any big changes here, but we made some wholesale changes and it worked."
   It was Keller's second pole of the season, the first coming at Texas in April, and the tenth of his Busch Series career.
   The fast time of 15.226 seconds, a new event record of 126.021 miles per hour, knocked Kevin Harvick, the winner of the Busch Series race here back in the spring, off the top spot.
   "It's the first time we've qualified good here in a while," said Harvick, who is seeking a fourth Busch Series victory of 2003. "We worked a little harder than we usually do on our qualifying set-up, but it doesn't take much to be off a little here.
   "Obviously, we feel good when we come to Bristol. We won the Busch race here in the spring and we have won a couple of these night races."
   Harvick, whose No. 21 PayDay Chevrolet team leads the Busch Series owner points, also responded to the previous night when he all but had the Craftsman Truck Series race wrapped up before blowing his right front tire.
   He addressed tire company officials speculating that Harvick's hard driving caused the problem.
   "The Goodyear people are the first ones to blame us for doing something wrong, yet they don't want any scruntity about their tires," said Harvick. "It pisses you off. They are always wanting to put the blame on you.
   "If the bead melted like they claimed, the top of the tire shouldn't have come apart. We probably cut it and there was nothing wrong with the tire, but I don't appreciate them throwing me under the bus saying we did something wrong as a race team.
   "They are the first ones to cry and complain when we complain about their tires."
   Young driver Brian Vickers took the third starting position in his No. 5 GMAC Chevrolet.
   "This is always a breathtaking place," said Vickers. "You can't convince me this isn't the fastest place we race at. We got through turns one and two awesome, it was a pole condition lap. Then in three and four it pushed a little bit and that was where we lost it.
   "We worked more on our race set-up in practice. It probably hurt us a little in qualifying, but it should help us in the race."
   Michael Waltrip, who tested here last week, put his No. 99 Aaron's Dream Machine Chevy in the fourth slot and Tony Raines, the runner-up back in the spring, rounded out the top five.
   Other notables included the top two in series points, Scott Riggs and David Green, who qualified seventh and eighth respectively.
   "We've been struggling with the car being a little too tight," Riggs commented. "The track has changed a lot since the spring race. We unloaded with the same car we had here in the spring, but it was nowhere it needed tobe.
   "We were trying to make it cut better through the center of the corner. I think everybody is having that trouble."
   Johnson City's Brad Teague one night after finishing 16th in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race, barely missed making the race on time, but was able to get in the show via the first provisional available.
   Another local entry Caleb Holman was not so lucky as he clung to the last spot available in the field on time before Jason Schuler beat Holman's fast time on the last lap of the qualifying session by only .001 of a second.
   Holman was sent home along with eight other drivers as 52 cars attempted to make the field.
   For Keller, when the time trials concluded he had taken a third pole position at the .533-mile track, which ties him with Morgan Shepard for the all-time record. He will now go after a second win to match his effort in the 1999 spring race.
   "I would really love to win," said Keller. "There is no more exciting race than the night race here. Although qualifying on the pole gives us an advantage with pit position and things like that, it still is a long race. We have our work cut out for us."