Key ready to jump back into series with veteran Green behind the wheel

Updated: April 29, 2008

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 … hopefully competitive."

Mark Ashenfelter is an associate editor at ESPN. He can be reached at


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Mike Wallace wanted more

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Mike Wallace avoided the carnage that caught up many drivers at Talladega, with the end result being a 10th-place finish. If things had broken differently, Wallace might have headed home a whole lot happier.

"I felt I was a car to beat [late in the race]," Wallace said. [Greg] Biffle helped me dramatically -- he got us to where I almost had [Tony] Stewart cleared and I was just half a car length from clearing him. I didn't want to force the issue. Then on the final restart, [Jason Leffler] said [he] would work with us and we had a run and we went.

"I should have been smarter than that, I've been through this rodeo before, and he blew us out to dry. We were fortunate to hang on to a top-10. We had a good car, it drove really good -- we had no problems all day long. … I'm disappointed for our team -- I should be happy with a top-10, but I'm not because I thought I had a shot to win the thing."

Leffler, meanwhile, ended up fourth and was grateful for the help Wallace gave him -- which is part of how things play out at both Daytona and Talladega. Leffler said he wasn't trying to ditch Wallace at the end of the race and was hoping the two could work to get Leffler the win.

"If I had someone [drafting] with me, I might have had something [for Stewart]. Mike Wallace gave me a good shove, but I think it stalled him out," Leffler said. "If he would have been right there with me, we might have been able to drive around a couple more. We were just biding our time through the entire race. The car runs really good, and it's been a fast car for us. I'm glad we're leaving with it in one piece and go on to Daytona with it."