Atlanta: JJ Yeley preview

J.J. YELEY Better View from the Front of the Line HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (March 14, 2007) -- Seemingly everywhere we go there is a line to wait in. Many find themselves waiting for a table at a restaurant, waiting to check out at the grocery...

J.J. YELEY
Better View from the Front of the Line

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (March 14, 2007) -- Seemingly everywhere we go there is a line to wait in.

Many find themselves waiting for a table at a restaurant, waiting to check out at the grocery store, or waiting 30 cars deep at a stoplight when you are late for an important appointment.

But it's always a relief when you find yourself at the front of that line and can see that your wait is about to come to an end.

For J.J. Yeley -- driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing -- the first three races of his sophomore NASCAR Nextel Cup Series season have been spent towards the front of the line, hoping he has everything he needs to stay there until the checkered flag flies.

After dodging four different accidents to finish 12th in the season-opening Daytona 500, Yeley went on to run in the top-10 for much of the day during the season's second race of the year at California Speedway. He ended up finishing 13th after a bump from another car cost him momentum on the last lap while running in eighth-place.

Moving on to last week's race at the tricky, newly-repaved Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Yeley again ran in the top-10 most of the day before a long green-flag pit stop with less than 50 laps to go sent the Interstate Batteries team a lap down. Yeley still managed to recover for an 18th-place finish and retained his ninth position in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series point standings heading to Atlanta Motor Speedway in Hampton, Ga., this weekend.

The No. 18 Interstate Batteries team has a strong history at Atlanta, which includes an impressive resume of wins. The team has accumulated six wins at AMS, the first coming in 1996 and the most recent victory in March of 2003 with former Joe Gibbs Racing driver Bobby Labonte behind the wheel.

With two impressive runs at intermediate race track the past two weeks -- coupled with the strong history for the No. 18 car at Atlanta -- could this be the week that Yeley and Company get to the front of the line and notch his first career Nextel Cup top-five finish, or even his first career win?

You've started off this season running up front a lot more often, especially during the California and Las Vegas races. Is it easier to navigate a race and stay out of trouble when you are running up front?

"It comes down to knowing when to start applying pressure on the racetrack. Last year, not having that confidence makes you a bit timid in certain situations and then you put yourself in a bad position, and that's when trouble happens. Having that confidence makes you go out there and push the envelope in different parts of the race where you can be more aggressive and pass some cars but stay out of trouble. It's a lot easier to run up in the top-10 than it is to run back there in 20th. The guys up front race easier and cleaner. You have more downforce in the clean air. You get back to racing the guys for 20th and 25th, those guys race way harder than the guys racing in the top-10 and they do it every lap. That's when trouble happens. Having track position is the most critical thing you can do on a Sunday."

Do you think that you are clicking better with Steve Addington this season with more time together under your belt? How important is the driver/crew chief relationship?

"We are much better learning each other and knowing that I can tell him things to make the car feel more comfortable and go faster. At the same time, he's getting more comfortable with critiquing things that I'm doing on the race track. Maybe he thinks I'm driving it in too hard, or maybe I need to change my line. That's what it's going to take. It takes truth and honesty between the two of us and you can't let egos or feelings get in the way because it's a matter of what it's going to take to make this team better in hopes of winning races and having a shot at a championship. I'm glad that he might speak up more about something I'm doing on the racetrack, and I can tell him about issues with the car because it makes things a lot smoother. It's easy to look at the guys that have had the same crew chiefs for a long time. If it's Matt Kenseth with Robbie Reiser, Tony Stewart with Greg Zipadelli or even Jimmie Johnson with Chad Knaus, you have those guys that don't even have to say much on the radio and the crew chief can already tell how much of a change you need to make on the race car just in the tone of the voice of the driver. Sometimes it's cool to listen to those guys and the relationships that they have. That is something Steve (Addington) and I have really built on here."

Does the success of Joe Gibbs Racing overall help with your confidence, knowing that you have the equipment to run up front each week?

"Absolutely. There's no doubt that we have the equipment. This past weekend for me was disappointing because, for the first part of the race, we had the fastest Joe Gibbs Racing car out there. Tony got his car going and you know that was going to happen because of the relationship between Tony and Zippy (Greg Zipadelli). I think they've been together nine years and that's longer than I've been married. Steve (Addington) and I are working on that, but sometimes we are trying to fix something but up making something else worse. We need to make sure we don't beat ourselves at the end of the race, and show the ability that we can do the same thing as those guys. We are certainly improving when it comes to that."

Talk about your learning curve this year. The first full year in the Busch Series was hard, but in your second full year in 2006 you finished fifth in points. Do you feel like you are having a similar learning curve in a Nextel Cup car?

"I sure hope so because my sophomore year in the Busch Series was certainly a lot better than my first full year. I think it's just a matter of having that experience. It's also a matter of patience throughout these races because they are so long. Knowing when it's time to race and knowing when it's time to take care of your equipment. That's something I worked really hard on in the off-season just to make sure I stay sharp. Halfway through the race, or three quarters of the way through the race, it all comes down to consistency. It's truly amazing just following a guy like Mark Martin late in the race at California. The veterans of this sport are like machines. They can hit their mark lap after lap and be very consistent. That's what it takes to be a champion of this series. And when you are going 200 mph, missing the entry to the corner by five feet might mean a tenth or two-tenths, and that's huge in this sport these days. You have to be mentally sharp, that way you focus on the points on the racetrack and have that consistency late in the race."

The No.18 Interstate Batteries team has a great history at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Do you feel like your current team is close to putting everything together to contend for a win or a top-five at Atlanta?

"I think so. If you look at the history from last year, and so far what we have done this year, the mile-and-a-half, high-banked racetracks seemed to be my strong point. We had a really good run going at Atlanta last year and late in the race we just lost the handle on the car. We ended up 16th but ran up front the majority of the day. I think it comes down to the communication between Steve Addington and I, and it's getting better each week. We need to work a little bit harder on keeping the car close to where we need later in the day. It seemed that we lost the handle on the car at Las Vegas. The car started to get a little too tight and started to make some adjustments that made us loose-in. Being loose-in at Las Vegas -- especially with that tire that we had -- was really uncomfortable and just cost us too much time. I'm definitely looking forward to going back to Atlanta. You can run on the top, bottom or middle, or wherever you want to go. To me, it's one of the more fun racetracks we go to."

Does going out there and having fun in a Sprint Car like you did on Thursday and Friday night in Las Vegas help you relax during the hectic Nextel Cup season?

"Most people don't realize the pressures that a NASCAR Nextel Cup driver goes through each day. The short time you spend at home and the amount of time you have to yourself doesn't really amount to much. I'm not complaining about my other obligations by any means, but sometimes you want to go out there and do something that you want to do, and finding that time is difficult. This past weekend in Las Vegas, I got to run two dirt races and had a ball. Let's face it, that's where I really learned to drive a race car. That's what gave me the passion to want to be a Nextel Cup driver and that helps me when I can go out there on the dirt track and have fun. I think it's the same reason that Tony Stewart or Kasey Kahne goes out there now and again because we love racing. That's why I still love the Busch Series. I'm already there so why go sit in my motorhome on Saturday and watch it on TV when I could be out there racing?"

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers Matt Kenseth , Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , J.J. Yeley , Chad Knaus
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing