Atlanta: JJ Yeley race report

Irish Eyes Weren't Smiling on Yeley J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet, had a strong car all weekend but the luck of the Irish wasn't with him on Sunday for the Kobalt Tools 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at ...

Irish Eyes Weren't Smiling on Yeley

J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet, had a strong car all weekend but the luck of the Irish wasn't with him on Sunday for the Kobalt Tools 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Yeley finished the post St. Patrick's Day race one lap down in 22nd, which put him outside the top-10 in points for the first time this season.

The Phoenix native began the 325-lap contest with a tight-handling race car, prohibiting him from turning well in the center of the corner and on exit -- a condition that seemed to worsen as the race wore on. From the drop of the green flag, Yeley's lap times continued to drop off as he fought to keep his car off the wall.

"We started out tight on exit and then it just got worse and worse," said Yeley during the first green flag run. "I can roll through (turns) three and four fair, but I have to be careful or I'll lose it."

A caution for debris on lap 35 offered the Interstate Batteries crew the opportunity to make much needed repairs to the No. 18 machine. Crew chief Steve Addington ordered four tires, fuel, a spring rubber, a track bar adjustment and an air pressure adjustment to free up the race car.

On lap 40, Yeley restarted the race in 23rd and soon began complaining that his Chevrolet was up to its old tricks again. To compound the team's continuing tight condition, the race ran caution-free for another 104 laps, forcing the Interstate Batteries crew to make adjustments to the car during regularly scheduled green flag pit stops.

During each visit to pit road, the over-the-wall crew continued to make more air pressure and track bar adjustments, but every green flag run would net the same result -- a car that was too tight in the center and on exit. In spite of his struggles, Yeley managed to keep his race car on the lead lap until lap 200 when the leader and eventual race winner Jimmie Johnson put him a lap down.

For the moment, Yeley was at the front of pack as the first car one lap down, desperately hoping to get a timely caution so he could earn his lap back by virtue of NASCAR's "lucky dog" ruling, where the first car a lap down gets a free pass to return to the lead lap. That caution eventually came on lap 224.

Yeley brought his No. 18 machine into the pits for routine service, but Irish eyes weren't smiling on the Interstate Batteries team this time around. NASCAR officials ordered him back to the pits to serve a penalty for a missing lugnut. Yeley would have been the lucky dog, but instead, his luck had run out.

In spite of having a car that began to perform much better, Yeley was unable to get his No. 18 Chevrolet onto the lead lap. He eventually crossed the finish line in 22nd, one lap down.

"The guys worked real hard on the car and it was still pretty decent," said Yeley after the race. "We were hanging in there, but as the day went on it just got to where we fought and maybe messed up another aspect of the corner trying to fix the exit. We had a couple of pit stops that weren't spectacular. We had one where we had to come back in, and coming back in definitely cost us a little bit. I guess it's a tough deal no matter how you look at it. If we didn't have to come back in, we'd of had a better shot at getting the 'lucky dog.'

"It's just these real small things that are the difference between maybe finishing 22nd and finishing 14th or 12th," continued Yeley. "We just have to make sure as a team that we can avoid having any little mistakes, because it seems like a real fine mistake can affect the outcome in a big way."

Yeley's Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) teammates -- Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin -- finished second and 19th, respectively. It was Stewart's third straight top-10 result since finishing 43rd in the season-opening Daytona 500. Hamlin's 19th-place result was his third consecutive top-20 finish.

Stewart is now the lead JGR driver in the championship point race, as his second-place finish moved him up seven spots to sixth in the standings. Hamlin and Yeley occupy the eighth and 12th positions, respectively. Hamlin maintained his position due to his 19th-place result, while Yeley dropped three positions care of his 22nd-place finish.

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , J.J. Yeley
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing