Bristol: JJ Yeley preview

J.J. YELEY Tomorrow is Just Another Day HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (March 20, 2007) -- After several years of testing -- along with being under the media microscope for just as long -- the debut of the much anticipated Car of Tomorrow...

J.J. YELEY
Tomorrow is Just Another Day

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (March 20, 2007) -- After several years of testing -- along with being under the media microscope for just as long -- the debut of the much anticipated Car of Tomorrow finally culminates this weekend at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.

While the car might look different, J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Impala SS for Joe Gibbs Racing, sees Bristol as just another day at the office.

While many have been talking about the new generation of cars for months, drivers and teams alike know Bristol's Food City 500 is worth the same amount of points as any other race.

On the grueling NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series schedule, the fifth race of the season is just as important as Race 26 at Richmond (Va.) International Speedway or the season finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

So while Yeley will strap into a new version of his Interstate Batteries machine this weekend, the same rules apply. To be successful at the half-mile, high-banked oval, one must somehow avoid trouble.

And even though Yeley has not enjoyed much success at Bristol, he's hoping that the Car of Tomorrow might bring him a bit more luck. As always, the goal is to gain those ever so critical points as he works toward making his first Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup in 2007.

The Car of Tomorrow may be here and now, but tomorrow is still just another day at the race track for Yeley and Company.

There has been so much talk about the Car of Tomorrow (COT), but is this really just another typical Bristol race as far as how the drivers approach it?

"They are all important. There is not one race that is more important than any of the others. I don't believe that there is going to be a huge difference between the Car of Tomorrow and our current race cars -- at least nothing the fans will notice beyond the obvious look of the car. I'm sure that the speeds will be off a little bit at both Bristol and Martinsville. Racing-wise, I think you're going to still see close, tight racing. It's going to be interesting to see how the cars stand up from the bumping and banging that comes from your typical NASCAR short track racing. Other than that, it will be a regular day at the office."

Everyone has focused so much on Bristol because it's the first Car of Tomorrow race, but are you going to learn more about the COT at tracks such as Phoenix, Darlington and Dover where aerodynamics play more of a role?

"I think Phoenix will be a better indication than Bristol and Martinsville of what we are going to have as a package for the Car of Tomorrow. Phoenix is obviously a faster race track than what we'll have in the first two COT races. To me, I don't think the first real test is going to come until we go to a place like Dover that has a lot of banking and a lot of speed. Then I really think we'll begin to learn what it takes to make these cars go fast because of the limited amount of travel we have in the cars. Phoenix is still a pretty flat race track and speeds are toned down there as opposed to Dover. The tracks I'm really going to look forward to -- as far as learning about the Car of Tomorrow -- are Darlington and Dover, just because of the way those race tracks are. They are both tricky race tracks, and it should be interesting to see what it's going to take to get the car around there smoothly."

Atlanta seemed like a tough day, but you still finished in the top-25. While a day like that is frustrating, does it say a lot about the difference in this Interstate Batteries team that you were able to take a tough day and still make the best out of it to salvage as many points as possible?

"Obviously, starting off the season 12th in points after Atlanta helps you handle having a 20th-place run and having issues and still be ok. If you are 30th or worse in points, you try to accumulate as many points as possible, and not being in that position makes a huge difference. We had a car that was capable of being a top-15 car at Atlanta. We had a pit stop under caution where we didn't get all the lugnuts on and had to come back down pit road where we lost the opportunity to get the lucky dog when we were the first car in line to get it. You still have to have a lot of luck in this series. Even though we've had some pretty good finishes in the first four races, we've definitely given away some positions late in the race. You take the 15 or 20 points we've lost these last three races and instead of sitting sixth in points, we suddenly find ourselves in 12th-place. We still need to close the deal. There are some things we missed out on that hopefully won't affect us at the end of the year, and I hope we can make sure we don't give any more points away."

There seems to be a lot of talk about points entering the fifth race of the season. As far as points go, is the fifth race of the season just as important as the 26th race when you're heading into the Chase for the Nextel Cup?

"Absolutely. You look at Tony Stewart last year and he missed the chase by less than 15 points. They didn't have a really good race at Richmond and they didn't make the Chase. I don't want to be in that situation -- to look back and see that if we had gained two positions in one race we're in the Chase as opposed to being on the outside looking in. We've already given up 40 or 50 points easily, and we could miss the chase by that small of a number. Every race of the season is so very critical. But at the same time, we would be better off finishing 20th than going out there and racing too hard and maybe getting caught up in someone else's mess and ending up 35th or worse. We still have to go out there and be consistent and log finishes, but at the same time, we just can't give up easy positions and the critical points that go with them."

Bristol isn't your favorite track because you haven't had a lot of success there. Is Bristol frustrating for a driver because there are so many factors -- namely unavoidable wrecks -- that are out of your control?

"Sure. To me, that would probably be the biggest reason. I rank race tracks according to if you can pass. That is why they put the name 'race' into race tracks -- so you can go out there and race and you can have the opportunity to start in the back and to pass cars and get to the front. It's happened in the past at Bristol, but so much of it is not under your control. We had a really good run going in the spring race last year and it looked like we had a top-10 finish in the bag, but on the restart several lapped cars got together and next thing you know we were wrecked. It was no fault of our own, but there was nothing we could do about it. That part of Bristol is what I don't care much for. It's obviously on the schedule, but I guess if I had a record at Bristol like Kevin Harvick has, then it would be one of my favorite race tracks since he's won there several times. Maybe the Car of Tomorrow will give me a better perspective of Bristol, but regardless, we are still going there with the same attitude of trying to go run up front and win the race."

Does driving the COT force some drivers to learn more about how to adjust the car than they currently have to with the previous generation car?

"I think so. The COT is definitely going to drive differently. The feeling that I've gotten over the last year in the car we're currently running is going to be a huge change. But at the same time, it's going to come down to the crew chiefs to learn that the same changes we make now aren't going to work. We're going to work a lot harder on a lot smaller resources to make the cars turn and in trying to get grip in them. The way the tests have been so far, the car is slower, but I think it's going to be up to Goodyear to dictate how the COT is going to do. It comes down to feeding the proper information back. It's not going to be up to me to know how many thousandths we are going to have to make on an adjustment on the front end. That is why a crew chief makes the big bucks."

What's the biggest difference you've seen on adjusting the Car of Tomorrow as opposed to the current cars?

"From what I can see, the COT is more like the car of yesterday. I've talked to different teams -- the way you travel the cars, the springs you have to run -- it's more like a car they ran five or 10 years ago. It's definitely good for the competition. I was talking to Kenny Wallace and they had a great Bristol test. It's because they took some of the parts out and made it more toward the old days where they, as a baseline, are good. Now at the end of this year, after the engineers get a hold of these cars and spend some time to work their way around some rules, the teams that are really heavily engineered are going to be the teams that come out dominating. Bristol is a short track, and once we get away from there and start getting to places like a Phoenix, Dover -- higher speed race tracks -- the engineering is going to stand out and the teams that are the best teams right now are going to rise back to the top."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Kenny Wallace , J.J. Yeley
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing