Daytona 500: JJ Yeley Media Day interview

J.J. YELEY, No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota Camry, Hall of Fame Racing How do you approach the 'Shootout'? "Obviously we'd like to win - it would be great to win the 'Shootout.' At the end of the day - we brought three speedway cars here with the full...

J.J. YELEY, No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota Camry, Hall of Fame Racing

How do you approach the 'Shootout'? "Obviously we'd like to win - it would be great to win the 'Shootout.' At the end of the day - we brought three speedway cars here with the full intention of racing to win the 'Shootout.' If something happens before we get to that point, we're going to have to change our game plan because that car will become the back-up for the Daytona 500. It's really going to tell how the 150s go - as far as drafting goes - how the car slides around and how safe it's going to be. If you have a very fast race car and you get taken out in the first 50 or 60 laps, it doesn 't do you any good because you're still wrecked."

How is the transition to Toyotas going? "It's just business as usual. For me, there 's not a huge change in the way the cars drive. Obviously, it 's the right manufacturer to have so far coming here to Daytona. All the Toyotas were fast here in testing, just as they were at the intermediate tracks in California and Las Vegas. I think that Toyota has really stepped-up their program from what they had last year. I think they've surprised a lot of people. I actually think they're going to win a race here in Daytona. If it's not the Daytona 500, I think they're going to win a race this month."

How is it to work with Toyota compared to other manufacturers? "For me - to try to compare the two - there's a lot more involvement from Toyota. You see a lot more engineers and staff going around trying to help the teams. They've instituted a couple different programs where there are people that float from team to team to try to share information. You just don't see that as much, even though I was with one of the Chevrolet 'flagship' teams. There was help and technical support, but just not at the level that Toyota is doing it. They're definitely here to be competitive and win races. It's easy to see why they're so successful in years past."

How much of a factor does luck play into winning a race at Daytona? "I would say it's at least 30 to 40 percent, when it comes to luck. You look at a guy like Dale (Earnhardt), who led so many laps and so many races, but only won one Daytona 500 -- it's amazing. Then, you look at some of the guys that have won it from being in the right place at the right time. You obviously have to have a very fast race car and put yourself in that position, but sometimes luck definitely takes over and gives you a shot at winning this race."

What does it mean to have guys like Jeff Moorad and Tom Garfinkel involved as team owners? "It means a bunch. That's one of the biggest reasons I felt compelled to take a shot with Hall of Fame Racing. Obviously, with the way this program was brought up, they've done a fantastic job. They've finished in the top-25 and top-26 in the points in their first two seasons. There are many new resources that Jeff and Tom are bringing into the team -- a fresh look from the business side and the game plan they have for the next three or four years -- all of it is really amazing and different from what a lot of the other teams are doing."

What do you think about the open-wheel drivers coming into NASCAR? "They are still professional race car drivers. It's going to take them a little bit of time to adapt to these race cars. There's probably no better time than now because everyone is trying to adjust to the new car. These guys have all been racing for a very long time and they'll get it figured out. Their learning curve is going to be steeper because they've come from cars that have a lot of down-force and drive completely different. It's probably not fair to say they need to go somewhere else and work their way up to this level. You're talking about guys that have won the Indy 500 and have won F-1 races, and competed against the best in the world."

Is anything on the line for you this season? "Obviously, I have to prove I can go out and get the job done. I was at Joe Gibbs Racing for fo ur years -- two in the Cup Series. We had decent finishes and at the end of the season the points didn't reflect how well we probably ran throughout the year, but it still wasn't as good as what my teammates did. I'm at a single car team and whatever I need -- they're going to get for me. I have to go out and prove I can get the job done. I think it's going to be pretty easy to do with Toyota on our side."

Is the ability to adapt the best skill a race car driver can have? "Absolutely. You always have to be able to adapt -- especially in these race cars. It's amazing. Even just from practice -- you can be one of the better cars in practice and then start the race and your car will be horrible. You just have to be able to adapt to any kind of changes -- the track changing or the car changing. That's what I think is always helpful for the guys who come from open-wheel racing backgrounds because you race dirt and pavement -- the cars are always changing. You have to figure out a line that's going to make your car go faster. It's something I'm used to doing and I'm usually one of the first guys to go wandering around on the race track to find a place that's going to make my car go faster. You have to be able to adapt to the ever-changing conditions to be competitive."

-credit: toyota motorsports

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Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing , Hall of Fame Racing