Daytona II: JJ Yeley preview

J.J. YELEY Electric Light Orchestra HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (July 3, 2007) -- Music enthusiasts might remember rock band Electric Light Orchestra, also known as E.L.O. The band became popular in the 1970s and 80s, having named itself as an intended...

J.J. YELEY
Electric Light Orchestra

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (July 3, 2007) -- Music enthusiasts might remember rock band Electric Light Orchestra, also known as E.L.O.

The band became popular in the 1970s and 80s, having named itself as an intended pun describing the its unique combination of electric "rock" instruments and "light orchestra" instruments used to create the groups its distinctive sound.

So what does E.L.O have to do with this weekend's NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Pepsi 400 at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway?

Well, Electric Light Orchestra also might be a perfect description for the action of the electric sound of 43 stock cars under the lights at the World Center of Racing for the 49th annual Fourth-of-July-weekend spectacle.

If you ask J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), he'll tell you that this weekend's race took on a whole new meaning for Independence Day fireworks when the race moved under the lights starting in 1998.

But one spectacle that Yeley and the rest of his fellow competitors will hope to avoid is being swept up in the big accident that restrictor-plate racing is notorious for.

Yeley was able to do just that in last February's Daytona 500, when he not only escaped damage to come home with a respectable 12th-place finish, but avoided four different wrecks near him to escape his second Daytona 500 start unscathed.

Saturday night's race will also mark a milestone as the last race for the current superspeedway car. The Car of Tomorrow (COT) will make its restrictor-plate-race debut on the Talladega Superspeedway in October at the year's final superspeedway race. All races beginning with the 2008 season-opener at Daytona will feature the COT.

While there might not be much use for the car he will drive this weekend -- Chassis No. 72 -- Yeley and his Interstate Batteries team will hope for a little luck under the lights and bring the car to a great final resting place -- victory lane.

J.J. YELEY (Driver, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet):

What's the difference in mindset between coming to Daytona for the Daytona 500 in February and leading into the halfway point in the season here in July?

"I think even though you are still at Daytona, it's a completely different race. Being at night, the race track has a little more grip. There is always something about racing under the lights that just makes the cars look faster and makes everything look cooler. To me, looking at it from the fan perspective, I would vote to have a night race every week. It just changes the ambiance of the entire day. It's a lot of fun to head back there at night and the race track has more grip. The track definitely has the potential for better, even better racing, than when we are there for the Daytona 500."

You've learned a lot about restrictor-plate racing over the past two years, but is the key to keep your nose clean like you did in the Daytona 500?

"Absolutely, because there are a lot of things that happen in superspeedway racing and at Daytona that are out of your control. Sometimes you get lucky and make it through an accident, and sometimes you get caught up in someone else's wreck. It's just a part of superspeedway racing. You know a wreck is going to happen, but you always hope to avoid it. Sometimes it comes down to being at the right place at the right time. If you have a good car, you can stay out front. If you have a really fast race car, you can hang back and stay out of trouble and race back to the front of the field fairly easily."

This is the last time for the superspeedway car before the Car of Tomorrow debuts on the superspeedway at Talladega in the fall. Do you think the fact that these cars won't be used after this race will make anyone a little more aggressive on Saturday night?

"It's not going to change anything. In order to win the race, you still have to finish. You can tell from the Daytona 500 that there was a huge wreck there at the end and it cost a lot of teams some really good race cars. But obviously, after this race, you don't have to worry about fixing them. They can be put up as a mantle piece, I guess, or go out behind the shop and it doesn't really matter at this point. I think the same things are going to happen. Guys are going to go out there and use there heads. At the end of the day, you just don't have to worry about going through the resources and time it takes to go through and massage on what a speedway car used to really need. You used to have to spend a lot of time making sure you had a good car that obviously has good horsepower but that's also aero-sensitive and the body is done right."

The last several weeks, the Nextel Cup Series has seen a lot of different race tracks. We've gone from a road course to a one-mile track to a superspeedway and then to a mile-and-a-half oval. Does that diversity change your mindset at all, and is it fun for you?

"It's definitely a fun part of the schedule. The downside of it, because of the diversity of the race tracks, is that you spend a lot of time traveling. It seems like you go from one side of the country back and forth to the other side, and the travel sometimes gets to you. But it is fun get to a road course, to a short track, back to a superspeedway and then to the intermediate tracks that I enjoy the most."

Often, you talk about how the veterans are consistent lap after lap on the intermediate race tracks. Does experience help the veterans navigate the restrictor-plate tracks better, or is it more important to team up with someone so that you can draft together?

"I don't know if the veterans have a huge advantage. You still have to have a really good race car in order to stay up front. Guys like Tony (Stewart), Dale Jr. -- guys who can really work the draft well -- are always going to be good. You can't go there with a 15th-place car and expect to win. It's really that simple. The same guys are still going to be up front and it's still going to be a crap shoot. Anything can happen at Daytona, and usually does."

Now that you are in your sophomore season, do you find that more drivers are willing to draft with you? Was that the case in February at Daytona and Talladega earlier this year?

"You definitely need more friends at Daytona than you do at Talladega because the pack gets broken up more at Daytona. Handling is a bigger issue than at Talladega, and you definitely need to have friends at Daytona. In February, we were able to dodge four big wrecks near us, and that helped us to finish 12th. It helps to have friends, and I hope more guys are willing to draft with me now that I have more experience. But in the end, the key to a good finish is to have a little luck on your side and hope to make it through the race unscathed."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers J.J. Yeley
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing