J.J. YELEY Turning Up The Wick HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (May 29, 2007) -- One of the most disappointing races among J.J. Yeley's 54 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series starts might just be the turning point he needed toward making the 2007 Chase for...
Turning Up The Wick
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (May 29, 2007) -- One of the most disappointing races among J.J. Yeley's 54 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series starts might just be the turning point he needed toward making the 2007 Chase for the Nextel Cup.
Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), visited Texas Motor Speedway in April with high hopes that were quickly dashed after being taken out in an accident on the first lap, resulting in a 43rd-place finish.
Since that ill-fated weekend in Texas, Yeley hasn't finished worse than 21st and has moved up from 22nd to 15th in the Nextel Cup point standings after notching a career-best second-place finish in Sunday's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway.
Not only does Yeley currently sit 15th in the standings, he is only 59 markers behind 12th-place Jamie McMurray in the final spot in the 2007 Chase for the Nextel Cup.
Even more encouraging for Yeley than the runner-up finish in the Coca-Cola 600 is that he ran in the top-15 for all but two of the 400 laps run during NASCAR's longest event, more than any other driver. Yeley also spent 349 of the 400 laps running in the top-10.
Yeley, crew chief Steve Addington and the rest of the Interstate Batteries team have started to gel during a critical stretch leading into the next Car of Tomorrow (COT) race Sunday at the one-mile Dover (Del.) International Speedway.
It will be the sixth COT race of the season and JGR drivers have led 973 of 2,083 laps in those five races. But they have yet to notch their first win of 2007.
On a Dover weekend that will include his 100th career NASCAR Busch Series start, Yeley knows momentum over the last four races is on his side, and he hopes it's enough to help him be the one to secure JGR's first win of the season.
J.J. YELEY (Driver, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet):
Many might look at Casey Mears' win and your second-place finish Sunday at Charlotte as done with the aid of fuel mileage. But you ran in the top-10 for 349 of the 400 laps. Was running in the top-10 the whole night, coupled with patience, really the key to your strong run there?
"I think it would've been different if we had been a 20th-place car and won or ran second. I hope that Casey Mears gets the credit he deserves since he ran up front all night. We ran in the top-10 pretty much all race long. I know Casey was really fast and was up front a long time. Hopefully everyone realizes that the cars that ran up front were there all day long. It was really a weird race because the guys running up front were getting in accidents so early in the longest race we run during the year."
How important is it to run consistently in all the races and be there at the end? Does it seem like good things end up happening?
"Denny (Hamlin, JGR teammate) should have won Darlington because he had the fastest race car, but unfortunately he didn't. That's another reason why this sport is as crazy and as tough as it is. You have so many cars that are fast and competitive. This season, it hasn't always shown in the win column because the Hendrick cars have won the majority of the races, but that's only because they have put themselves in the right position with 50 or 100 laps to go without making those mistakes that can cost you. That is what the Interstate Batteries team hasn't done until recently this year. We haven't put ourselves in the right position in the last third of the race. Even though we've run up front in the first two-thirds of the race, we seem to be just a bit off and that has hurt us. Hopefully last weekend was a sign that we have some things turned around. We are trying as hard as we can and we're getting closer and closer to where we have the right chemistry and we're running in the top-10 every week and starting to contend for wins."
How much does track position play a role in having good finishes?
"We just haven't had the track position to be there up front toward the end. I think qualifying is the biggest key. We haven't qualified that well this year, but at Charlotte we qualified well and we ran up front. Being in that clean air, it's easier to tune on your car versus being stuck back in 25th because once you move up toward the front, the car handles so much differently."
Going into Darlington (S.C.), the talk was that it was going to be the toughest test for the COT. Can you compare Darlington to Dover, and will Dover now be the toughest test for the COT?
"I don't think you can compare Darlington to Dover. I don't think there is going to be any doubt that Dover is going to be the biggest test for the COT. It's the fastest race track that we will be on with the COT this year. You have a lot of grip and a lot of banking and you have a lot of transitions. I think the transition will be the toughest part with the COT cars because they don't travel as much. Going into turn one, you are going 180-plus mp and the race track basically drops from underneath you, and you land going into turn one and get set going in the other direction. It's always been a challenge, but they take away half the travel and you wonder how that is going to affect the cars going into turn one."
The Nextel Cup circuit is a constant pressure cooker, but in the end, how much do you enjoy being behind the wheel and not having to think about the responsibilities as a driver in NASCAR's top series?
"I'm a race car driver. I'm here to win races. Obviously the money is nice, but honestly it's just a bonus to me. It doesn't matter if it's a Nextel Cup car, a Busch car or a Sprint car or a Midget. If I have time, I'm going to go race every opportunity I get. I flew to Indianapolis last week and drove a Sprint Car race at Mount Vernon and it probably cost me twice what it paid to win the race, but I had a blast and I love doing it. I'll continue to race no matter what. There's not more pressure than I already put on myself. I've won races and I've won championships and I want to do the same thing at this level. We've got all the equipment to do it. It's just a matter of finding all the pieces to get it done. I think last weekend proved that we are capable of running up front. We do it every week, but we seem to falter at some point or another. We didn't do that at Charlotte and we got the finish we needed. It was a big boost for the team and we are going to go on to Dover and do the same thing."
You improved to 15th in the point standings, just 59 points out of 12th-place and the Chase for the Nextel Cup. Finishing second was great, but how big was the runner-up finish last week, looking at the big picture?
"To look at all the races this year, we've lost some positions late. That's nobody's fault but our own as a team. I wish we could just get that Texas race back, where we got wrecked on the first lap. But at the same time everyone is going to have one of those races during the season. You can't worry about it and I hope we don't have any more. We are only 59 points out of 12th-place and we want to be higher than 12th. The goal is that when the Chase starts in September that we want to go race for a championship."