Off-Sequence Pit Strategy Pays Off with Third-Place Finish for Yeley in Rain-Shortened Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire Mother Nature may win more headlines in the story about Sunday's rain-shortened Lenox Industrial Tools 301 NASCAR...
Off-Sequence Pit Strategy Pays Off with Third-Place Finish for Yeley in Rain-Shortened Lenox Industrial Tools 301 at New Hampshire
Mother Nature may win more headlines in the story about Sunday's rain-shortened Lenox Industrial Tools 301 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon. But credit a gutsy fuel strategy call with 83 laps to go before the scheduled race distance for giving J.J. Yeley and the No. 96 DLP® HDTV Toyota for Hall of Fame Racing a third-place finish to equal the team's best outing in its relatively short history.
Just 13 laps after pitting with the rest of the field for tires and fuel under caution on lap 205, another yellow prompted crew chief Steve Boyer to call Yeley into the pits again on lap 218 for one final attempt to help free up a tight race car, to put on a pair of right-side tires, and to top off the fuel tank with hopes it would be enough to get the No. 96 machine to the scheduled finish on lap 301.
The extra stop cost Yeley just two positions on the race track, dropping him from 21st to 23rd, as only he and a handful of other teams elected to go off-sequence in their pitting. But it turned out to be priceless, as Yeley drove to Hall of Fame Racing's best Sprint Cup finish since Terry Labonte brought the DLP® HDTV car home in third place in 2006 at the road course in Sonoma, Calif.
"This is the place you want to be every week," Yeley said in the post-race press conference seated alongside runner-up Michael Waltrip. "This particular week, I found the way to the back door so I could sneak in and sit in this seat. We had the same mindset. We just struggled a little bit. We got to where we had a really fast race car, but we just didn't have the track position. We were the best we'd been through both practices yesterday. I felt really happy with the car. We started out a lot tighter than we really anticipated (in the race). But it's funny, I spent pretty much the majority of the race with Mikey here all day long. I ran into him. He ran into me. We had a lot of fun."
After restarting 23rd on the lap-221 restart, Yeley worked his way back up to 19th by the time a lap-271 accident involving Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jamie McMurray brought out the yellow, sending all but two cars running ahead of Yeley into the pits for enough fuel to get to the finish. That moved Yeley 16 places up the grid, where he sat in third behind leader Kurt Busch and second-place Waltrip, whose teams gambled on the same strategy as Hall of Fame Racing.
The front three of Busch, Waltrip and Yeley held their ground after the lap-278 restart. But just two laps later, Clint Bowyer and Sam Hornish Jr., got together on the track to bring out another yellow, which turned out to be the final one of the day. As the field was following the pace car, rain began to fall and quickly deluged the track. The race was red-flagged on lap 284, then called some 10 minutes later, and a third-place finish was in the books for Yeley, who started the day 30th in the 43-car field.
"We had enough fuel to make it to the end," Yeley said. "I raced (Martin) Truex really hard a couple times. He gave me the bottom, so I had to run the bottom. I still was able to hold him off. I know if we went green (after the rains came), I was confident we could have held onto third. There were so many guys that just went and got fuel that we weren't worried about someone sneaking in on tires. I really feel that between myself and Mikey, we deserved these finishes. It's not like we were given it because of the rain. If it wouldn't have rained, we still would have finished."
The third-place finish kept Yeley 36th in the championship driver standings with a post-New Hampshire total of 1,041 points. The No. 96 Hall of Fame Racing entry moved up one spot to 37th in the series' owner standings with 1,137 points, 132 behind the 35th-place No. 00 car of Michael Waltrip Racing.
"You have to create your own luck," said Yeley, who now has three top-10 finishes in six Sprint Cup appearances at New Hampshire. "We put ourselves in position to finish in the top-three like we did. Obviously, we did what we had to do. A finish like today is going to help my team. It's going to help me from a confidence standpoint. We still have a long way to go as a team to grow. It's something that's going to make the guys proud, to get them back to the shop on Monday. Once Monday comes around, it's a whole new week, and we'll have to get ready for Daytona."
Busch's victory in the Lenox Industrial Tools 301 was his 18th career Sprint Cup victory, his first of the season and his third at New Hampshire. Behind Waltrip and Yeley were Truex Jr., and Elliott Sadler in the fourth and fifth slots, respectively. Reed Sorenson, Casey Mears, Denny Hamlin, Jimmie Johnson and Bobby Labonte comprised the remainder of the top-10.
There were seven caution periods for 33 laps -- including the final four laps -- with four drivers failing to finish the event.