Martinsville II: JJ Yeley preview

J.J. YELEY Perfect Cure for a Headache HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (Oct. 18, 2006) - For most rookies in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, the first season competing in NASCAR's top division can be a series of headaches. For Joe Gibbs Racing driver J.J.

J.J. YELEY
Perfect Cure for a Headache

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (Oct. 18, 2006) - For most rookies in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, the first season competing in NASCAR's top division can be a series of headaches. For Joe Gibbs Racing driver J.J. Yeley, this year has been no exception.

It's been a tough stretch for the rookie pilot, who has seen strong drives end prematurely. After back-to-back top-15 finishes at Richmond (Va.) and New Hampshire, Yeley's best result in the four races since is 29th, logged last Saturday night at Charlotte (N.C.).

But the great thing about the marathon-like Nextel Cup schedule is that with 36 points-paying race weekends, there's always another race. Next up for Yeley and Co. is the Subway 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, the smallest track on the Nextel Cup circuit at just .526 of a mile in length.

It's the perfect track for Yeley to get his season back on track.

The driver of the No. 18 IMITREX (sumatriptan succinate) Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing honed his skills in the United States Auto Club (USAC), logging many miles on tracks less than a mile. Racing open-wheeled cars at such Indiana bullrings as Winchester, Salem and Anderson Speedways is like driving side-by-side at 100 mph in rush hour traffic. For Yeley, racing at Martinsville will be a throwback to those USAC days, where in 2003 he enjoyed a record-breaking year.

In the season before he signed with the powerhouse Gibbs organization, Yeley set a USAC record of 24 wins in a single season, breaking A.J. Foyt's mark of 19 wins, set in 1961. Yeley handily won the USAC Triple Crown, earning titles in the Sprint, Midget and Silver Crown divisions - something his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate, Tony Stewart, did in 1995 to earn his ride with Gibbs.

Stewart has gone on to win two Nextel Cup championships and 27 Nextel Cup races. Two of those race wins came at Martinsville, proving that USAC talent is applicable at Martinsville's tight confines.

Yeley will apply his USAC pedigree alongside his heavy right foot when he slips behind the wheel of his IMITREX Chevy for this weekend's race at Martinsville.

It's obviously been a tough year and an especially a tough stretch the last four races. What do you do to keep yourself upbeat, but also all the guys on the team?

"It's very important to keep the guys upbeat. These guys spend as much time away from home as I do. Obviously, they probably work much harder than I have to. Because you spend so much time away from your family, you want to make sure the guys are having fun. Frankly, there are jobs out there that pay just as much where there isn't as much work. You have to have fun. I know most drivers' schedules are very hectic and a lot of the teams don't see their drivers very often. I try to make it to where anytime I have free time, we go hang out, have dinner and cut loose and try to be more of a friend than a business associate."

You had a great run in the spring race at Martinsville but had a tire go down with about 20 laps to go. What are your thoughts on heading back to Martinsville?

"You have to have patience at Martinsville. That seems to be the biggest thing when you go to any short track. At Martinsville, we were running 12th. The reason we cut down a tire was because of contact with the No. 2 car (Kurt Busch). I guess there's a point where you do a bump-and-run at a place like that so you can pass. You just hope the guy understands that he's slower and holding you up, and then you hope some more that there's no retaliation. I think there was a little bit of retaliation, but that's just part of short track racing. We should have had an excellent finish, but we got caught up and lost a little. We will try to take what I learned there in the spring, and also from the Busch race in July, and go back and try to make it into a top-10 finish this weekend in the Cup car."

You have plenty of experience on short tracks from your days in USAC. What tracks may have prepared you best for Martinsville?

"There are some race tracks, but they are basically just really tiny, flat, quarter-mile race tracks. I know we ran the tri-oval at Kentucky Motor Speedway in a Midget and other flat race tracks that aren't a whole of fun. To me, it would have been more fun to run Martinsville when they had the race track ground to where you had to run the second groove as opposed to being locked up on the bottom. It's the same race track for everyone though."

How important is track position at Martinsville?

"Obviously, qualifying is going to be crucial. Track position is key. You could have a really fast race car and be stuck in 20th. You might be able to pass five or six cars, but if you've got that same race car out front, you can take off and leave. You try to take what you learn from a previous race. Maybe it's something I was doing with the race car or something that Steve (Addington, crew chief) did to help me out to try to keep that track position the entire race and get a good finish."

Has it been tough getting used to the competition in Nextel Cup? How tough is it to finish in the top-20 with such fierce competition?

"It's hard to get used to, but obviously you don't want to settle for anything other than a win. That's part of being a race car driver and being competitive. You want to do the best that you can. I feel like every week we're racing, I'm giving 110 percent, and if 15th is the best we can do, than that's what we get. I just don't want to get to the point where I'm out driving around at 80 percent and finishing 16th or 20th and say, 'If I had driven harder, then we would have finished better.' There are so many different things you can always take into account. We've generally improved every time we've gone back to a race track. We finished 20th last time, so hopefully a top-10 or top-five is in order this weekend."

You ran in the Arena Racing USA debut in Charlotte last Wednesday. Did that get you in the mindset for short track racing at Martinsville?

"I had a blast last week at the Arena Racing USA event. It was a lot of fun, and I hope the fans really give that a chance. It's almost like WWE (World Wrestling Entertainment) and racing mixed together - a cool show, great seating and a lot of action."

What's it like being inside such a small Arena Racing USA race car?

"It's tight. I guess to me it's more like driving a go-kart. You lay down quite a bit. I'm not a big guy, so I have a hard time reaching the pedals. A guy that is six feet can fit in those cars really well. Obviously, you can be any size and race those things and come out and have some fun."

What's it like to race on the occasional short track without all the pressure you face each weekend in Nextel Cup? Are Sundays still fun, or is it all business?

"Sundays can still be fun. Obviously, it depends on how your day is going and if you're having a good race. It's always great to go out and remind yourself why you do it. With the pressures that come with Nextel Cup, at some point it becomes a job, or at least close enough to a job. When you start racing on a Saturday night dirt track, it's all about having fun."

What is the team working on late in the season? Are you still focused on 2006, or are you preparing for 2007?

"We've had a lot of good runs this year and a lot of runs we should have finished so much better. This series is so competitive, you can't afford to have more than four of five weeks where you have problems. We've just had too many DNFs (Did Not Finish). I know that we've had to try to finish more races than we have and because of that, we've fallen back in the points. You get to the point where you see light at the end of the tunnel and then something happens. We've cut down so many tires this year and I have no clue why. It's just strips us of a good finish. We still want to keep racing hard and get good finishes and end this year on a good note. I'm definitely looking forward to next year and trying to keep from making some of the mistakes that I've made this year. I want to get more podium finishes and everything turned around."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Kurt Busch , J.J. Yeley
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing