J.J. YELEY Pennant Chase HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 16, 2007) -- It's late October, and while Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Colorado Rockies, and Arizona Diamondbacks have been in pursuit of their respective pennants,...
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 16, 2007) -- It's late October, and while Major League Baseball's Cleveland Indians, Boston Red Sox, Colorado Rockies, and Arizona Diamondbacks have been in pursuit of their respective pennants, J.J. Yeley has also been on a pennant chase of his own during the homestretch of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.
Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Impala SS for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has been on an impressive streak, of late. Over the past six races, Yeley has garnered the 11th-most points among all drivers leading into Sunday's Subway 500 at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, where he will also sport the Subway logo on each rear quarter panel of his No. 18 Chevy for the race's title sponsor.
During that time, Yeley has also notched two top-10 and four top-five finishes.
In spite of the fact that media members and fans are focusing on the drivers competing for the 2007 Nextel Cup Championship, Yeley has shown that he can run with, and in many instances ahead of, those who are in the Chase for the Nextel Cup.
Over the past six races, Yeley has accumulated more points than Chase drivers Kurt Busch, JGR teammate Denny Hamlin, Jeff Burton, Martin Truex Jr., and Matt Kenseth.
Just like the four baseball teams who began the month chasing division titles, Yeley and his Interstate Batteries team have also stepped it up late in season. The only difference might be that the pennant Yeley is aiming for is a checkered flag.
J.J. YELEY (Driver, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet):
You qualified fifth for the spring race at Martinsville and had a strong run going, but a penalty for pitting outside the pit box relegated the team to a 23rd-place finish. Do you feel like Martinsville owes you one this time around?
"I've learned a bunch from the first time I was there. And then going there for the first time in the Car of Tomorrow (CoT), I figured out what it took to be fast there. You really have to let the car roll and get it turned and work on forward bite. I was almost working backwards for what I was trying to get out of the car my first time there with the conventional car. We qualified well and I think we ran well until I made a mistake on pit road. We got hit with a one-lap penalty and from there we were just trying to fight back for track position. I think we've learned a tremendous amount with our CoT program since then. Hopefully, what we've learned will help us stay near the front to give us the opportunity to try to win."
Speaking of the CoT program, you have reeled off several strong finishes in your last five races in the CoT. How much more confidence does that give you leading into yet another CoT race this weekend?
"There's not as much overall grip on the CoT car and it just took me a while to figure out what I needed to do in the center of the corner to get the car turning well. Other than that, I almost enjoy the CoT car over the conventional cars. There aren't too many guys who would prefer the CoT, so hopefully that helps me when we run full-time in that car everywhere we go. We have definitely picked up on some things. Track position is just so critical at a place like Martinsville because of how tight it is. And with the CoT, it's hard to bump guys out of the road anymore. The shape of the cars is just so square, you can beat on the bumper of a guy for a while, but that doesn't mean you're going to get by him. We're going to go out there and try to qualify well and try not to make the same mistakes on pit road. We're really going to need to keep the car near the front and not in the back, where all the accidents happen. Martinsville is very narrow, more so than a lot of places we go, so when there's an accident, there aren't many places to go to get out of the way."
The last several races, you seem to be battling with the same drivers, many of whom are right near you in points (Bobby Labonte, Jamie McMurray and Juan Pablo Montoya). You have to run your own race, but do you also pay attention to where those guys are on the track?
"A little bit. It's funny, because pretty much every week I find myself racing with those same guys, whether it's Bobby Labonte or Jamie McMurray or Juan Pablo. I guess that's the reason why we are back there, just inside the top-20 in points. We aren't running in the top-five every week, but we are consistently racing in the top-10 and top-15 week in and week out. You know pretty much every week we'll be racing with the same guys, depending on how well we're running. If you run consistently in the top-15 every week, you are going to be racing the same guys. It makes it a lot of fun. I'm just glad I don't have any rivalries with all the guys I have to race every week because, at that point, you get to where you can get mad, get yourself in trouble and cost yourself some more points."
It's getting down to the end of the year and you have two teammates in the Chase. Do you keep an eye out for your teammates so you're able to help them when you can? For instance, at Charlotte on Saturday, you pushed your teammate Denny Hamlin back around to the pits.
"I think it depends on the situation. I might have sacrificed a better finish at Talladega because I spent a lot of time working with Tony (Stewart, teammate) and pushing him because he was the nearest teammate at the time. I think that if I would have gone to the bottom early enough, I could have gotten to the front just like Denny (Hamlin) did. At the time, I was ahead of Denny and I thought I could push Tony and try to keep him up front. But it just didn't work out. For the remaining races I'll be sure to go out there and help my teammates as much as I can, but at the same time I need to go out there and do well for Interstate Batteries and the rest of my sponsors, along with my guys. I'm not just going to let someone pass me for five points. If we get to Homestead and Tony is a few points short, we're going to do what we can to help in the championship race. For the next three or four races, we are going to run hard like everyone else, even though we aren't in the Chase."
You are testing the CoT for your new team, Hall of Fame Racing, at Kentucky this week and at Atlanta in a couple of weeks. Now that you're testing for next year, does that get you even more excited for what lies ahead?
"It does, but at this point it doesn't matter what team I was going to be with next year. I was going to be excited about next year, regardless. At this point, being out the championship chase, I'm going out there and running as hard as I can and trying to win a race. The goal for me is to get to 16th or 17th in points because that's the best we are going to be able to do. Next year, we get to start with a clean slate with zero points and we get as much of a chance as anybody to try to position ourselves to make the Chase. It's going to be a lot of fun to have a fresh start with the guys from Hall of Fame Racing. I'm banking on running better week in and week out and I'm going to try to win races and try to be in the top-10 more consistently."