Michigan: JJ Yeley preview

J.J. YELEY Turning the Page HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (June 12, 2007) -- When you ask J.J. Yeley his idea of the perfect race track, his answer can be summed up quickly with just three words--Michigan International Speedway (MIS). Yeley enjoys...

J.J. YELEY
Turning the Page

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (June 12, 2007) -- When you ask J.J. Yeley his idea of the perfect race track, his answer can be summed up quickly with just three words--Michigan International Speedway (MIS).

Yeley enjoys racing there so much that he says, "If you look up a race track in a dictionary, it should have a picture of Michigan."

The good news for Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), is that the next race on the docket is Sunday's Citizen's Bank 400 at MIS.

With its wide racing surface and four distinct grooves, MIS is a driver's track that can produce three- and four-wide racing throughout the field, something that all drivers enjoy.

The track also favors the strong engine and chassis combinations that JGR has excelled at in recent years -- and recent weeks. With all three JGR drivers running up front in last weekend's race at Pocono (Pa.), Yeley, along with teammates Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin, will hope to finally bring JGR its first win of the season after being close so many times, already.

Yeley and the Interstate Batteries team will bring back Chassis No. 138, the car that ran well earlier in the season at California Speedway, MIS's sister track, and produced Yeley's career-best second-place finish last month in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C.).

Also playing into Yeley's favor is the trend of first timer's making it to victory lane in two of the last three races, with Casey Mears doing the honors in Charlotte and Martin Truex, Jr., earning his first win at Dover (Del.).

If Yeley has it his way this weekend, he might soon find a book with his picture next to the phrase, "NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Winner."

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

Michigan is one of your favorite tracks and a lot of other drivers feel the same way. Why is that?

"If you look up 'race track' in a dictionary, it should have a picture of Michigan. I like Michigan because it's obviously one of the faster race tracks we go to, but also because there are so many grooves to choose from when you go racing there. You can very easily go four abreast through the corners and down the straightaways. There's always racing going on all the way back through the field. That's doesn't always happen when you go to so many of these other places. A lot of them you have to run the bottom. You can run any groove you really want to at Michigan pretty much all day long."

Every race is a big one, but being located within a stone's throw of the U.S. auto manufacturers -- for you particularly, Chevrolet -- how big of race is Michigan?

"It's definitely big. Obviously, you are in the automotive capital of the world and you want to do well. Chevrolets have run well all season long. We've run well at MIS in the past, in the Busch car and the Cup car. Last year, we had a pretty good run going and got taken out. We've had good cars. Our intermediate-track cars, to me, are a little better than what we had last year. Hopefully, that will be the difference between maybe running 10th and having a shot to win the race."

With the way the new Chevrolet RO7 engine has performed thus far, does that give you a little more confidence on the horsepower tracks like Pocono last weekend and Michigan this weekend?

"Absolutely. Any time you have more horsepower and more torque, you can get away with an ill-handling car and still be fast. It's not going to slow you down as much and you don't have to rely as much on momentum. And, sometimes you can do things on the race track and that horsepower can get you past another competitor. All the guys at the Joe Gibbs Racing engine shop have done a phenomenal job on the new engine. With the power increases we have now, sometimes you can't feel it so much in the car. When you are talking an increase in horsepower, that's pretty huge."

The team will again be bringing back Chassis No. 138 for you at Michigan, which ran so well at Charlotte and at Pocono. What makes that car a little bit better than some others on the downforce tracks?

"Last year Denny had a car he liked, the same car that he won Pocono with. That was their favorite car, and then they ran it pretty much everywhere they went. With 138, it's got a new body on it and the same chassis that we ran earlier in the year at California and (Las) Vegas. They learned some different things there. The aero numbers really matched the way the chassis is. It's just been a pretty forgiving race car and has been fast every time we take it somewhere. If the car continues to stay in one piece and the guys in the shop have enough time to turn it around for the next race, then we'll continue to keeping running it."

Does that car give you a little more confidence knowing that it's run well every time it's come to the race track this year?

"Yeah, but I'm not one of the superstitious drivers that has to run that car because it's going to be faster or because we won in it. We have a lot of great cars at Joe Gibbs Racing, but going into next year, that's all going to change because we will be running the Car of Tomorrow full-time. Everything with this car seems to be good. Sometimes you try to duplicate a car and take it to the wind tunnel and the numbers look similar, but the car never really looks the same or reacts to changes. This car seems to be consistent. If we have a problem, the same changes seem to help it in certain areas of the race track. I guess it's something you like to take to the race track because you know how to fix it. If you take a car that you haven't tested or raced for a while, there are a lot of unknowns. This sport is so difficult and so competitive that you want to know that when you make a change, you know how far to go, or if it's going to fix problems with the race car."

You've been running very well in recent weeks, with the second-place a Charlotte and a strong car at Dover before the shock mount broke. How important is running consistently in the top-10 and top-15 helping your confidence each week?

"We unload the car and we are able to fix the car and make it run better. That's the biggest key in this sport. When you unload the car at the race track, you have to have the car at least 80 percent. Everyone is going to pick up time in practice. The guy who is the closest when he unloads is going to be in really good shape. Sometimes you can start with a car that is ill-handling. You make a bunch of changes but you really never get it right until the end of the race. By then, you've given up so much track position it's just too difficult to get back to the front."

How important has qualifying well and staying up front for track position been this season?

"It's very important. It's easier to tune on your race car. Your car is always going to be tight in the back. You just don't have the air to keep the downforce in the car. When you start up front, you are in the lead draft, you have cleaner air. You can keep tuning on your car and keep the car driving better. There's a point where you start making huge changes when you are in the back, and if you ever do get that track position, the car is really loose. It's definitely a lot easier to start up front and try to stay up there and we've been doing a lot more of that this year, and particularly in recent weeks, and we've started to find some success."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Casey Mears , J.J. Yeley , Martin Truex Jr. , Denny Hamlin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing