Phoenix: JJ Yeley preview

J.J. YELEY Turning 50 at Home HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (April 17, 2007) -- J.J. Yeley is turning 50 on Saturday in his hometown of Phoenix. No, it's not what you're thinking. The second-year NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver is far from his 50th ...

J.J. YELEY
Turning 50 at Home

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (April 17, 2007) -- J.J. Yeley is turning 50 on Saturday in his hometown of Phoenix.

No, it's not what you're thinking. The second-year NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver is far from his 50th birthday. He just turned 30 in October.

Instead, Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Impala SS for Joe Gibbs Racing, will be heading home this weekend to make his 50th Nextel Cup Series start in Saturday night's Subway Fresh Fit 500k at Phoenix International Raceway (PIR).

While there's not an official celebration planned, Yeley would like nothing more than to have an impromptu party in victory lane Saturday night at PIR.

Yeley has more experience at Phoenix than at any other race track currently on the schedule. His numerous race starts there include back-to-back USAC Midget wins in the 2004 and 2005 editions of the prestigious Copper World Classic.

In total, Yeley has 11 starts in USAC Midget and Silver Crown competition at PIR. He made his first career Indy Racing League start at the track in 1998. And he'll make his third Nextel Cup start and sixth Busch Series start at Phoenix this weekend.

Yeley & Company are looking forward to heading home this weekend, where they will hopefully rebound after a disappointing race at Texas on Sunday. And if home is where the heart is, then some home cooking could certainly be in order to help get Yeley and the No. 18 Interstate Batteries team back on track.

You began your career at PIR in open-wheel cars. What does it feel like to head back to Phoenix with the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series, where you're about to make your 50th career start?

"I'm not sure that the motivation is so much my 50th start, but more so the fact that we are going to Phoenix. It's a race track where I feel the most comfortable and I probably have the best chance of winning a race there than I do any of the Nextel Cup Series races. I've driven everything there from USAC open-wheel cars to Indy cars, and now stock cars. I have so many laps there, much like Denny (Hamlin, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate) has at Martinsville. It's home for me. I've already had the chance to go to victory lane there in a USAC car, but it would certainly be a big win to get there in a Nextel Cup car. I can think of nothing better than to go back and win there again. It's one of those places that you never get sick of going to."

This is the first race for the Car of Tomorrow at a track one-mile in length. What are your expectations with the COT at Phoenix?

"It's going to be very interesting going back to the Car of Tomorrow. I really feel Joe Gibbs Racing has a handle on what it takes to be good with those cars right now. Overall, I don't think there's anything wrong with the COT. They're not bad at all. They're just different. I think in five years, people will have forgotten we switched cars. The teams will have figured out all the tricks, the speeds will be back up and there will be no discussion. I just think that now, it's different and some teams are struggling with it. They're different looking. But getting to work with something new is always going to be a part of the sport."

You've had several good runs this year, but you don't have the finishes to show for it. Is that frustrating?

"This year, the last four or five races we've not gotten the finishes we've needed. Things have definitely turned around overall from last year, even though it was frustrating at Texas to get taken out by someone trying too hard early in the race. But overall this season, the cars are a lot better. We're having a lot of fun and I'm being more aggressive on the race track. I'm at the point where I'm not going to take it anymore from some of the guys out there who don't want to race me clean or use their heads. I'm getting sick of being pushed around, and I'm tired of other drivers around me not racing smart. I've been doing a better job of being more aggressive. At Martinsville, I thought there were times where someone would give a little bit but they didn't, so that's getting a little frustrating. There's a point in time for all of that.

"PIR is a different story. The COT cars are a lot friendlier with contact than the cars we ran there in the past. I don't know if they're stronger, but they are boxier. You can hit a guy and rough him up without wrecking him. The conventional cars we've been running look more like a late model car. The nose is a little low, so if you drive beneath someone and spin him, you tear up your car at the same time. You can go out there and do a lot more rubbing with the Car of Tomorrow without getting any more damage to your car."

What are the challenges at PIR?

"I think the challenge is that turns one and two are so much different than turns three and four. They are a little bit tighter. If you can get your car driving well through turns one and two, you are normally a little bit looser in turns three and four. I know back in the day before they moved out the wall from turn two, it was a lot more exciting trying to get the stock cars through there without hitting the fence. You used a lot of the apron trying to make the cars turn there. There are a lot of tricks to getting around fast at Phoenix."

When you were racing quarter midgets at Phoenix, working your way up through the open-wheel ranks, did you ever think that you'd be coming to PIR in a stock car?

"When I was still racing midgets and sprint cars, I had people coming up to me saying that you are going to race in NASCAR and compete in the Nextel Cup Series. I've always been one of those people who worries more about what's going on at the time than looking towards the future. I never really gave it enough thought to think that I had a chance to make it to the Nextel Cup level. My dad raced for 25 years. We never had a lot of money. We always had to figure out a way to continue to race. The breaks that I've gotten to get this opportunity have made me try that much harder to succeed because it was so hard to get to this point."

Growing up in Phoenix, did you come to a lot of races at PIR? What kind of fan support do you get there now?

"I watched plenty of races from the infield or even outside the race track in the suites at PIR. It's just kind of a dream come true to be able to come back to PIR -- to the place where I grew up -- and compete in the Nextel Cup Series. When I go to Phoenix, I have a lot more fans than anywhere else that I go."

You made your first start in the Indy Racing League at PIR back in March 1998. What do you remember about that experience?

"It was just amazing. I did a test there and they were impressed with my ability. We struggled a little bit in practice and made a couple of changes. With the changes, I qualified ninth and had a lot of fun. I didn't have a lot of pavement experience to begin with. It was just the difference between the aero-side of the Indy car, which I wasn't used to. I put myself in a position where I got in an accident and it went downhill from there. I just chalked up my accident to experience."

What do you miss most about living in Phoenix?

"I miss the Mexican food. There's a place called Taste of Mexico that used to be called Jalapeno's. It's about two miles from where my parents used to live on 35th and Broadway. Every time I go to Phoenix, I make sure to make the trip there. I generally have Mexican food at least twice a day when I'm in Phoenix because when I get back to Charlotte, it's hard to find really good stuff. Anytime you get to go home, it's special. You see family and friends that you haven't seen in a long time. It was especially exciting to be able to bring Faith (Yeley's 22-month old daughter) to see some people who haven't seen her other than in pictures."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series Monster Energy NASCAR Cup
Drivers J.J. Yeley
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing