J.J. YELEY Everything's Bigger in Talladega HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 2, 2007) -- Those at Dallas-based Interstate Batteries hear the saying all the time -- everything's bigger in Texas. But for J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate ...
Everything's Bigger in Talladega
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Oct. 2, 2007) -- Those at Dallas-based Interstate Batteries hear the saying all the time -- everything's bigger in Texas.
But for J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Impala SS for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), and his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series peers this weekend, everything is also bigger in Talladega as the series heads to Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway for Sunday's UAW-Ford 500.
NASCAR's founding father, the late Bill France, Sr., opened the mammoth 2.66-mile oval in 1969 with every intention of making Talladega the biggest and fastest race track in America.
The track is already known for its fast pace and close racing in large packs, but the racing might be closer than ever with NASCAR set for its Car of Tomorrow (CoT) superspeedway debut this weekend.
Add the fact that the race is the third of 10 races that will decide the 2007 Nextel Cup championship and it doesn't get much bigger.
While Yeley is not in the 12-driver Chase for the Nextel Cup, he is in a chase of his own for a top-15 finish in the season-ending points and is in hot pursuit of his first Nextel Cup win.
Yeley and the rest of the Interstate Batteries team have stepped up their game in recent weeks by notching three top-15 finishes in the last four races. Additionally, Yeley has gathered the 15th- most points over the last six races -- more than Chase participants Matt Kenseth and Denny Hamlin.
Not only is the race a wild card in the Chase picture, Yeley and his fellow competitors will hope to avoid the inevitable multi-car accidents spawned by their running together in large packs.
Whichever driver comes home with Sunday's big win more than likely will be the one who can avoid the big wreck. That, of course, is the big focus for Yeley in pursuit of the biggest result of his career.
J.J. YELEY (Driver, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet):
You tested at Talladega a few weeks back in the Car of Tomorrow (CoT). How did the car perform?
"I think the test went well and it's going to be an interesting race. With the construction of the CoT cars and the design of the back bumper, bump-drafting is going to be as big as it has ever been before. There were a couple flaws that I noticed in drafting. It's difficult to see driver hand signals behind you because of the rear wing. The car seemed a bit more unstable in the draft as well as while bump drafting. I know there were a couple of close instances along the back straightaway where guys were bump drafting the guy in front of them and almost spun them sideways. The racing actually may be better, but I'm worried that the wreck may be bigger than ever. It's going to be interesting to see what happens. The cars ran well by themselves, as well as in the draft."
Going into the test, how much different did the car handle than you expected?
"It's difficult to tell exactly how the car is going to perform because when you go to Talladega and are running only 190 mph, you really aren't challenging the race track. I think we could run easily and go 200-plus mph there because of the fresh pavement and how smooth the race track is. You just don't run into the same problems like you would at Daytona. It was nice to see the cars didn't do anything crazy in a pack. It was a concern that maybe it was going to be like the (Craftsman) Truck Series, where someone would hit your right-rear quarter panel and cause you to be loose. That really wasn't the case. The new cars give you a different perspective on the race track because, sitting inside the car, the windshield is vertical and you see a lot more out of the front of the car. It's just a bit difficult to see the hand signals. I think you can run into the back of a guy harder without upsetting them versus the conventional cars, where you get into the back of the guy in the draft and it gets him sideways."
A lot of has been made of Jacques Villeneuve making his Nextel Cup debut this weekend after only running one NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series race. While he has the experience in other types of cars, does it make sense to let him compete in his first-ever restrictor-plate race this weekend?
"I think NASCAR has granted him permission to run the race solely on his past credentials in other series. He's a Formula One champion and Indianapolis 500 winner -- but those are open-wheel cars and he doesn't have a whole lot of experience in these types of cars. He's run a Truck race and had a couple of tests, but I'm pretty surprised that they are allowing him to run there. I went through the same process to get approved to run on a superspeedway. I've run the Indianapolis 500, but finished ninth. I've run and won several championships in different types of vehicles. I also ran half of a Busch Series season and wanted to run Talladega and they wouldn't give me permission. I'm especially surprised because it's the first CoT race there and there are still a lot of unknowns. In the little time I spent around him at the test, we were in small, six- or seven-car packs, and you could tell he was trying to adjust to the car. He wasn't able to hold his line as smooth as some of the veterans. I'm sure he'll be fine and he has to race his way in like several other guys who are not in the top-35 in points. I think there's an opportunity for him to get into a big pack, to get into a situation where he has never been in before."
What do you remember about your first superspeedway race? What did you not know then that you have learned over time that Villeneuve will have to learn rather quickly?
"I got to run the ARCA race at Daytona and finished third. I was in a good car and got to spend the majority of the day up front. I learned a fair amount about drafting and what it was like being around other cars. As soon as you go from an ARCA car, or even a Busch car, to the Nextel Cup car, it's dramatically different because the competition is so much tougher and the cars are so much better. I remember my first race at Daytona in a Cup car and I was amazed how certain cars around you affected your car. If your spotter was telling you something, where you reacted just a split-second too late, a hole was closed. I think that the scariest part of it is that the closing rate is going to be higher now than what it's ever been because the cars punch such a big hole that the cars are going to draft up faster. Those holes that generally change from the inside to the outside lane are going to close substantially faster. For a driver who's not used to it, when he hears clear high and he goes to move up, that hole might have already closed and that could cause a big accident. It's going to be interesting, and Jacques is going to have to stay on his toes more than he ever has in his racing career."
Is the racing still going to be similar to the Talladega that we've seen in the past, despite the new CoT?
"Talladega is not going to change. I don't think it matters what car you take there, it's always going to bring a tight race and a photo finish with excitement. No matter how cautious the drivers are, at some point there is going to be an accident. The race is going to stay the same, but I think passing might be a bit easier. I noticed the cars sucked up better, but it was easier to lose the draft. From the back of the field, you can't mess around too much with someone because, if you lose the draft, it's going to be difficult to catch back up."
Are you going to be more cautious at Talladega with guys who are in the Chase, or are you careful anytime you go to Talladega?
"I try to be as careful as I can. I'm more careful on a restrictor-plate track than anywhere else. You don't want to be the guy who makes the mistake that causes a 20-car pileup. At some point, a Chase contender is going to get caught up in one of those big accidents if there is one. Most of those big accidents happen because someone wasn't paying attention and made a foolish move. I generally don't even try anything that's too dangerous. I know that some guys come up through the pack fast and really use the draft well, but they take a lot of chances doing so. If we get down to the last five laps and I have an opportunity to win, then I'm going to do what it takes, even if there is some risk involved. At the same time, we have to be smart and make it to that point."