J.J. YELEY Completing the Puzzle HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (April 9, 2007) -- One might easily be able to make the comparison that building a successful NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series team is very much like tackling a complicated jigsaw puzzle. All ...
Completing the Puzzle
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (April 9, 2007) -- One might easily be able to make the comparison that building a successful NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series team is very much like tackling a complicated jigsaw puzzle. All the pieces -- the driver, the team and the car -- need to fit together in order to complete the puzzle.
During the first six races of the season, driver J.J. Yeley and the rest of the crew fielding the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing have shown they have all of the necessary parts and pieces capable of putting together great finishes, a couple of wins, and even making this year's edition of the Chase for the Nextel Cup.
While all the ingredients for success exist, the team hasn't quite been able to put everything to work at the same time on race day. For Yeley and Co., this weekend's Samsung 500 at Texas Motor Speedway might well be the perfect venue to finally piece the puzzle together.
For starters, Yeley's primary sponsor is Dallas-based Interstate Batteries, which is based just up the road from the 1.5-mile Texas track. The longtime sponsor will have more than 700 guests at the race cheering on the green and black. Yeley would like nothing more than to give them something to cheer for, and a visit to victory lane would certainly do the trick.
The season's first stop in Texas also signifies an important time for Yeley as far as the Nextel Cup point standings are concerned. While Yeley currently sits in 18th, he is only 34 points behind 12th-place Jamie McMurray and the all-important cutoff to the make the Chase for the Nextel Cup.
So, is a trip to the Lone Star State just what the Interstate Batteries team needs to complete the puzzle? >From all indications, yes.
The team has had some great runs so far this season. It seems as if you're close to putting all of the pieces together for a top-10, a top-five or win. Would you agree?
"I think so. At Martinsville, it was driver error, and at the races prior to that we had a couple of pit stops that cost us. We need to just come together as a group to get that top-five finish that I know we are capable of."
At Martinsville, the FOX broadcast team talked about your learning curve, your renewed attitude of "No More Mr. Nice Guy," and the fact that you seem to be driving smarter. Do you agree? How much have you learned in the first part of this season?
"I think I have a lot better feel for managing the race in the car. I have a better feel for when I need to race and when I need to take it a little bit easier if the car is not there. I'm learning to work more with Steve (Addington, crew chief) to make the changes that I'm looking for with the car. I'm learning to keep Steve more abreast of the car's changes as the race goes on versus telling him right before we pit. It might give him more time to think about what changes he wants to make to the race car to make it better late in the race. It all boils down to teamwork. We've got all the right pieces, but we just need to put everything together so we can go out and make it happen."
The team's goal at the beginning of the year was to make the Chase for the Nextel Cup. How important are the next couple of races in determining where you will shake out in points?
"Saying that one or two races are going to be more important than any other race is tough because if you go through Texas and Phoenix and have a couple of good weeks, but you go to Talladega or Darlington and have a bad races, then suddenly those two goods weeks could be erased. Every week is very important. We've been fortunate enough that even though we've had a few problems -- like last race at Martinsville where we spun hit the wall -- we've still had decent finishes. If you don't have horrible weeks, you can afford to have average weeks. But in the end it really comes down to the fact you can't afford to have a bad week at one place as opposed to another. Every week is very, very important."
The last couple of tracks the Nextel Cup circuit has visited have not been favorites of yours. The mile-and-a-half tracks seem to be your strong suit. Are you looking forward to heading to Texas Motor Speedway's mile-and-a-half track?
"I'm just looking forward to getting back into the conventional car because I think the mile-and-a-half program has improved tremendously this year. That gives us a lot of confidence going into a place like Texas. It's also a big race for us because we want to do well for Interstate Batteries since they're based nearby in Dallas."
After running two races in the Car of Tomorrow, are you looking forward to getting back into the conventional car more so than getting back to the higher speed tracks?
"To me, it's not just the new car. The higher speed race tracks are a little more fun for me than the short tracks we've been running. I always seem to have some trouble at the smaller tracks and it costs us a good finish. While I love the intermediate tracks, I'd like to head back to Texas and conquer the speedway that hasn't ever really been kind to us the last few years in both the Cup or Busch Series cars."
What's different about Texas as opposed to its sister tracks, Atlanta and Charlotte?
"Texas is just so fast and I guess it's just a little bit tricky and rough. It doesn't have quite the grip that some of the other intermediate tracks have. I guess there was a point where I just pushed the envelope a little too hard last year at Texas and I got myself into trouble. I just need to go back to Texas and be a smarter race car driver. We are still hanging on in the points. We ran well the last couple of weeks but have had a couple of rough finishes. They certainly haven't been the finishes we deserve. We need to go to Texas and get the job done."
You are running the new Chevrolet RO7 engine for the first time this weekend at Texas. How much do you think the new-generation engine will be able to help you this weekend and beyond?
"It's going to be huge. We are very confident in Mark Cronquist (engine builder) and everyone in the engine shop at Joe Gibbs Racing. We know we'll get the power and the torque we need. Now it's just making sure we run plenty of miles on it so we don't have any failures or any kind of problems. The biggest thing about the new engine is that it could have 15 to 18 more horsepower and that's huge when the engine shop works all year long to maybe gain four or five horsepower. So to have that much of a gain right out of the box is a huge difference, especially when it comes time to go back to Daytona or Talladega when two to three horsepower equals one-tenth on the race track and a tenth is the difference between five or six people. So that might be the difference between qualifying 10th and maybe being on the pole. We have a spin-tron machine which allows us to run an engine 500 miles just like it was at Bristol or Michigan. They can punish the engines just as hard on the dynamometer at the shop as I can on the race track. Once we got that engine, I know that they've done enough tests with it that I won't have any problems. Obviously, it's a manufactured piece so you could have a piston or rod problem, but that can happen at anytime. The quality control at Joe Gibbs Racing is second to none, so we rarely have any engine problems because of it."
The Nextel Cup series races in Texas this weekend and Phoenix the following weekend. Texas is an important race because your sponsor, Interstate Batteries, is based in Dallas. Phoenix is your hometown track. Is this an important stretch of races for you, not only for those reasons, but also because it will be important for you to gain as many points as possible in both of those races?
"There's still a great opportunity with the points and we can't falter at Texas or Phoenix with Texas being the home to Interstate Batteries and then heading back home to Phoenix. With Phoenix, it's the next Car of Tomorrow race and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing has done a great job with the cars. They've been very fast. Everyone in the shop -- especially the fab shop and the engineers -- has done a great job. From my standpoint, we have all the pieces I need to go out and be successful the next two races."