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YATES HOPES TO GET BACK ON WINNING TRACK AT ROUTE 66 RACEWAY JOLIET, Ill. -- Jim Yates admits that his Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Pro Stock team has struggled somewhat this season. After a brilliant winning debut at Pomona, Calif.'s Chief...

YATES HOPES TO GET BACK ON WINNING TRACK AT ROUTE 66 RACEWAY

JOLIET, Ill. -- Jim Yates admits that his Splitfire/Peak Pontiac Pro Stock team has struggled somewhat this season. After a brilliant winning debut at Pomona, Calif.'s Chief Auto Parts Winternationals, and two runner-up finishes at Phoenix and Gainesville, Fla., Yates and his team ran into a wall of first round losses that culminated in a DNQ at his home track in Dinwiddie, Va., his first in over 84 races.

The four race span instigated a lot of talk in the pits. Was this really Yates' last hurrah?

The two-time defending Winston champion answered that question with strong rebound performances at the Castrol Lone Star Nationals in Dallas and the Mopar Parts Nationals in Englishtown, N.J. At those two races he posted semi-final round appearances and moved back into contention. He let his competitors know that he wasn't about to give up without a fight.

"If you start predicting that the sun won't come up tomorrow maybe one day you'll be right," said Yates, 44, from Alexandria, Va. "There's a lot of racers in Pro Stock who have been predicting our demise since the beginning of last year and they've all been wrong so far. I think our program is too strong to fall apart right now. We're going to have good days and bad days, we're human beings. What happened at Virginia was just a little dip in the road. We're going to be fine."

He'll try to continue his recent momentum and make his second trip to the winner's circle at the inagurual FRAM Route 66 Nationals, May 28-31 at the state-of-the-art Route 66 Raceway. The $1.5- million race is the ninth of 22 events in the $30-million NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series.

Just like the majority of competitors in his division, Yates found out that he wasn't immune to the qualifying bug. It bit him hard in Virginia. Just because he's the defending Winston champion doesn't mean that he automatically makes the 16-car program. He has to work hard, too.

"It's a rude awakening," Yates said. "It makes us understand that we have to be on our game for every pass. It really makes you realize how fortunate you've been in the past when you had all the luck and everything coming together."

Yates says in this category a driver can go from hero to zero in one race, or one round. The racing is that close.

"This year has been a series of ups and downs for us and honestly for most of the teams out here," Yates said. "The competition is so good and the parity is so good. We have so many fast cars out here. You can be the No. 1 qualifier and go out in the first round, or you can have a really fast car and make a bad run in the good session and not qualify."

Warren Johnson has been one of the most consistent drivers this season with four victories and leads the points despite three first round losses. Yates says the last thing he wants to do is get too caught up in a head-to-head battle with Johnson.

"I think we have to focus on our program and not worry about him," he said. "If we go out there and run our car and get in the final round and do our job, that's the best thing we can do. He's had his troubles, but has been able to get by them. We are not out of the picture yet. We just have to keep our team together and keep focus on what we have to do in the next round of qualifying and eliminations. That's what worked for us last year and as long as we can do that it's going to be hard to beat us."

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Series NHRA
Drivers Warren Johnson