Atlanta II: JJ Yeley preview

J.J. YELEY History Repeating Itself HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (Oct. 25, 2006) - The saying "history tends to repeat itself" is often used in the world of sports to explain something that happens again that was eerily similar to the result of a past ...

J.J. YELEY
History Repeating Itself

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (Oct. 25, 2006) - The saying "history tends to repeat itself" is often used in the world of sports to explain something that happens again that was eerily similar to the result of a past event.

J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 VESIcare (solifenacin succinate) Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, is hoping for history to repeat itself this weekend in the Bass Pro Shops 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

The No. 18 team has accumulated an impressive six wins at Atlanta, the first coming in November 1996 and the most recent one getting delivered in March 2003, all care of former Joe Gibbs Racing driver Bobby Labonte. And while it's Yeley's first year behind the wheel of the vaunted No. 18, the rookie driver from Phoenix knows the team's history at the 1.54-mile oval.

Despite the steep learning curve that comes with competing at NASCAR's highest level, Yeley has shown promise on the mile-and-a-half ovals that dominate the Nextel Cup schedule.

Yeley earned his best career Nextel Cup finish in just the second race of the season at California, notching an eighth-place run on a track that while measuring in at two miles, is almost a carbon copy of other 1.5-mile ovals. One of those tracks is Chicagoland, where in July, Yeley scored a 10th-place finish. And in his first trip to Atlanta back in March, Yeley crossed the stripe with a solid 15th-place effort.

After Atlanta, the remaining races on the 2006 schedule appear to bode well for Yeley and Co.

Following Sunday's 500-miler in Atlanta, the series visits Texas, which has a similar layout to Atlanta in both size and shape. A return to Yeley's home turf via a stop at the 1-mile Phoenix International Raceway is next, with the marathon-like season finally wrapping up at the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway.

But even with the end of the year in sight, Yeley is focused on the present. With history on his side, Yeley will bring his No. 18 VESIcare (solifenacin succinate) Chevrolet to Atlanta intent on adding to the No. 18 team's already impressive legacy.

Since you're closing in on the end of your rookie year, looking back, which type of race tracks did you enjoy the most?

"I really favor the mile-and-a-half race tracks over anything else. The two-mile race tracks like Michigan and California are also a lot of fun. I guess not having enough restrictor plate experience, those tracks really don't excite me. There are too many factors that you can't control. The same thing almost happens at a short track. I like race tracks where you can race. That's why they call them race tracks. You can go out there and pass someone on the outside if your car is better. Fortunately enough for me, the majority of our races are at those race tracks."

How important is qualifying at Atlanta? Does it make a difference when you qualify at night but race during the day?

"No matter where you go, you want to qualify well. Atlanta is such a tough place to qualify well because qualifying is at night and you don't get any night practice. You could have a car that's excellent when the sun is out, make your adjustments and miss it by a little bit in qualifying, but you'll still have a car that is capable of winning the race. It's a place where you really need to have a lot of confidence in your race car because you pretty much run wide-open. Qualifying really hasn't been much of an issue for us. We just need to get the season turned around. It seems that every race we run competitively in the top-10, top-15, but for some reason we just can't seem to seal the deal. We need to work on those last 50 laps because they are, by far, the most important."

What are your thoughts regarding Atlanta?

"Atlanta is a lot of fun. Generally, you start off running right along the bottom, and as the tires wear down you can run a couple of feet off the fence. It really makes it a lot of fun because you can have an ill-handling race car, but you can search for a groove on the race track to make the car better. We had a pretty good race going in the spring there and had a tire go down and we had to battle back from that. We still came away with a 15th-place finish. It was obviously not what we wanted, but 15th is better than 20th and 30th. You finish 15th and look back and wish you would have done better. But you look and see how deep the fields are in the Nextel Cup Series, and sometimes there are only two cars a lap down and 40 cars finish and 15th looks really good. You just have to take each race one at a time and hopefully go back and improve on that finish."

Taking out the restrictor-plate tracks, is Atlanta the track that you are most on the edge in qualifying and in the race?

"I think in years past Atlanta is one of those race tracks you were most on edge. But now that they've repaved Charlotte (N.C.), to me I almost feel more comfortable at Atlanta because you know what you are going to get. With Charlotte, the track is more slippery. There are a lot of mile-and-a halves that you can compare to each other, but Atlanta is definitely a white knuckle ride."

You and the No. 18 team were recently filmed at California and Richmond (Va.) for a new reality show on ESPN2 called "NASCAR Drivers Non-Stop," which is set to air this weekend (Sun., Oct 29 at 12 a.m. EST). Did you enjoy having the cameras around documenting those two weekends?

"To me it was pretty cool to have the cameras following me around. I'm not an actor, so everything I did is right off the cuff of what I would do in normal life. I guess it gets embarrassing at times. You might be at a grocery store or at The Home Depot and everyone is looking at you wondering why cameras are following you around. It's attention that you're not used to. Obviously, if you are a Tony Stewart or a Mark Martin, those guys are recognized everywhere, but being a rookie and not as well known, you can eat in peace at any kind of restaurant and not have too many people come up to you. So this is something that may make people know me a little bit better. I'm a fun guy. I like to kick back and relax. I'm always trying to play pranks and keep the guys upbeat. With the way our season has been going, it's almost become a job because we've had way more negatives than positives. I think it's a way for the fans to see what I'm like, and maybe they like my personality more than another driver out there. This sport is all about having fans and support. The more fans you have, the more they support you, and the more confidence you have to go out there and make them proud."

The Atlanta weekend will be the last weekend of the season where the NASCAR Busch Series is running at a different track, this time in Memphis (Tenn. ). By running the full Cup and Busch schedules, how tough have those weekends been?

"They really haven't been that bad. The toughest one was from Sonoma (Calif.) to Milwaukee. It was a really long flight and it was really hot in Sonoma, so it made that trip a little more aggravating. For me, I guess it's exciting. You run one car and then you jump on a plane and go somewhere else. It will be a little bit tougher for Memphis because Casey Atwood has been running the Busch car in my absence. Our driving styles must be similar because he would always have the car very similar to the way I like it when I started those races. He now has a ride, so we have to find someone else. We're going to be cutting it close on time as far as leaving Atlanta after final practice and getting to Memphis in time for the race. It's going to be the most stressful of the double duties that I've had this year."

Does the fact that you have only four Busch Series races in the last six weeks of the Nextel Cup season help you focus on the Nextel Cup car a bit more?

"I don't think it makes a huge difference. I do know that sometimes the schedules are tight and it's difficult to spend enough time with Steve Addington (crew chief) on the Cup car, going over things. After practice I'll call him back up and have a conversation about doing some things to make the Cup car faster. I think the most important thing is to have that open communication all the time."

How big would a win be for this team before the season ends?

"A win for this team would be huge, just like it would be for any team. I know it's been three or four years since this team won with Bobby Labonte. They had a couple of chances last year and just didn't quite get it done. Obviously, working with a rookie driver might have changed their expectations a bit. I still want to go out and win races. This is a team that is capable of winning races. We just have to try to get all the little things put together and have a perfect day. We do that and we're going to win a race."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bobby Labonte , Tony Stewart , Casey Atwood , J.J. Yeley
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing