Bristol: New Car + New Surface + Experience New Attitude CORNELIUS, N.C. (March 11, 2008) -- Early in J.J. Yeley's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, it's safe to say Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway was not one of his favorite stops on the...
Bristol: New Car + New Surface + Experience New Attitude
CORNELIUS, N.C. (March 11, 2008) -- Early in J.J. Yeley's NASCAR Sprint Cup Series career, it's safe to say Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway was not one of his favorite stops on the 36-race schedule.
The combination of a rough surface, the bumping and banging throughout the 500-lap race, along with Yeley's overall inexperience at the .533-mile oval, led to his general dislike of Bristol.
However, the times, they are a-changin'.
Bristol was resurfaced last summer and the progressive 26- to 30-degree banking in the turns made for two- and even three-wide racing. The new NASCAR Sprint Cup car also didn't allow drivers to beat and bang on each other for position as easily as the previous car, meaning a little more racing and a little less banging was necessary.
But perhaps the biggest factor in Yeley's about-face with regard to his feelings about Bristol is simply experience. No matter what type of car and what type of surface, it's a daunting task for any young driver to race 42 other cars on a high-banked bullring where lap times are less than 16 seconds.
Yeley has made seven NASCAR Nationwide Series starts at Bristol and will make his fifth Sprint Cup Series start there Sunday -- which means he now has a lot of laps under his belt at the track. And at no time was that experience more valuable than last August, when Yeley started 40th, stayed out of trouble, figured out the race track, and finished a solid 13th.
This week, in the Food City 500 Sprint Cup Series race at Bristol, Yeley, driver of the No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota Camry for Hall of Fame Racing, hopes to continue his Bristol education, and hopefully find his first top-10 at one of the toughest tracks around.
J.J. YELEY, driver of the No. 96 DLP HDTV Toyota Camry:
Bristol Motor Speedway used to be one of your least favorite tracks. But after having a great run there last fall after the track was resurfaced, do you feel differently going back there this weekend?
"It's no longer one of my least favorite race tracks. I know some of the fans had some problems with it, but I started 39th or 40th and drove to a 13th-place finish and never made contact with another car. That's very unheard of for Bristol and the way that race track used to be. That depends if you have a good race car or not, and I'm excited to go back to Bristol and being with Hall of Fame Racing and having DLP HDTV as our sponsor. I know our short-track program seemed to be really good last year. Judging from the test we had recently at Phoenix, where we learned some things, I think we'll be pretty good. It's always a crapshoot when you go to Bristol. Sometimes you never know what you're going to get. Some of these teams -- and we're in that situation now -- is that we're not really able to go out and attack because it's the final race to determine this season's top-35 in points. You can't afford to go out there and do something silly and get yourself wrecked early and have a poor finish. You can't be looking at close to 35th in points going into the sixth race in Martinsville. We are going to go out there and have fun and hopefully have a good race car that will keep us near the front, which generally keeps you out of trouble."
One of the first tests you had with Hall of Fame Racing was in December at New Smyrna (Fla.) Speedway. >From that test, and from what you saw of the DLP team last year, are you excited for your first short-track race of the season?
"We tested in the middle of the off-season at New Smyrna, which is a little half-mile short track. We went through some things that really seemed to make the car turn well. And that seems to be the most important part of the new cars -- to make them rotate in the center of the corner. You still have to get forward bite, and we had that throughout the test. We're still working on trying to figure some things out on the mile-and-a-half race tracks. I think we were a lot better at Atlanta, even though we didn't get to show it, than we were during the early races. This team is all brand new to me, but I'm just trying to get the feel of what I want as a race car driver from the crew chief and the rest of the team. It's going to take a little bit of time. I knew to start the season that we weren't going to be a dominant team and it was going to take some work and effort from everyone on the team. Everyone has been very positive and has worked very hard, even though we haven't had the finishes that we wanted. Hopefully, we can start going out there and running better and get these guys excited about the short-track and intermediate-track programs."
Last year after the August Bristol race, a lot of fans were complaining that it was too boring and there wasn't enough bumping. Do you think the new car or the new concrete played into the change in the racing?
"To me, there was more two-abreast, and almost three-abreast, racing that you never saw at Bristol before. I don't think the race track was as much of a factor as the new car. Now I don't think there's a problem with the car, but the new car just races differently and the cars are boxier. You just can't drive down there and do the old bump-and-run like you used to, because, frankly, you just run into the guy in front of you and knock him with force. It was more like a bumper-car than years past. That has changed the way you race there, now. I spent a lot of time beating on the back of someone's bumper for about 10 or 15 laps. I still didn't pass him, and the only thing I did was make him mad because I just kept running into him. If you have a better-handling race car, you can change lanes now and go to the outside and pass someone, where before you couldn't do that because you just rooted someone out of the road."