BUSCH: Chicagoland: JJ Yeley preview

J.J. YELEY Hat Trick HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (July 10, 2007) -- Several former Chicago Blackhawk stars such as Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Denis Savard and Jeremy Roenick have a place in the National Hockey League (NHL) record books for scoring...

J.J. YELEY
Hat Trick

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (July 10, 2007) -- Several former Chicago Blackhawk stars such as Bobby Hull, Stan Mikita, Denis Savard and Jeremy Roenick have a place in the National Hockey League (NHL) record books for scoring their share of "hat tricks" over the years.

A "hat trick" is the hockey term for a player scoring three goals in a single game. The players mentioned above were some of the best in the business at scoring hat tricks at historic Chicago Stadium.

J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), would like to complete a hat trick of his own at another Chicago venue during this weekend's event at Chicagoland Speedway in Joliet, Ill.

While he will never laced up a pair of skates for the Blackhawks -- or any other NHL team for that matter -- he hopes to bring home the racing equivalent after competing in this weekend's USAC Silver Crown, NASCAR Busch Series, and NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series events at the 1.5-mile oval outside of Chicago.

Yeley is no stranger to winning in threes. In the season before he signed with the powerhouse Gibbs organization, Yeley handily won the USAC Triple Crown, earning titles in the Sprint, Midget and Silver Crown divisions -- something his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart did in 1995 to earn his ride with Gibbs. Yeley also set a USAC record of 24 wins in a single season, breaking A.J. Foyt's mark of 19 wins set in 1961.

Yeley will compete in his second USAC Silver Crown race of the season for A.J. Foyt Racing in Friday's USG Fiberock 100. His first Silver Crown start came in May at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway, where he dominated before a blown tire sent him into the wall and out of the race.

In Saturday's USG Durock 300 NASCAR Busch Series race, Yeley will have Joe Gibbs Racing power under the hood for the first time this season.

While Friday and Saturday could be banner days, Yeley might be looking forward to Sunday's USG Sheetrock 400 the most. In his first Nextel Cup Series start at Chicagoland last season, he finished 10th after running in the top-10 all day long.

It might be easy to assume that Yeley has three "goals" this weekend, and each has to do with making it to the checkered flag first.

J.J. YELEY (Driver, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet):

Are you excited about running three different series at Chicagoland this weekend, especially at your favorite NASCAR track?

"Out of all of the race tracks I get to go to in a year, Chicago is one where I've always had really good luck. I love the race track and enjoy going there and it's just a fun place to go race. That's really why I agreed to run the Silver Crown car for A.J. Foyt on Friday because I get to spend more time on a race track that I like to race on. I qualified on the pole and led a bunch of laps at Darlington in the Silver Crown car before I lost a tire. With Joe Gibbs Racing horsepower underneath the hood, I'm hoping that will make a difference with the Busch Series car. I'm pretty excited about going into a place where horsepower is going to be very critical. We are taking a different car to the mile-and-a-half tracks than what we've been running, and it's a car that seems to have a little bit more downforce than what we've been running. We tested the car at Charlotte. As far as the Interstate Batteries car, we are going to take a different approach to our mile-and-a half-program in the No. 18 car in the Nextel Cup Series. We are making some changes and hoping for some improvement this weekend."

What makes you feel so comfortable at Chicagoland?

"From the very first time I was there in a Busch car my rookie season, I enjoyed the race track. It's a place where you can really stand on the gas. In our first (2004 Busch Series) race there, we qualified well and had an opportunity to win the race. We led a lot of laps. We pitted. We probably shouldn't have (pitted), and we gave the race away. Aero is a big thing there because the race track is a very fast mile-and-a-half oval. But that's why I like it."

Chicagoland is still a relatively new venue, as this year's race is only the sixth Nextel Cup event it's hosted. Despite its youth, it seems to have developed multiple grooves. Would you agree?

"I watched the very first race there and I know you had to be on the bottom. It was a one-groove race track. I'm not a big fan of following the guy in front of me. I'm generally the guy who's going after the second or third groove and trying to find the race track. It seems like those second and third grooves have come in at Chicagoland. I know I've never had any doubts about going to a second groove. Generally, after 10 or 20 laps, you can move up and start racing and exploring the outside of the race track."

Since you love the track so much, do you feel that this weekend is one of your best chances to win so far this season?

"I had to jump in and qualify for Tony (Stewart) a couple of years back and that's something that really gave me a lot of confidence in my ability. I jumped in and made a qualifying attempt and qualified the highest of all the Gibbs cars. I'm just really comfortable at the race track. It's different than the rest of the mile-and-a-half race tracks we run because the banking is a little different. I really enjoy it, and because of that I might run and draft a little bit differently. The track just always seems to fit my driving style."

You've gained over 50 points towards making the top-12. With just eight races remaining before the cutoff, what are your hopes of making the Chase for the Nextel Cup this year?

"It's just getting down to the time where points are so critical. When you get down to eight races and the point deficit is over 200 points, we've been slowing, losing ground on 12th place. At the end of 26 races, I also know I can count races from the beginning of the season until now that hopefully the points we've given up over the season aren't going to be the difference in not making the Chase. I think that would be the most disappointing feeling. We've had the opportunities and haven't closed the deal a lot of times all year long. You leave five points on the table here or 10 points there, it definitely adds up. If it adds up to enough to not make the Chase, it would be devastating. It comes down to going out there and performing. We can't afford to finish 15th anymore. We need to go out and get some top-fives if we want to have a shot at making it. We are going to give it a shot and get as close as we can. Not that we haven't been trying to do that, but now it's even more critical with eight races to go. We've been doing a good job of being consistent as far as bringing the race car back unscathed at the end of the day. We've only had one accident where we didn't finish and that was getting taken out early at Texas. Everything else has been a mechanical failure. Those cost you at the end of the day, but they are also part of racing. With the improvements we've had from last year, our goal was to make the Chase. Right now we don't have that locked up, yet, and we are going to try our best to claw our way back in it."

When you know you have a shot at winning all three races like you do this weekend at Chicago, does that get you more excited about the coming race weekend?

"Of course it makes it more exciting when you go to a race track you like and you have a better shot at winning than any other place that you go to. I guess that's just called hope. I know we have a lot of races coming up in the next eight that are places that we've run decently, and some places where we were good but should have run a little bit better. There are still a lot of unknowns at the races leading into the Chase. We need some good luck on our side and hope for the rest of the guys ahead of me to stumble a bit. That's all you can really do."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup , NASCAR XFINITY
Drivers Tony Stewart , J.J. Yeley , A.J. Foyt
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing