Charlotte: JJ Yeley preview

J.J. YELEY It's Been Done Before HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (May 22, 2007) -- Even though J.J. Yeley has yet to win a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race, he has taken note of a very interesting statistic leading into this weekend's Coca-Cola 600...

It's Been Done Before

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (May 22, 2007) -- Even though J.J. Yeley has yet to win a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race, he has taken note of a very interesting statistic leading into this weekend's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte (N.C) Motor Speedway.

If Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), were to make it to victory lane on Sunday night, he would join an impressive list of drivers who won their first-ever Nextel Cup race at the Coca-Cola 600 -- the series' longest race of the year.

The list reads like a who's who of the sport's past and present, including the likes of David Pearson (1961), Jeff Gordon (1994), Matt Kenseth (2000) and former Interstate Batteries and JGR driver Bobby Labonte (1995).

Having tested at Charlotte earlier this month and earning a solid 13th-place result in last Saturday's Nextel Open non-points event, the No. 18 team believes it is now armed with the valuable setup information needed to be successful in this weekend's race.

It will be Yeley's second start in the marathon event, so he also has that experience to bolster his chances.

It's been said that the Coca-Cola 600 is one of the toughest races of the year. Driver fatigue and engine attrition are the norm. So Yeley & Co. know that the key to winning is to stay patient, remain focused and be there when the checkered flag flies.

With experience and confidence in hand, Yeley is hoping that to add his name to the list of first-time Nextel Cup winners in the Coca-Cola 600. How does he know it's possible? It's been done before.

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

Several drivers have won their first career Nextel Cup race in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. Why do you think that is?

"There are just so many things that can happen since it's an extra-long race. The guys who generally win this race are guys who are very patient and smart race cars drivers. You need to make sure that you are there at the end, which is the most critical part. This race is longer than any other race we run and you've got to be there when it counts. There are some pretty impressive names on that list and those guys over their careers have proven to be smart race car drivers who save their cars to have a shot at the win."

The Coca-Cola 600 is the longest race of the year. You'll be making your second start in the event. What is your mindset going into the race?

"My motivation is that this race is the longest race that we run. The race track changes a tremendous amount, so you have to focus on the same things that we focused on last week, which is racing the racetrack. Anything can happen. Generally, there are not a lot of cautions here at Charlotte, so track position is huge. You have to make sure you go out there and run a smart race and not get too rambunctious in the first 100, 200 or even 400 miles because it is just so long. You need to keep yourself focused and keep tuning on the race car."

The last points-paying race was at Darlington, which is one of the toughest race tracks on the schedule. How does that compare to the Coca-Cola 600, which is the longest race on the schedule?

"There's definitely a different mindset. At Darlington, the tires fall off so fast. The race track is very narrow and pretty much one groove. When you come here to Charlotte, you can change grooves and race on the outside groove. You do a lot of things to try to keep your momentum. It's a tough racetrack because you are going so fast. The tires throw an extra monkey wrench into the equation because they are so hard that the cars don't have as much grip. Finding the right balance is generally pretty tough to do. It's very critical that you keep your car driving on long runs."

You gained two positions in the point standings after Darlington. You're now in 20th and you are only 128 points out of the Chase for the Nextel Cup cutoff (12th-place). What do you need to do over the next several weeks to secure your spot in the Chase?

"It's definitely in reach. We just need to make sure we don't get in too big of a hurry to get in the top-12. Texas definitely hurt us -- getting wrecked on the first lap. There's always a lot of 'shoulda-woulda-couldas,' but if we could have even finished 20th in that race (Texas), we would have been in 13th-place (in the standings) and not as far out (of the Chase). We aren't going to go into any kind of panic mode. We just need to continue to go out and run consistently. We need to go out and run in the top-10 more consistently over the next stretch. But top-15 each week will get the job done and get us back up there in points. We need to take each race one at a time and treat it as the most important race until it's over. Then we'll go to the next one."

What did you learn in the Nextel Open last weekend that you can take with you into this weekend's race?

"It's just one of those deals where you outthink yourself during the Nextel Open. We tested here for two days. When the sun goes down, the race track gets a lot of grip. We have a really good race car when we come back for the Coke 600. We fought being so loose with the car we had here for the Nextel Open that we just didn't know if it had something to do with the car or the racetrack. After qualifying, the cars were impounded. The guys had to leave the car really tight. When the sun was out the first 10 laps or so, the car was really fast. It's a shame that there were so many caution laps because we definitely would have been able to get to the front. The clean air would have helped us out. As soon as the sun set in the last 20-lap segment, the car just got extremely tight. I just couldn't keep the car on the bottom. I couldn't even run it up top because it was still pushing. I felt like we were going to use the Open as a springboard for the Coke 600. It's just one of those things where we go have to go back and think about what we did and apply what we learned when it counts on Sunday."

The Coca-Cola 600, like several other races, starts during the daytime but finishes at night. As a driver, what kind of mindset do you have for these types of races?

"You just need to have a lot of adjustability in the car. When you start during the day, the race track is going to be very slippery and it's just not going to have a lot of grip. So you have to set up your car pretty tight. As the nighttime comes, there's a lot of rubber put down on the track and you go through a lot of heat cycles. A lot of guys probably do 'gas-and-gos' or they change two tires, so you have to be able to free the race car back up. If you are making really long runs and you start getting tight -- especially on the exit of the corner -- and you can't get any momentum on throttle, it will cost you huge here."

What is it going to take to run consistently in the top-10 each week?

"It takes breaks here and there, but I don't want to rely on that. We need to go out there and create our own opportunities. To look back at the season right now, qualifying has probably hurt us the most. Any one of the races we've run so far, we've been capable of running in top-10 or top-five speeds. But we are 15th or 18th on the race track and it's just really difficult to make it up. We have to make sure that we start qualifying better. If you start up front, it's easier to stay up there. Even if we have a really good race car, it's difficult to come from 20th or 25th on a racetrack where track position is critical and make up that time."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , J.J. Yeley , David Pearson