Chicagoland: J.J. Yeley preview

J.J.YELEY A Modern Day Blues Brother HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (July 4, 2006) - Jake and Elwood Blues, better known as the Blues Brothers, broke out of Joliet, Ill., in the summer of 1979 and led Chicago police on an inner-city chase that ended with...

J.J.YELEY
A Modern Day Blues Brother

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (July 4, 2006) - Jake and Elwood Blues, better known as the Blues Brothers, broke out of Joliet, Ill., in the summer of 1979 and led Chicago police on an inner-city chase that ended with a siege on the Daly Plaza in downtown.

J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 VESIcare (solifenacin succinate) Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, will act as a third Blues Brother as he uses Joliet's Chicagoland Speedway as his breakout venue to seize the checkered flag in Sunday's USG Sheetrock 400 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race.

Yeley's VESIcare-sponsored Chevrolet Monte Carlo SS is no match for Jake and Elwood's 1974 Dodge Monaco. Despite Elwood's boasting that his car had, "...a cop motor, a 440 cubic inch plant. It's got cop tires, cop suspensions, cop shocks. It's a model made before catalytic converters so it'll run good on regular gas," Yeley's VESIcare Chevrolet puts out over 800 horsepower and hits 200-plus mph.

The Raybestos Rookie of the Year contender has enjoyed success in his short time on Chicagoland's 1.5-mile oval. In his only two NASCAR Busch Series races at Chicagoland, he's been in contention to win each time. And during last year's Nextel Cup race weekend in Joliet, he subbed admirably for Tony Stewart, who was sidelined for a day after crashing his No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet in the opening minutes of practice.

On very short notice, Yeley practiced Stewart's backup car and then qualified it a respectable 13th. That moment, combined with Yeley's Busch Series development, led Joe Gibbs Racing to name Yeley as the full-time driver for its No. 18 Nextel Cup team last November.

Now Yeley returns to the site of his breakout performance ready to up the ante once more with a breakthrough drive in his first career Nextel Cup start at Chicagoland.

If there ever was a breakout venue for you, would Chicagoland be it?

"Going to Chicago, I know that's a race track where I feel very comfortable. We know we can go out there and get our season turned around. We've been very fast all year long. We've had a lot of opportunities to run in the top-10, but then it seems like something happens out of our control in the last 50 laps that takes us out of contention. So going into Chicago, I know we can turn our season around, and I'd love to get my first win there."

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. I struggled early on at some tracks because you really have to let the car roll and you have to be more patient. Being a young rookie, I wanted to hold the throttle down as long as I could. But Chicago fits that template. In our first race there (2004 Busch Series race), we qualified well, had an opportunity to win the race, led a lot of laps, we pitted - we probably shouldn't have - and we gave the race away. Last year, same situation. We were very, very fast, very good, pitted with 20 to go, and couldn't get back to the front. 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."J

Last year you were called upon at the last minute to practice and qualify Tony Stewart's No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet after he had crashed his primary car in the first minutes of practice. Walk us through that day.

"I really didn't get an opportunity to think about anything. They came over and said Tony had been injured and wasn't going to be able to practice. Zippy (Greg Zipadelli, crew chief) wanted me to come over and run the car. From that point it was utter chaos. I had to run out to credentials on my golf cart. I had to sign in and get a Nextel Cup membership and run back in. By that time, practice had already started. They fitted me in the car. Luckily, Tony and I are pretty close in size. We adjusted on the belts just a little bit and they sent me out.

They sent me out with a pretty basic setup. We went out and we were about 24th in the first practice and the car was just a little bit tight and I just couldn't get in the throttle like I needed to. We went out just at the end of practice and the car was a little bit better. I had the confidence of going out there and making two solid runs. After practice was over I saw that I had cracked the top-15 in the Nextel Cup Series in the No. 20 Home Depot car. I guess that's when it really sunk in, 'Hey I just filled in and put down a pretty good lap, better than any of the other Joe Gibbs cars and a lot of the other good teams.' At that point, Zippy asked me if I felt comfortable qualifying the car. I figured going out to qualify was going to be a piece of cake after going through what I already went through. There was no pressure. He just told me to go out a put down a nice lap and that way they could put Tony back in for the race. We went out and they had made some improvements. The car was very, very comfortable and we ended up 13th. I had a lot of fun with it and I know I was very appreciative of everyone over there."

Was your stint in the No. 20 car at Chicagoland the break you needed to show that you could, in fact, compete at the Nextel Cup level for Joe Gibbs Racing?

"I think so. They had run me in a couple of Cup races during my rookie season in Busch. But Nextel Cup is such a tough series, and it's really hard to come in with a third team - a part-time team. They give you cars and you go and try to make a Cup field and it's very difficult. I guess, in a way, I felt like I was being thrown to the wolves because you're racing against the best racers in America. Being able to go in there and jump into Tony's car without any practice showed them that I could go in there and run with the best of them. I had the confidence in myself and the team - just give me that opportunity to go out and do it full-time. That helped springboard me into the No. 18 car this year. So, I'm looking forward to going to Chicago, probably more than any other race track."

You and Stewart came up through the USAC ranks and enjoyed almost the same kind of success in USAC before beginning your respective NASCAR careers. Did that USAC experience - where you jumped from car to car from pavement tracks to dirt tracks - make the transition from driving your Busch car to driving Stewart's car easier?

"I think so, because I've pretty much driven everything on pavement that has four wheels. You have to have that ability to be able to adapt to a different environment in a different type of race car. I've always had that feeling that I didn't mind getting in a different race car. I knew what kind of feel I was looking for and the feel the car was going to give me. I never really had any problem switching from car to car.JBeing able to have that ability to go from different USAC cars to jumping out of my Busch car and into Tony's Cup car didn't bother me a bit."

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."

Explain a lap around Chicagoland.

"In qualifying, as fast as you're going, you hold your breath for the majority of the entire lap. Chicagoland fits the template of the mile and a half cookie-cutter race tracks. It's a semi-banked, very fast tri-oval. As you're going into turn one, that's where you feel the most speed. You'll carry close to 170-180 mph into turn one. When the corner beings to increase in radius, that's where you're really asking the car and the tires to give you grip to help that car rotate so you can get off of turn two wide-open and not worry about getting into that back straightaway wall. If you get through turn two well, you've got a little time to relax going down the back straightaway. As you go off into turn three - turn three has a little bit more banking than (turns) one and two - you can really hustle the car in there. Then you get the car to the bottom of the race track and get wide open as soon as possible so that you can get off of turn four and get to the start/finish line as fast as you can."

You're one of seven drivers running full-time in both Nextel Cup and Busch. What are the pros and cons to running both series?

"It's a big help running both series. For me in years past, when you went out in Cup practice in qualifying trim, and you haven't been in the car in a week, and the race track you're on is one you may never have been to, but you still have to jump in the car and go out and put down a phenomenal lap so you can start tuning on your race car - that's hard. It was hard for me to get in that groove. Running in both the Busch Series and the Cup Series, I have two-and-a-half hours of practice in my Busch car, so when I jump into my Cup car, I know what the race track is like. I know the feel of the race track. I know that I can go out there in my first lap and have all the confidence in the world in my race car and put down a good lap. Just getting experience at race tracks I haven't been to is what's great about running both series. It's amazing what you can pick up watching on TV, but until you go there and make laps, it's totally different. So now, I've got laps at all these different race tracks. The con is you just don't have as much time to confer with your team to go over strategies, because as soon as I'm out of my Busch car, I'm running over to the Cup car and vice versa. Next year I hope to cut back on my Busch Series racing. I still want to run as many as I can, but I want to cut back to where I can really focus 100 percent on the Cup Series."

-JGR-

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