Yeley Runs Clean Race in Messy Daytona 500 Twelth-Place Finish Gives Interstate Batteries Team Momentum and Confidence to Kickstart 2007 Season J.J. Yeley used patience, perseverance and a bit of good luck to avoid four accidents in the last...
Yeley Runs Clean Race in Messy Daytona 500
Twelth-Place Finish Gives Interstate Batteries Team Momentum and Confidence to Kickstart 2007 Season
J.J. Yeley used patience, perseverance and a bit of good luck to avoid four accidents in the last 50 laps to bring the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet home to a 12th-place finish in Sunday's 49th Daytona 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season-opener at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
"It was chaos is what it was," said Yeley of the last 50 laps. "From the get go we had a really good car. I'm definitely pleased for everyone here with the Interstate Batteries Chevrolet. It seemed like last year whenever there was a wreck, I was in it. I dodged a bullet and missed them all by a hair."
While Yeley qualified in 12th place by virtue of his sixth-place finish in Thurday's Gatorade Duel qualifying race, he was forced to start the race from the rear of the 43-car field after the Interstate Batteries crew found a leak in the transmission after Saturday's final practice. During Speedweeks in Daytona, each team is allowed one engine change and one transmission change. The team had already switched a transmission during the weekend, so crew chief Steve Addington made the switch because he didn't want to take any chances for the season's biggest race.
Early in the race, starting in the back proved difficult, as the first part of the 202-lap contest saw several long green flag runs along with green flag pit stops. By the lap 64 caution, Yeley had worked from the back of the field all the way up to 25th after picking his way through the field, which was augmented by two excellent pit stops by the Interstate Batteries team.
On lap 79, the caution waved again, and Yeley again brought the car to pit road, this time for a planned two tire stop in hopes of gaining some track position. But as the car came down off the jack, the bolt on the sway bar jammed the steering box, preventing Yeley from turning the wheel. Fortunately, the team was able to fix the problem, but not before losing precious track position and restarting from 38th.
"I think we only had one run where we got really, really tight," said Yeley. "Steve (Addington) got the car tuned back in. It's all about having a dancing partner here and I couldn't find anyone that wanted to draft with me. I could always push other cars through. I just couldn't get enough people lined up behind me to where we could take the car to the front."
With very few caution periods and the blistering pace of the race's first 150 laps, Yeley rode around the 2.5-mile oval near 30th position until the race took a sudden turn on lap 151. That's when Yeley's Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Tony Stewart got loose coming out of turn four, was nudged by Kurt Busch, with both cars hitting the wall.
Next, on lap 175, Jimmie Johnson bounced off the wall exiting turn two, collecting the cars of fellow JGR driver Denny Hamlin, Tony Raines, David Reutimann and Jeff Green, with Yeley just sliding by on the outside.
After making another pit stop for fuel and tires, Yeley snuck by the next big wreck involving the cars of Clint Bowyer, Carl Edwards, Ken Schrader and Dave Blaney on lap 187.
The caution flew again less than 10 laps later, with Yeley sneaking by an accident involving Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jamie McMurray and Jeff Green that resulted in a red flag period on lap 197 to clean up the wreckage, which set the stage for a green-white-checker two-lap shootout to the finish.
After restarting 19th with two laps to go, Yeley moved to the outside and gained several positions, then dodged the final bullet of the day as several cars wrecked when Kyle Busch got loose and was tapped by Matt Kenseth, damaging their cars, and collecting several more cars, including those of David Stremme, Jeff Gordon, Hamlin, Sterling Marlin and Bowyer -- among others.
"There at the end I just got sick of not having any help and decided that I was going to be selfish to do what I could for myself, got past a bunch of cars, and then coming off turn four they all started wrecking," said Yeley of the last lap carnage. "Without the wreck we'd still probably finish about 14th, but I picked up a bunch of positions and the car doesn't have a scratch on it."
Kevin Harvick won the Daytona 500 to score his 11th career Nextel Cup victory and first at Daytona. Mark Martin finished second by .020 of a second, while Harvick's Richard Childress Racing teammate Jeff Burton finished third. Mike Wallace and rookie David Ragan rounded out the top-five. Elliott Sadler, Kasey Kahne, pole-sitter David Gilliland, Joe Nemechek and Jeff Gordon comprised the remainder of the top-10.
Unofficially, Yeley leaves Daytona 12th in the point standings, 63-points behind leader Harvick and three points behind 11th -place David Stremme.
The next event on the Nextel Cup schedule is the Feb. 25 Auto Club 500 at California Speedway in Fontana. The race begins at 3:30 p.m. EST with live, high-definition, coverage provided by FOX.