STEWART & YELEY COMBINE FOR TOP-20 AT DAYTONA Home Depot Driver Relived on Lap 72 Due to Illness Tony Stewart and J.J. Yeley co-drove the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) to a 20th-place finish in Saturday night's Coke Zero...
STEWART & YELEY COMBINE FOR TOP-20 AT DAYTONA
Home Depot Driver Relived on Lap 72 Due to Illness
Tony Stewart and J.J. Yeley co-drove the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) to a 20th-place finish in Saturday night's Coke Zero 400 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway.
Stewart, who felt ill before the start of the race, visited the infield care center and received a bag of Intravenous fluids before the 6 p.m. driver's meeting, then two more after the driver's meeting.
The two-time Sprint Cup champion started the race in 17th and drove into the top-10 by just the fourth lap. He stayed within the top-10 for much of the first part of the race before telling crew chief Greg Zipadelli on lap 71 that he would need to be relieved.
Knowing Stewart wasn't feeling well prior to the race, the No. 20 team made arrangements with Yeley to be on stand-by in the event Stewart could not finish the race. When that scenario played out, Yeley was ready to go, wearing a borrowed Home Depot firesuit, helmet, HANS device and gloves.
The Home Depot team executed the driver switch flawlessly, as well as changing four tires, gassing the car and making a track bar adjustment on lap 72 before sending Yeley back onto the 2.5-mile oval without losing a lap.
After restarting in 33rd, Yeley took his time to get comfortable in the No. 20 Home Depot Toyota before beginning his march to the front.
By lap 122, Yeley was in 16th and radioed to Zipadelli that the car was working well and that he would not require any changes during the final pit stop on lap 125.
After spending much of the final 37 laps of the event in the top-15, Yeley was 11th on lap 156 when he informed Zipadelli that his car jumped loose on the bottom of the track and that it caused him to fall to 17th. Just one lap later, Yeley was involved in a multi-car accident on the backstretch with Jimmie Johnson, Paul Menard and Dave Blaney. Yeley managed to avoid any serious damage, as the No. 20 machine just slid through the infield grass.
Yeley brought the car to pit road where The Home Depot team cleaned the grass and dirt from the front grill and checked the fenders before sending him out to finish the event, which was extended two laps past its scheduled 160-lap distance due to the accident on lap 157.
While in the top-20 on the final lap, Yeley was involved in yet another multi-car accident in turn one, but he managed to bring the car around to the finish to post a respectable 20th-place result.
"This Home Depot team had a really, really good race car," Yeley said. "The Toyota power was great. We ran in the top-10 two or three times pretty easy and we were passing cars. We were going to have a good finish. At the end, I chose to got to the bottom and the '55' (Michael Waltrip) got up right behind me and got me loose.
"I really want to thank Jeff Moorad, Tom Garfinkel and DLP HDTV for allowing me to help out."
"Very appreciative of him," said Stewart of Yeley. "He wishes he could've been in his own car tonight, but I'm just thankful I got a friend that's willing to do that for you and help out."
Yeley drove for Stewart's USAC team prior to coming to NASCAR in 2004 with JGR. After running a full-time NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule in 2004, Yeley advanced to the Sprint Cup Series as a teammate to Stewart in the No. 18 Interstate Batteries car. Yeley departed JGR after the 2007 season and now drives for the No. 96 team of Hall of Fame Racing. That outfit did not qualify for the Coke Zero 400, which made Yeley available to serve as Stewart's relief driver.
"I was playing in the playground with my daughter and some of the guys from the Home Depot team were looking for me," Yeley said. "Tony just was feeling really, really poorly. I figured after I was sitting up on the pit box after the race started that I'd never get in the race car because he was so fast. He drove up in the top-five and was just maintaining there. Then he got on the radio and said it was way, way too hot and he wasn't going to make it. I only ran half the race and it was extremely hot in that race car."
"I thought we were going to be able to (make it) for the first two runs, but once the car got a little bit loose and we had to start really sawing on the wheel, it's like it zapped the energy out of me and I started making mistakes," Stewart said. "It was a situation where I was trying to look out for everybody involved on the race team. I wasn't doing us any favors by not being 100 percent. It was better to get out as early as we could versus sticking it out with 20 to go and expecting J.J. to get the thing back in the top-five. It's one of those decisions you have to make early enough, and I knew I wasn't feeling good and I wasn't feeling any better and it was getting worse as we were going. Before the race, the nurse said she was going to buy us a couple of hours and we got three hours out of it. We still had to go out there and try.
"But it wasn't worth putting those guys out on the track at risk and me making a mistake in front of them and creating a bad day for those guys. I was trying to be responsible and respectful to my race team and to the rest of the competitors out there."