J.J. YELEY Chase Within the Chase HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 19, 2007) -- As the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup heads to Dover (Del.) International Speedway this weekend for the second of 10 races that will decide the 2007 NEXTEL Cup...
Chase Within the Chase
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (Sept. 19, 2007) -- As the Chase for the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup heads to Dover (Del.) International Speedway this weekend for the second of 10 races that will decide the 2007 NEXTEL Cup championship, J.J. Yeley will be focused on a different kind of chase.
Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Impala SS for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has sent a message loud and clear to the Chase field and those he is battling in the point standings that he means business -- scoring consecutive 10th-place finishes at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway and New Hampshire International Speedway in Loudon.
Yeley, along with Casey Mears and Ryan Newman, who finished eighth and ninth, respectively, were the only drivers not a part of this year's Chase to finish in the top-10 at New Hampshire.
Newman and Mears are 14th and 15th, respectively, in the point standings -- followed by Greg Biffle in 16th, Bobby Labonte in 17th, and Jamie McMurray in 18th. Including Yeley, five out of those six drivers finished in the top-15 at New Hampshire -- with Labonte the only one left out as he finished 22nd.
While the Interstate Batteries team main goal over the final nine races will be to get Yeley his first career Nextel Cup win, the focus will be to race the above mentioned drivers with a goal of a top-15 finish in the standings.
The other piece of good news for Yeley are his performances in the last three Car of Tomorrow races (COT) when he hasn't finished worse than 13th. Yeley also had a strong run going at Dover in early June before a shock mount broke, sending him behind the wall for repairs and out of contention.
There's no doubt that the chase for the Nextel Cup championship is heating up, but Yeley and Co. is focused on another kind of chase and determined to remind his fellow competitors that his season is far from over.
J.J. YELEY (Driver, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet):
While your primary goal over the final nine races will be to get your first win, what is a realistic goal for the Interstate Batteries team as far as the point standings are concerned?
"I just sat down and looked at it a little bit ago. I think I'm just over 200 points out of 15th place and that would be a nice goal for us to work for. If you look on the season and I could be disappointed with some of the finishes and problems and know that we could have made those points up. At the same time I know that it's a part of racing and anything can happen. I believe we can make up those points. We've shown these last two races in the COT car with two top-10's that we can continue to knock down top-10 and hopefully top-fives or maybe have a car that is the one to beat where we can win a race or take a chance to have a shot at a win."
If you take a look at the drivers near you in the point standings, five out of six guys, which include yourself, finished in the top-15 at New Hampshire. Is that a coincidence or is there maybe another chase going on for 14th through 19th spot right now during the final nine races?
"Definitely. There's a reason why we are all in the top-20 in the points because we are all consistently around the top-20 each week and I really don't see that changing. It's going to take a little bit of hard luck on someone else's part for us to make up a 200-point deficit to get into the top-15 in points. Some of those teams have really hit their peak in the last five-to-10 races. I know Ryan Newman has been pretty consistent and getting a lot better than what they were at the beginning of the year. The same goes for Casey Mears and also for Bobby Labonte, who has definitely picked up the pace here over the last six-to-eight races. I guess it's just a matter of teams all trying to hit their strides at the same time but it was just too late in the season for any of us to make the chase."
Do you see Dover as a bigger version of Bristol? Can you compare it more to the new Bristol or previous concrete surface at Bristol?
"I guess it would be fairly close to the same as far as the way you drive the racetrack. If I had to compare the two I would have to compare it more to the new Bristol than the old Bristol. You can change lanes and run the middle groove or outside groove and it seems to work well. You will see cars in all three lanes especially later in the fuel runs. Dover is a fun track to go to. A lot of these tracks have changed as far as the way you drive them because the COT cars are so much different than the conventional cars. I think we had a very competitive car in the spring race before we broke a shock tower. Hopefully we'll have a car there that handles just as good or even better and I think we can go out there and run in the top10 and try to win the race."
Do you think the No. 18 team is hitting its stride the last several weeks? Do you feel like some luck is falling your way a bit more or are things just gelling a bit better than earlier in the season?
"Sometimes you have to create your own luck. There have been times where we have taken a chance on a stop and hoped for a caution but never caught the breaks that we needed and we got a finish worse than what we would have if we had stayed conservative. At the same time there are times where we have been too conservative and should have taken chances and we could have capitalized on it. Most of the guys that have been aggressive all year are in the chase. You still have to be smart on those decisions. I don't think I've been racing any different but I think we've had better communication and the cars have been better to start off with and we've been able to work on the cars. I think we are finally clicking as a team as far as Steve (Addington, crew chief) and I figuring out what I need in the race car. The pit stops have been outstanding by the guys. Everyone on the Interstate Batteries team has been giving a good effort and we are reaping the rewards."
In your last three COT races your worst finish is 13th. What has been the difference there and heading back to Dover where you ran well there in the first race but had a shock mount break?
"I think the only thing as a team that we are lacking right now is that we need to qualify better. It seems that we are capable of running the lap speeds with the guys in the top-five in the closing stages of the race, but we don't have the track position that we need and we are running 12th or 14th and try to slip up into the top-10 like we have the last two weeks. At Richmond we had a fast race car that was capable of finishing in the top five, but I restarted 23rd with 80 laps to go and I was able to work my way up through the field to 10th. If you look at the statistics from the last couple of weeks, we are one of the two or three cars that have passed other cars the most from the green flag to the checkered flag. We've definitely been making moves on the race track but we just need to be able to qualify a little closer to the front and hang on to that track position and I think we will get a better finish out of it."
Some talk after New Hampshire was how hard it was to pass in the COT car. Did you see the same thing that other guys were talking about?
"I don't know if that's been the case. At Bristol I started 40th and finished 13th and passed a lot of cars under green flag. I was able to do the same thing at Richmond. I think New Hampshire is just a totally different race track. You don't have as many grooves to choose from. Everywhere else we've been with the COT we've had a little bit more banking and been able to move around the race track and find a groove to pass. It was easy to that you could be two or three tenths faster than a guy and you caught him to pass that having that guy in your groove would cause you to immediately start running the same lap times as them and not be able to pass. I watched several lead lap cars having a hard time trying to lap guys two or three laps down. I think that it just has to do with the track shape at New Hampshire. I'm sure that's not going to be the case at Dover. When we were there for the June race we were able to move up in a consistent groove and pick up speed and you were able to pass. At Phoenix and Martinsville qualifying is going to be very important because passing will be very difficult."