Fontana: JJ Yeley race report

California Consistency Yeley Nets 13th Place Finish at Fontana to Keep Momentum Going for Interstate Batteries Team J.J. Yeley netted his second top-15 finish in as many weeks, keeping the momentum earned from their 12th-place finish in the ...

California Consistency

Yeley Nets 13th Place Finish at Fontana to Keep Momentum Going for Interstate Batteries Team

J.J. Yeley netted his second top-15 finish in as many weeks, keeping the momentum earned from their 12th-place finish in the season-opening Daytona 500 by bringing the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet home to a 13th-place finish in Sunday's Auto Club 500 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at California Speedway in Fontana.

"The Interstate Batteries Chevrolet drove really great," said Yeley. "The car they gave me today was great. We still probably weren't the quickest for the first two or three laps, but on a long run it was a lot of fun to drive all day. It turned all day and still had pretty good forward grip. When you get a car to do both of those things, you've done something."

While Yeley qualified 29th, he quickly moved up through the field to sixth by lap 23 -- showing that he had a strong car under race conditions.

After entering the top-five, Yeley brought his Interstate Batteries machine to the attention of crew chief Steve Addington for a green flag pit stop on Lap 51. The team caught a tough break, however, as the caution waved shortly after Yeley came to pit road when Sterling Marlin made contact with the wall. Yeley was caught on pit road before everyone's pit stops had cycled through, putting him 24th on the ensuing restart.

Yeley quickly dug himself out of the hole by methodically working his way back up through the field to 13th by Lap 105. And by Lap 180, Yeley was in the top-10.

After a long green flag spell that lasted over 100 laps, the caution waved for debris on Lap 227. While the Interstate Batteries team notched lighting fast pit stops all day long, the final stop on Lap 228 might have been the quickest of them all. The crew put on four fresh tires and filled the tank with fuel in under 13 seconds, gaining Yeley a spot on the race track.

After David Reutimann made hard contact with the turn four wall to bring out the final caution of the day, along with a red flag period, Yeley sat in ninth-place. Addington was then forced to make a very tough decision. Does he come in and take on fresh tires after only 12 green flag laps, or stay out and hope that the track position will net his driver a good finish?

After much debate, Addington decided to stay out, as only two cars ahead of Yeley -- Kyle Busch and teammate Tony Stewart -- elected to come to pit road for fresh rubber.

"At the end of the race it was one of those situations where you wish you would have pitted, but didn't know if you should've," said Yeley. "Looking back, we probably could have gotten tires and it would have been a lot more beneficial. The car was really good there at the end of the last run. You just don't know what is going to happen under a red like that when the cars are sitting around and cooling off."

As the race restarted with just four laps to go, Yeley sat in seventh-place and stayed there until the last lap of the race when Kyle Busch got underneath him on fresh tires, making Yeley loose and stopping his momentum. By the time Yeley recovered, he lost positions on the track, but still brought the car home for a respectable 13th-place finish.

"I had to check up getting into (turn) three -- the five car (Busch) got under me and got me loose," said Yeley of the last lap. "That is the way you have to pass, because the bottom lane is where you have to be. He just got me up the race track and I lost a bunch of momentum and gave up three or four spots."

While Yeley would have loved to have notched a top-10 finish, he knows the day was still very successful by moving up two more positions to eighth-place in the championship point standings.

"We still come away with a good run after qualifying 29th and not running well in practice," said Yeley. "I talked a lot to Steve (Addington) after practice and he and the rest of the crew just went to work to make the car better. One of the most exciting parts of the season thus far is the communication between Steve, myself and the rest of the team. When you have that much knowledge working together, you're going to get stuff fixed.

"That is what we need to do all season long. We need to battle all race long. It's definitely a lot more fun racing up front. The guys are a lot more generous and hospitable up there and you can return the favor."

Yeley's Joe Gibbs Racing teammates -- Denny Hamlin and Stewart -- occupy the 18th and 21st positions, respectively. Hamlin gained 10 positions via his 11th-place result, while Stewart gained 18 positions care of his eighth-place finish.

Matt Kenseth won the Auto Club 500 to score his 15th career Nextel Cup victory and his second at California. Jeff Gordon finished second, while Jimmie Johnson finished third. Jeff Burton and Mark Martin rounded out the top-five. Clint Bowyer, Kurt Busch, Stewart, Kyle Busch and Brian Vickers comprised the remainder of the top-10.

The Nextel Cup Series takes a weekend off before heading to Las Vegas Motor Speedway for the March 11 UAW-DaimlerChrysler 400. The race starts at 4:30 p.m. EST with live coverage provided by FOX.

-credit: jgr

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Sterling Marlin , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , J.J. Yeley , David Reutimann , Clint Bowyer , Denny Hamlin , Kyle Busch , Mark Martin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing