Fontana: JJ Yeley - Saturday media visit



WHAT DID DIRT RACING DO TO PREPARE YOU FOR STOCK CAR RACING? "I think the biggest thing you learn from Sprint car or dirt racing is that you're taking a car that weighs 1100 lbs that has 850 horsepower and you have to do your best to get all that power to the ground and you don't do it with traction control, you do it from the seat - the feel in your butt and the way you work the throttle pedal. These cars don't always drive perfect and I think being able to adjust the way the car's handling whether it's good or bad and taking the best of it and making the car faster because of it."

WHAT ABOUT THE TRANSITION FROM OPEN WHEEL TO STOCK CAR? WHAT WENT INTO THAT? "It was really a lot. What comes down to it is that a stock car is a big old heavy race car. They don't exactly respond very well sometimes. They're just a stock car. The name fits the car sometimes. The past couple of years they've made these cars drive a lot better and feel a lot racier. But because of the car having more control of the driver versus an open-wheel car because it's so lightweight, you can change the way you're driving the car and change your lane on the race track, and take a 10th place car and maybe win with it. At most of these race tracks you go to, you have to be on the bottom. And if your car is not handling on the bottom, you can't drive your car up harder or different or better to make it faster. It's a matter of maintaining until you can make a pit stop and being able to communicate to your crew chief the changes that you need to make your car better. That's why you see the same guys at the top week in and week out. You've got to have that relationship or that ability to fix your car as the race goes on. So obviously it doesn't matter how your car is the first 50 laps. It's those last 50 laps. The guy who knows the most about his race car and can work the best with his crew chief are going to make sure they have that right."

HOW LONG DID IT TAKE YOU TO FEEL COMFORTABLE IN A STOCK CAR? "It didn't take me very long at all. The longest transition was for me to get used to not overdriving the car and being more comfortable maybe riding around when the car is ill-handling, and then being able to communicate to the crew chief how far you needed to go with the changes. In the Busch Series it's more critical because you only make half as many pit stops.

You've got to make sure you make a ton of changes in that first stop if your car isn't handling. Hopefully you don't go too far so that in those second and third stops you can really fine-tune the race car. In my whole first year, I don't think I ever got aggressive enough with the changes I needed on my race car. If we started the race good, we ran the whole race good. If we started out bad, we never really got where we needed to be. I think that's something I've become a lot more comfortable with in making those changes and making some of those decisions myself now."

ON HOW SATURDAY BUSCH RACE TRANSLATES TO SUNDAY CUP RACE: "You can probably take 60% to 70% of what you learn on Saturday and apply it to the Cup race. It is fun to me and it is just spending more time in a stock car, getting more laps and getting more experience. I am from Phoenix, AZ and I have raced Phoenix International Raceway (PIR) plenty of times in a lot of different race cars and last year in the Busch fall race, I learned something I have never learned there in a stock car that made my car faster in turns three and four. I applied that to the Cup car and it worked. Here is a race track of all the places we go in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series, that is the track I have the most experience on and my third year there in a Busch car, I learned something I had never before. As a race car driver, you can always learn something regardless if it is a Busch car or a Cup car, they might not be the same. It may be something to do with the track, it might have to do with the tires, with air pressure; there are so many things that happen to make a car fast"

ON HIS FIRST CUP SEASON: "(CHUCKLES) It was one I would soon like to forget. 2006 was probably the worst racing season I have ever had in my career. It was probably the toughest mentally and I guess because I have such a good team, having a family made it a lot easier on me. I mean, I could have a bad day and I could go back to the motorhome and Faith, my daughter would look at me, she is one-year old, she doesn't care, she is just glad to see her Dad. Those things make it easier to let maybe a bad day at work roll off your back. Things are definitely going to be a lot better for us in 2007. Personally I have learned a lot from the mistakes I have made. We have made a lot of changes on the team and I think those things are going to add up to a lot of success for us this year."

WAS THERE A SNOWBALL EFFECT LAST YEAR AND THINGS STARTED GOING BAD? "Yeah, it does. I think the last quarter of the season I was able to characterize what I needed to be doing during a race weekend - not to get excited about maybe something happened halfway through the race - and it was really easy at different points of the year to hit the panic mode. At that time, you feel like you need to do something if it's getting track position and get back out front and drive the race car harder and generally that puts you in a bigger shot of getting into more and more trouble. I'm definitely guilty of doing that a couple of times last year.

I'm just thankful that I was smart enough to think about it during the off-season and learn from it and try to be sure I don't do the same thing this year."

ON THE CREW CHANGES, IS IT A TRUST FACTOR BETWEEN YOU AND THE GUYS ON THE CREW? "No, not so much a trust fact. A lot of the guys on the Interstate Batteries team were around during the Bobby Labonte years and had been there for a really long time because there's not a very high turn rate at Joe Gibbs Racing. And these guys spend as much time on the road as a race car driver. It's very difficult for them. The last two years for Bobby weren't exactly good. I think that brings the morale down for the guys - especially when they're gone for so long. Then you bring a rookie in and you have highs and lows week in and week out and because of that the morale doesn't get any better. And I think sometimes you need to bring in something fresh. The changes we made on this team are J.J. Yeley guys now. These are my guys. So far, from the tests we've had and from going to Daytona, everyone is working a lot harder and there's more excitement. I think that's going to make the year go a lot smoother for us."

TALK ABOUT THE SNOWBALL EFFECT LAST YEAR.GOOD START THIS YEAR? CAN YOU GET A SNOWBALL EFFECT THE OTHER WAY? "Oh, absolutely. Racing is all about momentum. When you make it to the Nextel Cup level, this is the most difficult and competitive racing in the world. And you start out the season like we did last year 40th in points, you're trying to do whatever you can to make up stuff. Sometimes it works. Tony Stewart won a championship after finishing dead last at Daytona. But he's obviously a guy who is a very gifted race car driver, but he had the experience and the know how and the patience. And I guess being a rookie, I put myself in a bad position. But this year starting out 10th in points - not in the panic situation and knowing we have really good race cars, all of our tests have gone well and just knowing that we can go out there and work really hard, the finishes will come and we'll win races and we'll be in contention to make the chase."

-credit: gm racing

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