Las Vegas: JJ Yeley preview

J.J. YELEY "Moving On Up" HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (March 5, 2007) -- One of television's all-time classic shows --The Jeffersons-- first aired in January 1975 as a spin-off of the popular sitcom All in the Family. It starred the beloved characters...

"Moving On Up"

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (March 5, 2007) -- One of television's all-time classic shows --The Jeffersons-- first aired in January 1975 as a spin-off of the popular sitcom All in the Family. It starred the beloved characters of Archie and Edith Bunker and was cast among a working class neighborhood in Queens, N.Y. It was there where television audiences were first introduced to the Bunker's next door neighbors -- George and Louise Jefferson.

The premise behind The Jeffersons was that George had found success in the dry cleaning business and would be "moving on up" from his house in Queens to a luxury high-rise apartment in Manhattan's Upper East Side. Audiences soon fell in love with the show, and The Jeffersons became one of the longest running spin-offs in television history.

Could J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), be the modern day version of George Jefferson?

When looking at the latest NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series point standings, many might be surprised to see Yeley and his Interstate Batteries team "moving on up." They're sitting eighth in points after the first two races of the season.

While some may be surprised to see the No. 18 listed among the top-10 in points, it comes as no shock to Yeley and the members of the Steve Addington-led Interstate Batteries team. Several key personnel moves on the road crew and on the pit crew this past off-season have paid big dividends so far this season. In addition, Yeley enters 2007 free of the rookie tag he carried all last year, with plenty of experience gleaned from Nextel Cup's marathon-like 36-race schedule.

The self-proclaimed "short track racer that was lucky enough to hit the big time" is starting to show the potential that JGR saw when they signed him to a NASCAR Busch Series ride in 2004. The year prior to joining JGR, Yeley won a record 24 races and the Triple Crown during his record-breaking 2003 USAC campaign.

After surviving a crash-marred Daytona 500 with a solid 12th-place finish, Yeley rallied from his 29th starting position at California Speedway to run among the leaders for most of the day. It's a place where Yeley expects to run much more frequently in 2007 after a rookie season full of tough lessons learned.

While Yeley is focused on his job in Nextel Cup, he's never been one to forget his roots. With that in mind, he'll not only tackle the reconfigured 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway in his No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet on Sunday and his No. 1 Busch Series car on Saturday, but he'll also jump behind the wheel of a Tony Smiley-prepared USAC Sprint car at the Las Vegas dirt track on Thursday and Friday night.

With confidence and momentum gained from this season's first two races -- along with a return to his racing roots -- Las Vegas is set as the next stage for Yeley and Co. to further solidify their top-10 point standing.

With two races in the books, are you pleased with how the season is progressing and where you are in the point standings?

"I'm definitely pretty happy with how the first two races went. Obviously, the late caution at California cost us a couple of positions. It looked like we had a top-10 finish going, but we lost a couple of positions on the last lap. We made a decision to ride it out on tires. The same call worked well for us in the spring race at California last year. Unfortunately, there was one too many laps on our tires on that restart late in the race. Enough guys on two tires got by me and cost me a couple of positions. At the same time, you have to be pretty happy with a 13th place finish starting back as far as we did and knowing how strong we were all day long."

How important is consistency on the Nextel Cup circuit?

"That's what it takes to be a Chase contender. You have to be consistent week-in and week-out. You have to run consistently in the top-10 and top-15. You look at what Denny (Hamlin) and Jeff Burton did last year. They were consistent and ran up in the top-10 and top-15 every week. They were up there in points and made the Chase and even had a shot to win the championship at one point. If you start off the season well, you never get into a panic situation where you are trying to make up points. You can just go out there and be consistent each week and stay toward the top of the leader board and hope everything goes smooth for the next 24 races."

How do you feel about heading to Las Vegas with the same car you ran at California? The Interstate Batteries team also had strong test there as well, correct?

"Both days of testing with the Interstate Batteries car went really well. Most of the time, we were in the top-10 and top-15 in speeds and the car drove really well. A lot of the test will be thrown out the window because of the different fuel cell and the different tire, but you still have to have the same basic package and you can work around the small changes that they've made. Going to Vegas, I'm definitely excited about it. We ran very well at all of the mile-and-a-half race tracks last year. It really shouldn't be any different going to Vegas. To me, I think we have a better package as far as our intermediate track program goes. We had a really good showing early on in Vegas last year before we had a little bit of an issue in the pits that cost us some track position. We still came back for a 17th place finish. So if we can build on that, I'm hoping we can log another top-10 or top-15. We will definitely be happy with that."

How does the change to the 11-gallon fuel cell play into your strategy for Las Vegas?

"I really don't think it's going to change things a whole lot. A lot of guys didn't make long runs during testing. I know that we were making at least five to 10 lap runs all day long, so we made more laps than a lot of other teams. The car seemed to get tighter and tighter as we ran there with the way the tire was and the groove that the race track has. It plays a little bit more into pit strategy and puts more pressure on the crew to have fast and consistent pit stops because you're going to have to make more pit stops than you would in an average race."

There were some changes made to the No. 18 team roster in the off-season. Those changes seem to have paid off, because at California the Interstate Batteries crew made some very fast pit stops. Knowing you will be making more pit stops than usual in Las Vegas, are you feeling more confident with the new over-the-wall team?

"They made a couple of small changes with the over-the-wall guys and everyone on the team is getting along as far as the A- and B-team guys. All the credit goes to Steve (Addington). The pit stops were good and consistent the entire race at California. That's what you have to have. As hard as it is to pass with aerodynamics being such a big part of it, if you pick up one or two spots in the pits, that might be 10 or 15 laps on the race track trying to get by somebody. It makes my job a lot easier when we can pass guys from the job the crew did on pit road. I don't have work as hard to do it. With the changes Steve has made on the team, for me to sit back and look at the guys that are working on the race car, every one of them is capable of being a car chief or crew chief. We have that much knowledge and depth as a team. If you struggle a little bit in practice, you get just enough time where everyone can sit down and talk about what the race car is doing. It's easy to come up with a solution on what happened. You don't have to guess a lot at it. Having that much experience now on this team is going to make us a championship contending team."

How much are you looking forward to running on dirt and pavement during the Las Vegas Motor Speedway race weekend?

"As soon as I saw that they were going to race on the dirt track the same weekend as the Busch and Nextel Cup cars, I immediately got on the phone to make sure I had a ride lined up so I could figure out what it was going to take to go over and play. That's what it is -- getting an opportunity to get back to my racing roots and have some fun. There's not a whole lot of pressure, but it's fun to have the opportunity to go out there and win some races on dirt."

Much has been made over the last week about running unleaded fuel at California and beyond. Did you see any difference on Sunday and how did JGR prepare for the change in fuel?

"The way I look at it is that it all comes down to preparation. I know we ran unleaded fuel in the Busch Series last year and we saw more wear and tear on the valve train. We knew it was going to be an issue, but that's not to say that any of our engine tuners were still not nervous about it. California with leaded fuel was really tough on engines, so throw in a little bit of extra wear and tear and we definitely had everyone on pins and needles. Everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing -- especially Mark Cronquist (engine builder) and the guys in the engine shop -- did an awesome job. They had to rebuild 14 engines before we went to California because of problems with some pistons. The guys stayed there for a day-and-a-half straight rebuilding engines and getting them ready for California. Not to see any kind of failure was really remarkable and shows just how good those guys really are. But as a driver, you couldn't tell the difference between the leaded fuel and the unleaded fuel."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Burton , J.J. Yeley
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing