Open: JJ Yeley race report

Yeley Finishes 13th in Nextel Open J.J. Yeley's hope of advancing into the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge went down with the sun -- literally. Fighting a tight race car as soon as the sun set in Saturday night's undercard NEXTEL Open at...

Yeley Finishes 13th in Nextel Open

J.J. Yeley's hope of advancing into the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge went down with the sun -- literally.

Fighting a tight race car as soon as the sun set in Saturday night's undercard NEXTEL Open at Charlotte (N.C.) Motor Speedway, Yeley finished 13th in the non-points event. As a result, the driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing did not qualify for the All-Star Challenge. Only the top two drivers from the NEXTEL Open, plus the winner of a fan vote, went on to compete in the 80-lap main event reserved for race winners from last season through this season, in addition to All-Star Challenge winners and Nextel Cup champions from the past 10 years.

Despite not making it into the evening's headline event, the race still provided some drama for the second-year driver from Phoenix.

After qualifying 24th, Yeley avoided a seven-car accident on the first lap and moved all the way up to 11th place when green flag racing resumed, but he just couldn't get to the front before the sun set and his race car tightened up.

"The way the cars were wrecking on the first lap, we made up all the track position that we lost from not having a great qualifying lap," said Yeley. "It's a shame that there were so many caution laps, because we definitely would have been able to get to the front. And once we were up there, the clean air would have helped us out."

After three cautions during the race's first 20-lap segment to clean up accidents, Yeley's No. 18 machine developed an extremely tight handling condition and was unable to gain any more track position during the second 20-lap segment.

"When the sun goes down, the race track gets a lot of grip," said Yeley. "We fought being so loose with the car we had here for the NEXTEL Open that we just didn't know if it had something to do with the car or the race track. After qualifying the cars were impounded, and the guys had to leave the car really tight. When the sun was out the first 10 laps or so the car was really fast. As soon as the sun set in the last 20-lap segment, the car just got extremely tight and I just couldn't keep the car on the bottom and couldn't even run it up top because it was still pushing."

While the result was disappointing, Yeley knows the Interstate Batteries team learned plenty on Saturday night and during their Charlotte test earlier this month to apply to next week's Coca-Cola 600 -- the culminating race of Charlotte's Speedweeks.

"It's just one of those things where we go have to go back and think about what we did," Yeley said. "We need to apply what we learned here and during the test when it counts next Sunday. We'll have a really good race car when we come back for the Coke 600."

Martin Truex Jr., and Johnny Sauter led the NEXTEL Open field to the checkered flag, as their 1-2 finished allowed them to advance into the All-Star Challenge. Kenny Wallace, who finished 18th in the NEXTEL Open, won the fan vote to join the All-Star Challenge.

Finishing third in the NEXTEL Open was Carl Edwards, while Dave Blaney and Ricky Rudd rounded out the top-five. Clint Bowyer, Sterling Marlin, Jeremy Mayfield, Tony Raines and Jamie McMurray comprised the remainder of the top-10.

The Nextel Cup Series returns to point-paying racing on May 27 with the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte. The longest race on the Nextel Cup schedule gets underway at 5:30 p.m. EDT with live, high-definition coverage provided by FOX.

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeremy Mayfield , Kenny Wallace , Sterling Marlin , Tony Raines , Jamie McMurray , Johnny Sauter , J.J. Yeley , Martin Truex Jr. , Carl Edwards , Clint Bowyer , Dave Blaney
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing