Phoenix II: JJ Yeley race report

Yeley Nets 20th-Place Finish in Front of Hometown Fans No. 18 Team Battles Back from a Lap Down to Notch Third Top-20 in a Row Despite starting 35th and getting caught a lap down early in Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500k NASCAR NEXTEL Cup...

Yeley Nets 20th-Place Finish in Front of Hometown Fans
No. 18 Team Battles Back from a Lap Down to Notch Third Top-20 in a Row

Despite starting 35th and getting caught a lap down early in Sunday's Checker Auto Parts 500k NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race at Phoenix International Raceway, J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Boniva® (ibandronate sodium) Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, churned out another gritty performance, fighting back to finish 20th in front of his hometown crowd.

The Phoenix native started off the 312-lap race with a very tight-handling race car, prohibiting him from turning well in the center of the corner and using a lot of throttle coming off the corner. To compound the tight condition, the race ran caution-free until lap 71. By that time, leader and eventual race winner Kevin Harvick had caught Yeley and put him a lap down.

After the restart on lap 76, the race went on another long, green flag stint. Despite Yeley being the first car a lap down for a large portion of the run, Harvick went on to lap several other cars. By the time the next caution flag flew on lap 151, Yeley was one of many cars a lap down.

On the ensuing pit stop, crew chief Steve Addington made several changes to the No. 18 machine, which included wedge, air pressure and track bar adjustments to fix the tight condition.

After lap 195, Yeley again found himself at the front of pack as the first car one lap down, desperately hoping to get a timely caution so he could earn his lap back by virtue of NASCAR's "lucky dog" ruling, where the first car a lap down gets a free pass to return to the lead lap.

"Why can't we ever get a caution when we need one?" said a frustrated Yeley over the team radio, as the No. 18 car was running lap times consistent with the leaders.

The frustration turned to excitement on lap 227 when the caution waved for an accident. Yeley got the break he needed, with NASCAR putting him back on the lead lap after winning the fight to stay ahead of the other cars a lap down.

"We lost a lap and it seemed like it took half the day to get it back," said Yeley. "We got back on the lead lap, passed some cars and got ourselves in pretty good position."

After restarting 22nd on lap 230 , Yeley brought his Boniva® (ibandronate sodium) Chevrolet through the field and moved up to 18th by lap 271.

The rookie driver improved his track position even further with a spectacular job of avoiding a five-car accident right in front of him on lap 274.

Even though Yeley was concerned that he might have flat-spotted his tires while braking hard to avoid the wreck, Addington elected not to pit in order to keep their well-earned track position.

"One car in front of me pitted, I didn't, and then everyone behind me did," said Yeley. "At that point, all you can hope for is a lot of yellow flag laps, and on the restart a couple guys picked me off. I felt like we were going to be a sitting duck."

Despite being concerned with the decision to stay out, Yeley started 14th on the next restart.

But after an incident in turn four just 10 laps later, the No. 18 team elected to follow teammate Tony Stewart onto pit road for four fresh Goodyear tires. Only two other cars followed, with Yeley losing 10 positions by the time the race restarted.

"A caution came out again with about 22 laps to go and we decided to pit, and low and behold we have like four laps of green-flag running," said Yeley. "It definitely didn't work into our favor. We needed to run that entire 20-lap run on fresh tires to be able to pick up enough positions."

With several cautions and a red flag period during the final 25 laps of the race, Yeley never had an opportunity to use his fresh tires and work his way through the field. Twentieth was as good as it would get.

"My car wasn't 100 percent right off the get-go on tires," he added. "Tony (Stewart) took the chance and he picked up some positions, but I think he got back to where he was before he pitted. I guess when you're back there you might as well take the gamble versus settling for what you've got."

Stewart wound up 14th, while Yeley's other teammate - Denny Hamlin - finished a strong third to notch his 19th top-10 finish this season.

Hamlin continues to lead the trio of Joe Gibbs Racing drivers in the championship point standings, as he is the lone Gibbs representative in the Chase for the Championship. Hamlin held steady at fourth in the point standings and is 90 markers behind series leader Jimmie Johnson leading into the season's final race.

Stewart maintained his 11th-place point standing and holds a healthy 323-point advantage over 12th-place Carl Edwards.

Yeley maintained his point position as well, staying at 28th, 177 points outside the top-25.

Harvick's win was the 10th of his Nextel Cup career and his fifth this season. The victory gave him a sweep of this year's Nextel Cup races at Phoenix, as he won the series' first visit to the 1-mile oval in April.

Jimmie Johnson finished second to further his lead in the championship point standings to 63 over second-place Matt Kenseth.

Hamlin, Jeff Gordon and Edwards secured the rest of the top-five, while Mark Martin, Kasey Kahne, Kurt Busch, Dale Earnhardt Jr., and Jeff Burton comprised the remainder of the top-10.

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Burton , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Tony Stewart , Kevin Harvick , Kurt Busch , Jimmie Johnson , Kasey Kahne , J.J. Yeley , Carl Edwards , Denny Hamlin , Mark Martin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing