J.J. YELEY Climbing the Mountain HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (June 5, 2007) -- For J.J. Yeley, it might be not be a coincidence that the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series is headed to the Pocono Mountains and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway this weekend for the first of ...
Climbing the Mountain
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (June 5, 2007) -- For J.J. Yeley, it might be not be a coincidence that the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series is headed to the Pocono Mountains and Pocono (Pa.) Raceway this weekend for the first of two stops this summer at the 2.5-mile triangle-shaped track.
Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), has seen plenty of peaks and valleys during his sophomore season in NASCAR's top series.
After scoring a career-best, second-place finish in the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte two weeks ago, Yeley worked his way up to 16th place with a strong race car last weekend at Dover (Del.) International Speedway before a right-front shock mount broke off more than 100 laps into the 400-lap race.
The issue sent Yeley behind the wall for almost 30 laps to weld the shock mount back on before he could return to action. While he gained several spots because of attrition, he had to settle for a 37th-place finish.
Before the Dover outing, Yeley had finished no worse than 21st in the previous five points-paying races and the team has fielded competitive cars week-in and week-out. Despite the tough finish at Dover, many others near him in the point standings also stumbled and Yeley still sits a very manageable 122 points out of 12th place and the final spot in the 2007 Chase for the NEXTEL Cup.
At Pocono, the Interstate Batteries team will be bringing back its workhorse Chassis No. 138, a car that brought Yeley a 13th-place finish at California Speedway earlier in the season, along with the career-best finish at Charlotte last month.
Yeley is hoping that his workhorse, along with the confidence of several strong runs in recent weeks, help him climb back up the mountain of the NEXTEL Cup standings toward the team's goal of making the 2007 edition of the Chase for the NEXTEL Cup.
Yeley has made it a habit of climbing over obstacles all season, and he's not about to stop now.
J.J. YELEY (Driver, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet):
You've had a pretty big roller-coaster couple of weeks with the high of finishing second in Charlotte, then having the bar that holds up the shock break at Dover. How do you deal with those highs and lows and still keep focused on your main goal for the season, which is making the Chase?
"Dover was a really weird race. A lot of guys struggled and a lot of guys ended up a lap down. With Martin Truex having such a dominant performance, I guess it was easy for him to go out there on really long runs and green-flag pit stops to get a lot of really good cars a lap down. Those guys who were right in front of us in points didn't have particularly great days, which helped us a little bit. Obviously we've had a couple of races that I wish we could have back. We can't change the past and all we can do is look toward the future. We had the most competitive car we've had in my past races at Dover. I really don't see any reason why we can't still stay consistent, log top-10 and top-15 finishes, and eventually pick those points back up and work our way back to 12th place in points."
You had two solid races last year at Pocono with top-15 finishes in both races. Does that give you confidence heading back there twice in the next couple of months?
"I'm very optimistic for Pocono. Last year we finished 14th and 11th. I think I have a better way to approach the race track now. It's so funny how half a season can change your thought process just from things that I learned at the Charlotte test and the Coca-Cola 600 that I can apply to other race tracks. I think we are going to make some huge gains when we get back to Pocono this weekend. As long as the changes with some of the things I'm doing will help the car should be even better and we should be in great shape to contend for a win this weekend."
Pocono is one of the most unique tracks the NEXTEL Cup Series visits. What's the most difficult part as a driver to figure out in order to run well there?
"You have three distinct and different corners. That race track was based off of three different tracks when they built it years ago. My problem there in the past was overdriving the entry to the corner since the straightaways are so long. I tried to carry too much speed into the corners. Getting to the throttle early is going to be important to getting through the corners well because the corners are just not that long. It's easier to say than to do sometimes, but I've really worked hard this season on not overdriving entry because that's always been my biggest problem. Also at Pocono, it's obviously a very long race and you really need to take care of your equipment. Brakes are also a big issue. It's easy to run out of brakes if you are running the car really hard because you are going so fast, especially down the front straightaway. With all the things we've learned car-wise, we are going to bring back the car we ran at Charlotte. We also have learned some things body-wise and that's been a huge improvement over last year, and last year we were very competitive at Pocono."
Last year, your teammate Denny Hamlin dominated both races at Pocono. It's easy for people to want to look at yourself and Tony Stewart and think that same setup will work for your cars. How much did you learn from the setups on Denny's car, and do you have to tweak that setup to fit your driving style?
"We tried some stuff that they tried on the 11 (Hamlin) car last year but at the same time it's a different race car and a different driver. The aerodynamics of the car are so huge, now. Our downforce numbers were just about the same as his, though. It's just a perfect setup that works for Denny with that particular car since they brought the same car back for the second race. Obviously, it was a dominant performance and better than anyone else had or could find with different changes. What we know is that there is a setup that works well. Joe Gibbs Racing won both races there and with a little more knowledge we hope we can go back and accomplish the same thing that Denny did last year."
You mentioned about bringing back the same car you ran at Charlotte (chassis No. 138) and it was also the same car that you ran well in at California earlier this year. Did you end up finding the right car and make it your workhorse for the rest of the downforce races this season?
"It think so. I really don't get too involved in making the decision to bring a particular car to the race track. But you find some race cars just work better than others. It's just the old superstition that one car is better than another. After Denny won Pocono last year, they worked really hard to turn that car around and run it back-to-back weeks a couple of different times. This particular car has been fast every time it's been on the race track for us. It was a great run we had in Charlotte a couple of weeks ago and we should have had at least a top-10 with that car in California. It's going to become the car we are going to be running a lot more the rest of the year, especially on the intermediate and downforce tracks."
As a life long racer, what has Bill France Jr.'s vision meant for the sport of NASCAR and, particularly, opportunities for drivers like yourself to compete in what is now one of the largest sports in the country?
"Unfortunately, I never got the opportunity to meet Bill France Jr., since I came into NASCAR at a time where his visits to the race track were pretty infrequent. Just because I didn't get to meet him doesn't mean that I don't have a tremendous respect for what he's done for the sport. He's been a guy who has taken what was a small Southeastern sport and turned it into something that has become one of the largest sports out there. He was obviously such a visionary because he was able to take the sport and be able to look years down the road and guide it to where it is today. A lot of drivers, including myself, benefit today from his vision. I think everyone in the sport is going to miss him."