Richmond II: JJ Yeley preview

J.J. YELEY A New Beginning HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (September 4, 2007) -- Life is full of difficult decisions. Just ask J.J. Yeley. Yeley, current driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), made what he...

A New Beginning

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (September 4, 2007) -- Life is full of difficult decisions. Just ask J.J. Yeley.

Yeley, current driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), made what he called "the most important decision of his life" when he announced this week that he'll move over to Hall of Fame Racing to drive the No. 96 car for the next three seasons beginning in 2008.

Although many great racing organizations courted Yeley, he chose to stay in JGR equipment at Hall of Fame Racing, now run by a new ownership group led by Jeff Moorad and Tom Garfinkel of the Arizona Diamondbacks.

With his long-term future now set, Yeley will now focus on the immediate future -- garnering top finishes the remainder of the 2007 season behind the wheel of the Interstate Batteries car.

This weekend, the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to Richmond (Va.) International Raceway for its second short-track stop in three weeks. Two weeks ago at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway, Yeley had a fast car and made a race-high 107 passes during the 500-lap event. The end result was a 13th-place finish -- his best ever at Bristol.

With 13th- and 14th-place finishes under his belt the past two Nextel Cup races at Richmond, and the success of JGR's Car of Tomorrow (COT) program, Yeley has plenty of reasons to look forward to Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400.

While Yeley is ready for a new beginning with Hall of Fame Racing in 2008, he hasn't lost focus on the final 11 races of the season with JGR. With the weight of his racing future now off of his shoulders, he'll focus on making a big week even bigger with a charge towards his first Nextel Cup win in the Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Impala SS this weekend.

J.J. YELEY (Driver, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet):

You got a lap down at Richmond during the spring race and ended up getting back on the lead lap, finishing 14th. What are you expecting this weekend in your second trip to Richmond with the COT?

"I have a love-hate relationship with Richmond. It's a fun race track. I think I have a couple of poles there in USAC. For whatever reason, I've always struggled there more so in the Busch car than the Cup car. We had a pretty decent run the last couple times we've been there. It's a tough race, so you have to use a lot of patience throughout the night. You have to get the car to rotate, which is so critical at that race track -- especially in the Car of Tomorrow. The groove has widened out where you can do some two- and three-wide racing. That really fits my driving style and makes it more enjoyable. Hopefully we can take the things we've learned in the last Richmond race and apply them and have a car that handles just a little bit better so we can go there and secure at top-10 or top-five finish."

You had a good finish on the short track at Bristol a few weeks ago. How has the evolution of the Car of Tomorrow with Joe Gibbs Racing helped you on the short tracks this season?

"It means a lot. We've seen a little more success in the COT car on the short tracks than what I have with the conventional cars. It's really hard to pinpoint why. All of the cars are generally a lot tighter, so sometimes changing lanes helps your car rotate a little bit better. Everything just fits my driving style a bit better. It's made it a lot more fun going to short tracks. I've always seen a lot of success and had more fun on the mile-and-a-half tracks and dreaded some of the road courses because they are so much different than anything I've done before. We need to get things turned around a little bit since we've been in a bit of a slump the last several weeks. We struggled a little bit with the handling of the race car and not having it handle like I needed it. But after finishing 13th at Bristol, I'm feeling confident we can turn it around at Richmond this weekend."

Was the decision to move to Hall of Fame Racing for 2008 one of the biggest decisions you've ever had to make?

"I would say this is the biggest decision I've had to make in my life. There were so many opportunities to choose from. When you leave an organization like Joe Gibb Racing, one of the top teams in NASCAR, you want to try to make the right step to be more successful. With all the opportunities I had, you hate to take one and look back a month later and reflect on the decision. A lot of pressure comes with that. I'm very confident in the decision I've made that this change will help me run more competitive week-in and week-out."

How did you come to this decision? Why are you so confident that Hall of Fame Racing is the right fit for you?

"During my first meeting with Tom Garfinkel (owner, Hall of Fame Racing), it was easy to see why Chip Ganassi Racing had the success they did during the five years he was there. He's a very sharp person. You can really tell that, the things he told us, he was going to make them happen. The next meeting with Tom Garfinkel and Jeff Moorad (owner), it was easy to see the desire and the plan that they have. I think they are going to be good for the sport. They are really ambitious and determined to be successful. Some people tried to do that in the past but maybe didn't have the right vision on what it's going to take, management- and personnel-wise. They know you just can't come in and throw money at it and win races. That's the benefit in going to this team. There's already a good history and foundation here. They are going to continue to get equipment from Joe Gibbs Racing. Obviously, their equipment is equal to the best stuff out on the race track. All those things added up. I'm excited that I'll be catching all of their focus."

What philosophies did you share with the new owners?

"Just looking at their past record with the Diamondbacks was very impressive to me. They took on a team that at one point was a World Series team that had fallen on hard financial and competitive times. Since Jeff and Tom became involved, they are leading the division. They've basically turned the organization around from top to bottom. That was a big turnaround from where they were to where they are now. They definitely want to do it right. They want to have the right personnel there. That's the key to being successful in NASCAR right now. Everyone has very similar equipment. The Car of Tomorrow is going to make it more even next year and in the future. It's going to come down to having the right people in place. You can look at other teams that get equipment from other big teams. You need to put the right people in the right place and these guys have the track record and the ability to do that."

How important was the Phoenix connection with the new team owners for you, being a Phoenix native?

"It wasn't the biggest part for me but it's certainly a huge bonus. Not a whole lot of NASCAR drivers have come out of Phoenix or the state of Arizona. That probably makes me unique. Now, having the affiliation with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the great people in Phoenix, it is something else that adds to it that makes it the perfect fit for me. I really took a lot of other opportunities with other teams in consideration and I'm thankful that they even considered me. As time went on, this just seemed like this was going to be the perfect fit."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers J.J. Yeley , Chip Ganassi
Teams Chip Ganassi Racing , Joe Gibbs Racing , Hall of Fame Racing