Rookie Repeat? HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (Sept. 6, 2006) - As the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to Richmond (Va.) International Raceway for Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400, J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 VESIcare (solifenacin succinate) ...
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (Sept. 6, 2006) - As the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series heads to Richmond (Va.) International Raceway for Saturday night's Chevy Rock & Roll 400, J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 VESIcare (solifenacin succinate) Chevrolet, is hoping to repeat for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Tony Stewart, Yeley's teammate at Joe Gibbs Racing, scored his first Nextel Cup victory at Richmond in just his 25th career start and only his second Nextel Cup start at Richmond. Yeley is hoping to do the same.
Yeley and Stewart are similar in many ways. Both came to NASCAR by way of the United States Auto Club (USAC), and both captured the attention of the NASCAR community when they won the USAC Triple Crown by earning titles in the Sprint, Midget and Silver Crown divisions in a single season. Stewart won the Triple Crown in 1995 and Yeley won in 2003.
In that banner year, Yeley set a new USAC record of 24 wins in a single season, breaking A.J. Foyt's record of 19 wins, set in 1961. Yeley handily captured the Triple Crown, and following in Stewart's footprints, signed a multi-year contract with Joe Gibbs Racing that began with a limited NASCAR Busch Series schedule in 2004.
Today, Yeley is in the homestretch of his rookie season in Nextel Cup. And with Richmond being the series' next stop on its 36-race calendar, it provides Yeley with another opportunity to showcase the skills that earned him a drive with one of the top teams in NASCAR.
The 29-year-old comes to Richmond in hopes of scoring his first series win, just like Stewart did seven years ago.
Rookie repeat? Anything is possible.
How does racing in the USAC series at Richmond compare to racing a stock car there in Nextel Cup?
"It doesn't compare very much at all. I've had poles there in Silver Crown and even, I think, in the Sprint car. A car like that that has stagger and different things to help it turn, and they're just a lighter race car too, so they're much faster at Richmond than what you can run there in a Busch car or a Cup car. It's just a totally different beast. My track record at Richmond isn't real spectacular. It's not one of the race tracks I really look forward to going to. It's like a Bristol to me. It's a race track that's very difficult to pass. You really have to make sure your car is handling well. It doesn't take very long for something to happen on the race track that may not be of your doing, but you can get caught up in it and end your day prematurely."
Richmond is considered a short track, but is it the same kind of racing you see at Bristol (Tenn.) and Martinsville (Va.), or is it more refined?
"It's slightly refined. Martinsville is a race track where it's easier to pass because it is flat. You're able to get underneath guys, and sometimes if their car is slow enough, you can actually pass them on the outside. You don't see much of that at Richmond. You definitely don't see that at Bristol - at least not very often. Of the three short tracks we run, I prefer Martinsville to the other two."
Is handling more of an issue than horsepower at Richmond, and if so, do you have to manage the throttle a lot more?
"Yes. Absolutely. It's the same there as it is at any other race track. The guy that can pick the throttle up earlier on the exit of the corner is going to be fast. You have to sometimes give up a little bit of speed entering the corner to make sure the car rotates. The guy that can make his car turn the best generally wins the race."
Of all the tracks where you have to pull double duty - where you're competing in both the Nextel Cup race and the NASCAR Busch Series race - is it more helpful to run both series at Richmond because both races start in the heat of the day and end in the cool of the night? Are you able to take what you learn from one race and apply it to the other?
"To a certain effect, you are able to learn some things. Most of all, you're going to get more laps on the race track, obviously. And sometimes the information between the Busch car and the Cup car translate. The biggest thing is that the race track is just like any other race track that's paved. As the sun goes down, the track temperature cools off and the race track changes completely. So, everything you learn during the day generally doesn't carry over very well at night. By running that Busch race at night, you might be able to find something that can help you in the Cup race the next day."
Do you expect a more aggressive race because of the drivers who are on the bubble to qualify for the Chase?
"I'm not going to race any of them any different than I normally would. I know there's a lot on the line. Generally, when you try to change the way you race somebody, that's normally when problems happen. You give them more room, they take advantage of it, or vice versa. I know there's going to be guys there that are going to be running a lot harder than they probably would normally. There's going to be other guys trying to be careful to make sure something doesn't happen."