Richmond: JJ Yeley preview

J.J. YELEY No More Mulligans HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (May 1, 2007) -- Auto racing and golf have much more in common than most people think. At first glance, the two sports appear to be on opposite ends of the excitement spectrum. Golf is ...

No More Mulligans

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (May 1, 2007) -- Auto racing and golf have much more in common than most people think.

At first glance, the two sports appear to be on opposite ends of the excitement spectrum. Golf is played at a slow, leisurely pace with great precision and strategy on every drive, fairway shot, pitch and putt. Stock cars on the other hand, speed along at more than 200 mph for three-plus hours each weekend, forcing drivers to constantly make split-second decisions lap after lap. In spite of their extreme differences, both sports are similar in that they demand mental toughness, talent, patience and a little bit of luck.

However, there's one key aspect of their game casual golfers have that race car drivers don't: A Mulligan -- the opportunity to take a "do-over" after making a poor shot.

For J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet Impala SS for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), stock car auto racing isn't as forgiving. He doesn't have the luxury of taking a Mulligan in the ultra-competitive NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series.

In order to secure a spot in the Chase for the Nextel Cup, Yeley knows he can't afford to stumble in this weekend's Crown Royal Jim Stewart 400 at Richmond (Va.) International Raceway.

It will be the fourth race for NASCAR's Car of Tomorrow (COT), and much like his JGR teammates Tony Stewart and Denny Hamlin, Yeley has had a car capable of winning each of the three previous COT races. But mechanical failure at Bristol (Tenn.) and late-race incidents at Martinsville (Va.) and Phoenix relegated Yeley to a 31st-, 23rd- and 21st-place result, respectively, which consequently cost Yeley precious championship points. And in a tight race to get into NASCAR's top-12 for the Chase for the Nextel Cup, every point counts.

Unfortunately, a Mulligan isn't an option and Yeley can't look back on the first part of the season and say, "What if?" But maybe he can still control his own destiny.

It might take a little luck, but Yeley and his Interstate Batteries team know that from now on, every race is critical.

You are sitting less than 150 points out of the 12th-place cutoff to make the Chase for the Nextel Cup. How important are the next four to six races?

"Every race is definitely critical. To use a golf analogy, we've definitely used up all of our Mulligans to battle to be in those top-12 positions and make the Chase after that 26th race. You have to put emphasis on every race and we snuck through at Talladega. The car just wasn't as strong as it was at the beginning, but we still got out of there with a top-20 finish and the car was still in one piece. It definitely could have been worse. But, at the same time, we had a car capable of running in the top-10, so those points we lost are very valuable. We are just going to have to make sure we can continue to run up front but also finish up front and not falter in the next 10 races."

How tough have the first three Car of Tomorrow races been for JGR? All three teams have run so well but just haven't been able to get the finishes to show for it.

"I think Joe Gibbs Racing has led something like 39 percent of all the laps in the Car of Tomorrow races, and for the three of us to not get a win, yet, is a little disappointing. But at the same time, it shows we all have cars capable of winning versus being in a position where we are struggling. We definitely have something to look forward to this weekend. We'll keep tuning on the cars and hopefully we'll still have that advantage. We'll go and lead more laps but, most importantly, we hope one of us can lead that final lap."

You had a great test at Richmond a month ago. How important was that test for you with regards to this upcoming race weekend?

"The car we tested at Richmond was the car that got caught up in the accident at Phoenix, so we are coming back with a different chassis. But with the templates we'll have the same body styles, so all will be good. Especially after having a great test, we are confident about running well this weekend. The cars were really good in race trim during the test. The race track is going to be a little different when we come back, and we'll have plenty of time to go through and make some qualifying runs. I think that's going to be very critical for having a good day there. I don't think during my previous trips to Richmond that I've qualified very well. Then you spend so much of the race battling back for track position and staying on the lead lap. For me, there's definitely going to be a lot more emphasis on qualifying this weekend at Richmond."

Is track position just as critical at Richmond as it is at Bristol or Martinsville?

"The problem is that just like those other places, it's such as small place, and when you put 43 cars out there it obviously doesn't take very long for the leaders to catch you. Two-groove racing will happen there, but it's still pretty hard to pass, and it's still pretty narrow even though it's wide for a short track. The better track position you can have to start the race, the better off you are because you don't have to play from behind all day."

Do you think the track has changed since you last tested at Richmond?

"We qualify in the evening and most of the testing took place during the daytime. You didn't have a chance to really do your mock qualifying runs during the time of day that we'll be qualifying this weekend. You don't want to go out there and work on your qualifying trim during the day because if you qualify at night, the race track changes so dramatically as soon as the sun goes down. We want to make sure that when we do the qualifying runs, we know exactly where we need to be with the car. So giving us almost two hours of practice is plenty enough time to get the car tuned in for qualifying."

You ran well in both COT short-track races -- particularly at Martinsville where you had to come from behind much of the day after serving an early penalty. How critical is not only qualifying up front but keeping that track position throughout the race?

"I think track position at Richmond is going to be more critical now more so than in years past because of the Car of Tomorrow being a little bit wider. The cars keep up a little bit faster so you have to make sure you have that track position. We'll try our best to qualify up front and stay there the whole night."

Richmond is a short track, but it's much wider than other short tracks. Does it feel more like an intermediate race track to you?

"It's still Richmond. It's still a 7/8-of-a-mile race track and it's still hard to pass. It's a race track that I've done fairly at, but it's not on my list of favorite places that we go to. I have to keep an open mind because of the Car of Tomorrow. We've been decent in those cars, so I certainly have a better mindset going into this race with the cars the guys at Joe Gibbs Racing have been giving me in the first three COT races. I think qualifying is the biggest key and because we haven't qualified well there, it's always made the races more difficult. If we can start up front, it might change my opinion of Richmond and make our Saturday night a little bit smoother."

Phoenix is flat track.  Did you learn anything there that you can apply
to racing at Richmond?   Or are the two tracks totally different?

"It's totally different. There isn't a whole lot we can carry between the two. There's more banking at Richmond. The corners are tighter, and they race totally different. You really won't carry a ton of information over as far as the driver goes. Some of the stuff Steve (Addington, crew chief) and the guys will use from Phoenix will be much bigger as far as the setups, though."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , J.J. Yeley , Denny Hamlin
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing