J.J. YELEY Breath of Fresh Air HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (June 19, 2007) -- Some might say that perception is reality. But for J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), his first trip to the ...
Breath of Fresh Air
HUNTERSVILLE, N.C. (June 19, 2007) -- Some might say that perception is reality. But for J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR), his first trip to the winding, 10-turn Infineon Raceway road course in Sonoma, Calif., was nothing like he perceived it would be.
At first glance, the 1.99-mile circuit looks fast. But Yeley quickly learned Infineon is a much slower, technical course that needs to be approached with quite a bit of patience.
Since the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series visits only two road courses per season, they represent a welcome change of pace for Yeley and the rest of the NEXTEL Cup regulars.
Over the last several weeks, several accomplishments by the Interstate Batteries team already have brought a welcome breath of fresh air, perhaps most notably Yeley's first Nextel Cup pole last weekend at Michigan.
A visit to California's wine country and Infineon Raceway is yet another respite in a season limited so far to left turns.
While Yeley has limited experience with road course racing, he performed well in just his second road course event in Watkins Glen, N.Y., last summer. He was running in the top-five late in the race when he was forced to pit for a tire going down.
This weekend's event will also mark the first race on a road course for the Car of Tomorrow (COT). A successful COT test in late May at Virginia International Raceway in Alton, Va., has Yeley feeling confident heading into this weekend since the new car is expected to level the playing field between the veteran road racers and the relative novices.
A breath of fresh air this weekend will be nice for Yeley and Co., while spraying champagne in victory lane would be even sweeter.
J.J. YELEY (Driver, No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet):
You tested the Car of Tomorrow (COT) three weeks ago at Virginia International Raceway in preparation for this weekend at Infineon Raceway. How did the test go for you?
"I don't know how much translates. I was pretty impressed with the COT when we tested it at VIR. Obviously, we weren't on a race tire. The car drove well and handled pretty good. They did do some unorthodox things like carrying the front tires quite a bit, which you don't normally see in a 3,400-pound stock car. We actually ran a little bit faster with the COT than we did the last time we tested with the current car. Everywhere we've been with the COT, we've been slower by a half-second. I don't think that's going to be the case when we go to Infineon. It's going to be interesting to see because they are so different. At the same time, we had a lot of fun with the test and it has me really excited going to Infineon and trying to have a good race."
Last year was your first trip to Infineon Raceway. What did you learn that you can bring back a year later?
"Last year, I got a little bit nauseous behind the wheel because of some of the elevation changes. Being a race car driver and having motion sickness is kind of a funny thing to talk about. I suffered from it last year and it definitely wasn't pretty. Last year, we did some things with pit strategy that we might want to look at differently. It's a different race track. You have to drive it so much differently than what you think when you see it on TV. On TV, it looks like a fast race track and once you're behind the wheel, it's much tighter and technical and a lot slower. You need to exercise a lot of patience. Last year, I got tangled up in an accident with Dale, Jr., and ended a pretty miserable day for me. That race is really hot and we were going back and forth to Milwaukee to run the Busch car. This year, we are not going to be traveling. We'll stay in California and concentrate on having a good run."
Is Infineon Raceway a fun race track for you?
"I don't know if it's a fun race track. It's fairly difficult to pass. It's pretty narrow. It's definitely not a Watkins Glen. I haven't done a lot of road course racing during my career. To me, Watkins Glen is a pretty fun place but it's still hard to pass there. It's going to be interesting to see. I enjoy the road course races because it's so different for me. It's almost like a new challenge. We are just going to head out there and have fun with it."
While you don't have much road course experience, you had a great run going at Watkins Glen last year when a tire went down late in the race, and you ran well in the Busch Series race in Mexico. Do you feel like you've been a quick study on the road courses?
"I actually think I'm a pretty good road racer for the limited amount of road racing I've done. Last year, it's looked like we had a top- five finish going at Watkins Glen and cut down a tire with three laps to go. I tried to stay out and it finally blew out on me and we finished around 20th. I enjoy road racing. It takes a lot of patience and you have to be really smooth. I think of myself as a real smooth driver but half the battle is just trying to take care of your equipment. Hopefully we can continue to do that and do well this weekend."
Can any of the things you've learned on the ovals in your second year in Nextel Cup be applied to a road course?
"The road course is definitely different, even compared to any kind of short track racing or anything else we do. It comes down to the car. If you have a good-handling car, it's going to make a world of difference. But the same drivers are always at the front at a road course race, whether it's Jeff Gordon or Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Robby Gordon. The same guys are up front all the time. It's a matter of understanding what you need to do to get the car to turn so you can get in the throttle faster. A lot of it is being really smooth with the race car and some of it just happens with guys with experience. To watch Robby Gordon, it's amazing to watch him run at Infineon. He's on the edge there and he's always fast. It's a matter of car control and knowing what you can do there. A lot of approaches work on the road courses, but it's a matter of trying to keep that track position and staying out front of anyone."
As a rookie last year, did you get to drive around Infineon Raceway with one of the road course experts or a veteran who showed you the way around?
"Dale, Jr., gave Denny (Hamlin) and I a ride around the track and he told us different things about the race track. Some things you are just going to have to figure out on your own. At the same time, just looking back at some of the Busch Series racing I've done, I've beat Ron Fellows and Boris Said. They are great road racers in others divisions but don't have a lot of time behind a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup car. But I've gone out there and was competitive with them, and beat them at times. I guess sometimes you can go out there and learn something from other drivers, but at the same time you are a competitor and I don't know if they are always going to give you 100% of the truth about how to really get around a particular track. I like to figure things out for myself, sometimes. But if I'm really struggling, I usually go ask Tony (Stewart). It's the benefit of having a past champion on your team. Tony, coming from open-wheel, he understands a lot of the things that I'm used to. He is very good about explaining things and knowing what he wants in the car and how the car feels. He's one of those guys you can definitely bounce things off of. We did that when we tested with him at VIR. If we get to Infineon and we are struggling a bit, I'm sure I'll run over there and see what information he might be able to offer."
No matter how much information Tony might be able to give you, does experience ultimately rule the day at a place like Infineon Raceway?
"Sure. He can't come over and drive the race car for me, obviously. Maybe if it's a struggle with a particular corner, he might be able to help me. At the same time, I need to be able to figure out what I need to do with the race car to be able to do what I want it to. It will be up to me and Steve Addington to get the car set up right so we can go out there and try to get a strong finish."
I know Dover was the biggest test for the COT thus far. But is Infineon the biggest wild card for the car, thus far, for the teams that are trying to find the setups on these cars?
"It might be. Road course racing is kind of an X-factor, anyway, because there are so many things that could happen. It could come down to pit strategy. A guy might pit and the caution comes out and he gets the track position to stay up front. Clean air makes a world of difference, even on a road course where the speeds aren't way up there. Road courses and superspeedways kind of fall into that category where anything can happen and most often does."
Do you enjoy the road course races thrown in as a bit of change and a breath of fresh air?
"I do. I like all the racing we get to do. It would become way too repetitious if all we ran were mile-and-a-half race tracks because they all are very similar. Just like going to Michigan or going to Pocono, you need that change and see that difference in tracks. It's definitely a nice change to go and do something a little bit different."