Talladega: JJ Yeley preview

J.J. YELEY Repaved Talladega: 'Grip and Bear It' HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (April 24, 2007) -- With less than 30 laps to go in Saturday's Subway Fresh Fit 500k at his hometown track -- Phoenix International Raceway -- J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18...

Repaved Talladega: 'Grip and Bear It'

HUNTERSVILLE, N.C., (April 24, 2007) -- With less than 30 laps to go in Saturday's Subway Fresh Fit 500k at his hometown track -- Phoenix International Raceway -- J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing, looked like he was about to have a happy homecoming.

After receiving a warm welcome from the home crowd during pre-race driver introductions, the Phoenix native went to work hoping to turn around his recent string of bad luck with a good finish at the track he loves. As the race wore on, it looked as if Yeley might end his day with a solid top-10 result.

With the laps winding down, Yeley found himself inside the top 12 when an incident between Carl Edwards and Dave Blaney caused an unavoidable chain reaction. As Blaney headed for pit road, Edwards -- who didn't see Blaney moving off the banking -- made contact with Blaney and sent him spinning into the nearby car of Kenny Wallace. Yeley checked up in an effort to avoid the accident but ended up spinning himself. Yeley then made contact with Blaney's car, which damaged the right side of the Interstate Batteries machine.

The unfortunate turn of events late in the race not only spoiled a potential top-10 finish but also a chance to earn valuable points and gain much-needed momentum for a team stung by bad luck at each of the last several races.

Even though the visit home ended in disappointment, Yeley is still soldiering on, hoping to turn his misfortune around this Sunday at the Aaron's 499 at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

This is only the second race on the legendary 2.66-mile track since it was repaved last year, leaving most drivers and teams very much in search of ways to maximize grip on the still-fresh asphalt. This weekend, Yeley and the Interstate Batteries team knows it will need to "grip and bear it" in hopes of swinging the momentum in a positive direction for a critical stretch of the season that might likely will determine whether they will be a contenders for the 2007 Chase for the Nextel Cup.

At Talladega, anything can happen. Yeley & Company are hoping that this time, for a change, it's all good.

Was getting caught up in someone else's incident at Phoenix even tougher to take in front of the hometown crowd?

"I'm going to say it stings a little bit more. I was a little giddy when they announced my name on the pre-race stage because the crowd went nuts. You have someone like me in my second year and you don't get the superstar cheers like a Dale Jr., Tony Stewart or Jeff Gordon. I just wanted to do well for everyone there in Phoenix. It was extra disappointing because we had a car capable of a top-10 finish and just got caught up in someone else's mess. We had a shot at it, but that's racing and it happens."

Do you think getting through the Daytona 500 unscathed was a mental hurdle for you as you head into the second restrictor-plate track of the year?

"It might be. The biggest difference is that we have really good speedway cars. The thing you run into with speedway cars is they are so hard to duplicate. We build our cars off of the special car that Tony (Stewart) has won so many races with and it's hard to do. You can look at wind tunnel numbers and make a copy of it, but when you get it on the race track, it just might not perform. When a tenth of a second separates the field, you can miss anything. We had two cars that were decent but they weren't nearly as good as what the 20 and the 11 (teammates Stewart and Hamlin, respectively) were, and because you only race them four times a year. You don't go out and build speedway cars. It takes a lot of time and a lot of money to build them. Having a good one is definitely the key. It's going to be interesting to head back to Talladega to see if having the sun beat down on the track for a few months has taken some of the grip away to where we aren't going to run around four abreast for 500 miles."

How much different was the fall Talladega race with the new pavement as opposed to last year's spring race on old asphalt?

"Obviously, when you go to Talladega you are three abreast, anyhow. It was just amazing that the bottom groove had so much grip that it seemed to bog the cars down. We were running against the wall, one lane off the wall, and then the middle. It just left you nowhere to go in case there were any problems. At the end of the race when I cut down a tire, I was trying to slow down and signal to everyone, but you just don't have any opportunity to get out of the way when something like that happens. No matter how much or how little grip you have, there's always going to be that one big wreck at a restrictor-plate race. You just hope to be lucky enough to not be in it."

Often, you talk about how the veterans are consistent lap after lap on the intermediate race tracks. Does experience help the veterans navigate the restrictor plate tracks better, or is it more important to team up with someone so that you can draft together?

"I don't know if the veterans have a huge advantage. You still have to have a really good race car in order to stay up front. Guys like Tony (Stewart), Dale Jr. -- guys who can really work the draft well -- are always going to be good. You can't go there with a 15th-place car and expect to win. It's really that simple. The same guys are still going to be up front and it's still going to be a crap shoot. Anything can happen at Talladega."

Now that you are in your sophomore season, do you find that more drivers are willing to draft with you? Was that the case at Daytona earlier this year?

"I don't think it's as big of a problem at Talladega as Daytona because there's always such a huge pack. Handling isn't as big of an issue and you don't need friends nearly as much at Talladega. It's not as big of an issue. Last year in the spring race we finished 11th and dodged one of the big wrecks and got through everything smoothly. That is the key to a good finish."

After dodging four big wrecks at Daytona, do you think your luck is starting to change at restrictor-plate tracks?

"It definitely did in Daytona and I'm not sure if that is always going to be the case. Because you run in such big packs at Talladega, I think it's difficult to sneak out of there without having some kind of damage. Where the fields might be broken up a little bit, where there might be two or three packs, you'll have more room and more places to go. If the race track hasn't changed and we are running tight from the middle of the race track to the fence, then it's just going to depend on luck and being in the right part of the pack to dodge the big wreck."

As a result of the new asphalt, the track had a tremendous amount of grip during the fall race last year. Has enough time passed for the track to weather, lessening the amount of grip?

"I don't think it's going to change a lot. Since the race track is so much smoother than it used to be, it's still going to have a ton of grip. It would be nice to see the bottom lane become the fast lane, or at least see that all four lanes will be equal. It seemed like last fall you had to be on the outside to keep the momentum up and it just really left no room to go anywhere. It's going to be interesting to see what happens. I think it's too difficult to really know what's going to happen until we get the race underway."

-credit: jgr

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Tony Stewart , Kenny Wallace , J.J. Yeley , Carl Edwards , Dave Blaney
Teams Joe Gibbs Racing