Yeley Set To Make NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Debut Sunday at MIS BROOKLYN, Mich. -- He's the product of the United States Auto Club's various open-wheel divisions, he's a triple champion and he currently drives for Joe Gibbs Racing. If you ...
Yeley Set To Make NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series Debut Sunday at MIS
BROOKLYN, Mich. -- He's the product of the United States Auto Club's various open-wheel divisions, he's a triple champion and he currently drives for Joe Gibbs Racing. If you thought we were talking about Tony Stewart, you were incorrect, but you weren't too far off the path.
That's because fans at Michigan International Speedway will get to see one of NASCAR's stars of the future make his NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut in Sunday's GFS Marketplace 400.
The man we're talking about here is J.J. Yeley. Remember that name because he has every intention of going places, at least where NASCAR racing is concerned. And if his past is any indication, he appears to be following the successful path to the top by none other than the aforementioned Mr. Stewart, NASCAR's champion in 2002.
There's good reason to compare the two drivers. After all, Yeley equaled Stewart's previously unprecedented record of winning titles in USAC's midget, sprint and dirt car divisions--all in one season.
Stewart did it in 1995, flirted with Indy cars for a few years and then became a NASCAR regular in 1998, running for Gibbs in the Busch Series before moving up to Cup competition the following year. He started winning races that year and in his fourth season was the Cup champion.
Yeley duplicated Stewart's USAC triple last year, but did some record setting of his own by winning 25 features during the 2003 season. He also won USAC's sprint title in 2001 and its Silver Crown (dirt car) title in 2002.
Of course, such a comparison is unfair. But because of the similarity in their backgrounds, it's difficult to not compare the two drivers.
Enter Joe Gibbs, who, thanks to employing Stewart the past seven years, has understandable appreciation of Yeley's pedigree. Because of that, Yeley finds himself firmly planted in the world of stock car racing although his path to NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series is slightly different. Gibbs has Yeley running a variety of series whereas he kept Stewart in Busch competition before moving him up.
In addition to running several ARCA events for Gibbs this year, Yeley is also running selected Busch Series events. So far, he has made 11 NBS starts with two finishes in the top 10. His best results to date are an eighth at Nashville in June and a solid performance in the July 10 Tropicana Twister 300 at Chicagoland Speedway, where he started ninth and finished ninth in the Vigoro/Home Depot Chevrolet.
"Our last three races, we've changed some things on the cars and it just made them a lot easier to drive for me and the whole package has just gotten better for the entire Busch program," Yeley said. "(Teammate) Mike Bliss has done very well. He led some of the races, too, so they learned some things.
"The wind tunnel made the program a lot better. Now I can go out there and drive the car as hard as I can versus kind of tiptoeing around it just because the car might not have been right. So a lot of it has just has to do with some experience. I'm able to help the crew out a lot more during the race with the changes we need to make and it's definitely starting to pay off."
As part of his "schooling," Yeley has also given NASCAR's Craftsman Truck Series a try. In fact, he made his NCTS debut at MIS in the Line-X Spray-On Truck Bedliners 200 on July 31.
In his next visit to MIS, he'll try a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series car on for size. In July, he participated in a test at MIS with teammate Bobby Labonte. He enjoyed the experience.
"It's been going really good, just trying to find the sweet spot of the race track," Yeley explained. "There's a lot of different lines here, and I know the race will be pretty exciting. But just trying to find the right line to help the car turn in race trim."
"The car was really good. We found a lot of things (in the MIS test) to make the car a lot better. (In) qualifying trim, we're still just a little bit too tight, but we made six runs. All six runs we're fast enough to make the race in the spring so we'll go back see if I can get my crew chief on the Busch Series--- and do the Cup race now."
"There was a little bit of swap around positions with JGR in the last couple weeks so he's going to stay there and he's going to go back and we'll go through our notes and see if we can find some things with the other crew chiefs that will make us a little bit better in qualifying."
One advantage Yeley has that Stewart did not enjoy in his early NASCAR years is having teammates with his background. In addition to Labonte, Yeley can rely on Stewart and Busch Series teammate Bliss, like Stewart a former USAC champion who has made a successful transition to NASCAR. As graduate of open-wheel racing, they can relate while Labonte can pass on his considerable experience as well.
So what has he learned?
"A tremendous amount," Yeley said. "You've got Bobby Labonte, Tony Stewart, who are past champions, and Mike Bliss, who is also a past champion in the Truck series (2002). It just helps me and my learning curve when I go to a race track that I haven't tested at, especially this weekend."
"There's little trick spots in a race track that help a car turn or places that will get you in trouble. Bobby took me out, showed me those places. You kind of feel them out for yourself, but at least know what to expect when you're rolling around there. The biggest thing of race weekend is you're so short on time so if you get behind a little bit in the beginning, you never catch up and having these guys in your corner definitely helps that out a lot."
So far, Yeley has enjoyed his stint with the Gibbs team.
"It's been really good," Yeley said. "The start of the season was a little bit slow. I expect a lot more out of myself and to go out there, we were making races. But running in the middle of the pack is definitely not something I'm used to doing.
"It was getting a little frustrating, we just kept working real hard and the program's definitely turned around especially when we go out there though we can lead laps and have a shot at winning the race. We're looking forward to going to each and every race now."
Yeley's upcoming run at MIS is part of the plan, and in his opinion, a good place for a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series debut.
"From the laps out here, the race track seems pretty forgiving," Yeley said. "It's definitely very wide, probably a little bit racier than what California felt for my race there so it'll be exciting with the other 42 NEXTEL cup drivers. We're definitely looking forward to it. My schedule had to change in order for me to run Talladega in the Cup (race). I had to have a 2-mile race so of the ones to (choose), Michigan's a good place to come do it."
While few seats remain for Sunday's GFS Marketplace 400, great seats are still available for Saturday's NASCAR Busch Series Cabela's 250, featuring the AOL for Broadband post-race concert featuring Cledus T. Judd, as well as Friday's AAA Pole Day. Thirteen NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series regulars are expected to compete, including Rusty Wallace's first Busch Series race since 1997, Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Mark Martin, Matt Kenseth, Kevin Harvick, Michael Waltrip, Greg Biffle, Robby Gordon, Kasey Kahne and Jamie McMurray.
The AOL for Broadband post-race concert featuring Cledus T. Judd, Driving Sideways and The Hype will follow approximately one-hour after the completion of the Cabela's 250 in the Water Tower Lot across from the Speedway's Administration building outside turn 1 of the track.
To purchase tickets for the Cabela's 250, log on to www.MISpeedway.com, or call the MIS ticket hotline at 1-800-354-1010. The MIS ticket hotline is open from 9:00A.M. -- 9 P.M., seven days a week throughout the upcoming race weekend.