NASCAR Media Conference
August 15, 2006
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Welcome to all the media to this week's NASCAR teleconference. It's in advance of this weekend's events at the Michigan International Speedway. On Saturday, MIS will have the NASCAR Busch Series event, the CARFAX 250. Then on Sunday well have the GFS Marketplace 400, the seventh event in the Race to the Chase, the 10 races that precede the Chase for the NASCAR Nextel Cup.
Let's give a quick reminder first about the weekly Nextel Wake-Up Call at the track this week. The wake-up call will be Friday at 930 a.m. in the track's infield media center. We will have three of the Raybestos Rookie-of-the-Year candidates, Denny Hamlin, Reed Sorenson and Clint Bowyer.
Today, got a great guest in J.J. Yeley, Joe Gibbs Racing teammate of reigning NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Tony Stewart. J.J. will drive the No. 18 Husqvarna Chevrolet this week in the race. He's 27th in the current Nextel Cup standings. J.J. is also fifth in the NASCAR Busch Series standings, driving the No. 18 Vigro/Home Depot Chevrolet.
J.J., busy weekend on tap for you. What is it like running both of these demanding series full-time, especially given the level of competition this year? And specifically maybe give us an idea how that will play out this weekend at Michigan.
J.J. YELEY: Well, for me, I'm actually looking forward to Michigan. It's probably one of my favorite racetracks to get to race on. Just with the speed of the racetrack, how many racing grooves are at that racetrack, always make it a more exciting place to race than some of the other places we get to go.
Most importantly, last year in the Busch Series, had an excellent run there. We ran top five most of the day. I believe we ended up fourth. Had an excellent shot at winning the race and just couldn't put it together at the end. We had a really good run there in the spring race in the Cup car before being taken out about mid race.
You know, bouncing back and forth between both the Busch and Cup Series has been a really good thing for me this year. It helps speed up my learning curve between these heavy race cars compared to the open-wheel cars I'm used to racing.
I'm used to racing a hundred races a year, so throwing an extra one in on me, having two races isn't really that physically demanding on me or mentally. The biggest struggle between bouncing back between the Busch Series and the Cup Series is the time you get to debrief with the crew chiefs to make sure each team is running at a hundred percent.
HERB BRANHAM: Also, J.J., your points standings in the Nextel Cup, you've had some pretty strong runs in the last few weeks, a little bit of tough luck with finishing order. If you had come good runs recently, you could easily be a bit higher in the standings right now.
J.J. YELEY: Absolutely. You know, I guess that's something that really has kept the team motivated. Seems like week in, week out we have very competitive race cars. We're capable of running top 10, top 15 every race. For whatever reason, the bad luck I seem to get, we always seem to have some kind of problem within the last, you know, five laps, last ten laps. Really stripped us of some really good finishes. Because of that, you run 10th, get into some kind of problems near the end of the race, you end up 30th, of course the points are going to suffer.
The biggest thing is we just have to be able to close the deal. This past week we had a right rear tire start going down. Unfortunately, it finally popped on the last lap, taking what could have been a top 10, giving us 33rd. We just need to get a little bit of luck on our side and we're confident everything will turn around for us.
HERB BRANHAM: We'll go to the media now. Questions for J.J. Yeley.
Q. You mentioned running all the USAC races. How do you keep your spirits up going from a situation where you're winning a lot to a situation where you're not winning that much?
J.J. YELEY: It's very difficult (laughter). You know, I guess you have to realize once you get to the level of the Nextel Cup Series that the competition is so fierce that obviously you only get 36 chances to win a race. The guys have so much experience, it's going to make it tough.
I guess being a rookie you allow yourself some compensation, but at the same time my teammate Denny Hamlin has won two races, it makes it tough. It definitely makes it tough.
The biggest thing is you always have to keep your head up, you have to stay focused. I think if you let certain things that are out of your control affect you, then all of a sudden you're going to go to the racetrack with maybe not enough confidence where you're going to be able to get the job done.
I guess I've been doing this long enough, maybe being a rookie to NASCAR, but not to racing, that you have to understand that you'll have good days, you'll have bad days. The biggest thing is you can't give up because if you do, you'll never get the opportunity to get back to winning races.
Q. Joe (indiscernible) said the other day you helped him a bit since he joined the Gibbs team. What is your relationship with him? What do you see in him?
J.J. YELEY: I think Joey is a great young racer. I started out very young. I only made it to this level with help. I try to give back just like the same information that was given to me when I was a young racer. Anything I can do to help Joey or any racer, that's the name of the game, especially being part of the Joe Gibbs Racing team.
I watch him all the time on TV, he goes out and he does an excellent job. Anything we can do to help him out, you know, before too long he's going to be racing the Busch Series once he gets old enough. I hope he'll be a teammate up there in the Cup Series with us.
Q. I want to ask you, even though you're a rookie, I'm sure you anticipated a lot of hard knocks along the way in the Cup Series, are you still frustrated because you expected maybe more success?
J.J. YELEY: Well, I'm definitely -- it's easy to get frustrated, especially at this level. I guess more so because we've run really good and just not been able to get the finishes that we've deserved. You know, especially on the Busch side, I've come a lot closer than I have on the Cup side so far. For whatever reason, I can't seem to catch the right break that puts me in the situation to close the deal and go home with the trophy.
Because we've been so competitive and the opportunities have been there, the only thing that you can do, especially as a driver, is to go out there, give a hundred percent every day. If you're capable of running top five every week, you're going to put yourself in position to win a race.
We'll just keep fighting for that opportunity and hopefully we'll close the deal here pretty soon.
Q. In order to have a successful Cup season, what do you think you have to do from here on out? Does it necessarily mean you have to win a race for it to be a successful season in your mind?
J.J. YELEY: You know, for me, even if I won a race right now, I still wouldn't call it a successful season just because I learned last year that in order to run good in the points, especially at this level, you had to be consistent. You couldn't afford to have bad weekends. I know we had a streak there where we had seven or eight races where, for whatever reason, we had a bad finish, outside of the top 25. I think at that point we were 19th in points and all of a sudden you lose 400 points, you dropped all the way back to almost 30th. It's so difficult to dig yourself out of a hole, it almost seems the harder you try, the deeper you get.
The main thing that we need to do for the final races is to make sure we don't have problems like this the last two weekends. We had two top 10, top 12 finishes, got into contact with Kasey Kahne at Indy, cut a tire down late last week. Because of that, we had a 33rd and a 32nd place finish.
Statistics, it looks horrible for us. As a team, we know we're competitive. We know we can get the job done. We just can't give up.
Q. With the success that this rookie crop is having, does this sort of ruin it for future rookies in that there's no longer a learning curve, they have to succeed right away, or is there still time for rookies to mature?
J.J. YELEY: I think the level has been raised for rookies well before this season happened. If it was Tony Stewart or Ryan Newman, all the guys that have gone out as rookies and won races, been top 10 in points. I think it's just a matter of any more teams are, especially rookies, getting better rides and better opportunities. Now, because of that, they can go out there and win races. Before rookies I guess didn't get to join the top-notch team, and if they did, they weren't getting the best equipment. Any more, it's just making sure the equipment is there and the drivers are more than capable of getting the job done.
Q. No rookie has ever won a Nextel Cup race at Michigan. What do you think makes Michigan such a challenging track?
J.J. YELEY: You know, I guess that's a question you'd have to ask a Roush driver. They always seem to have a lock on Michigan International Speedway. You know, to me, I love Michigan. I don't really think it's that difficult a racetrack. I think the key is making sure you have a car that handles very well at the end of a run. We generally don't have a lot of cautions at the racetrack there.
I guess maybe that's just part of being a seasoned veteran, being able to have your car setup to where you know 40, 50, laps into the run, you're going to have a good race car. Whereas as a rookie, you might not have that knowledge yet to where you can make your car that good at the end of a race.
Q. Obviously to get to this level the driving is the most important part of the package. What other things does a driver trying to sell himself to a Nextel Cup team today needs to make that jump?
J.J. YELEY: You know, two things really. Communication is very, very important. I mean, you could be the greatest race car driver in the world, if you can't convey to the crew chief what the car is doing, he can't fix it for you. Because of that, you're not going to go out and win races.
Secondly, the biggest thing I've noticed making the transition is you just -- racing is only 60% of it any more. You spend a lot of time speaking in front of large groups of people, entertaining sponsors, things like that. You have to be able to present yourself very well because sponsors are paying so much money any more for the teams to be able to participate that you have to go out there and give them their value.
Q. With all the drama surrounding driver relationships like Mayfield and Evernham, how would you rate your relationship with your team at Gibbs?
J.J. YELEY: I would think that we have a great relationship. I speak with J.D. quite often, get along very well with Denny and Tony, my other two teammates, even on the Busch side. I know it's very important for a team to be successful that you take advantage of all three teammates being able to communicate with each other. I think that's what has made possibly Joe Gibbs Racing better than it has ever been before, barring any of the bad luck the teams have had. There's a lot of communication between all three crew chiefs. I know that's something some of the other teams have had maybe more advantage than others, with that communication. Something that we've really strived to work hard this year. I think it's paying off for us pretty good.
Q. What does it feel like being a part of a rookie class that could very well be the best in the history of the sport? What is your relationship like with those other guys?
J.J. YELEY: It's good being a part of this great rookie class. I guess it makes you strive to perform maybe even a little bit more than you would any other way. All the drivers pretty much come from the Busch Series, we all have a good relationship.
I guess on the racetrack, the rookie class probably race each other better than they're racing the veterans or anyone else because we spend more time racing each other, there's probably a lot more give-and-take than we get from some of the other guys.
Because of that, it's almost more fun racing with them because, you know, you've got that competition level that you're racing for Rookie-of-the-Year as well as knowing that you can race each other pretty clean.
Q. Because of all that out there on the racetrack, are you finding yourself maybe getting a little more respect week by week?
J.J. YELEY: It's definitely got a lot better. I know all of us as rookies kind of saw some of that in the beginning, that we were expected to show a lot of respect to everyone else. But you race someone a certain way, you kind of expect it back. I guess it might have taken longer than most of us expected, but it's definitely paid off now.
I know just the difference between the first five races to now, when you race somebody, when you're definitely faster, you can race them pretty hard for a couple laps, they'll let you go and give you some room. It's definitely made the races a lot more enjoyable.
Q. Can you point out the biggest challenge maybe to being a rookie here at the top level?
J.J. YELEY: You know, the biggest thing is just trying to get used to some of these racetracks. Some racetracks are obviously a lot more difficult than others. Some of the Busch Series regulars don't get to race some of the racetracks the Cup cars get to go to. Most of the guys, especially the veterans, have been going there for 10, 15 years. They know the racetrack like the back of their hand, where we're still trying to figure out maybe the proper line or some characteristic of the racetrack that we can help if we're struggling with something on the race car.
Just trying to get a feel for the racetrack, I know that as soon as we go to the racetracks we've been to for a second time, our car's a little bit closer, we can help the crew chiefs out a little bit more. We seem to all be able to perform a little bit better.
Q. Have you thought about next year yet? Are you going to do the double duty next year?
J.J. YELEY: We've been in discussions about it. I'm definitely going to run some Busch Series races. Right now I think we have scheduled between 20 and 25. Not planning on trying to run for a championship right now. I guess there's always that possibility that if we can't get the job done this year, there might be enough fight left in myself and the team to go out and try to do it again next year.
Q. You mentioned a learning curve in Busch and Cup. Can you identify some of the other significant lessons that you've learned so far in your rookie year?
J.J. YELEY: You know, the biggest thing is you really have to exercise a lot more patience. You know, the races are so much longer, you have so many more opportunities to work on your race car as far as pit stops, maybe early in the race if the car is not handling, to really not be -- not to go out there and switch the envelope, maybe overdrive the car, get yourself in a good position to wreck or get wrecked.
You know, the Busch Series, after racing it for three years, the races are fairly short. You might only get two or three opportunities to work on your race car. You really have to make the most of track position all the time.
The Busch race and the Cup race, you race them totally completely different. The other big thing is just the things you learn from racing with the veterans of the Cup Series when you are in the Busch Series, that training helps you make that transition to when you're going out there and you're 50 laps into the race, you know if you're faster than a guy, can you race him for a couple laps, he'll generally let you go because the more time you spend racing with each other, the more time you're going to lose on the racetrack.
I guess just learning that respect and how it all plays out to your advantage.
HERB BRANHAM: Thanks to the media for joining us today. J.J., thanks a lot for taking time out from your schedule. Best of luck this weekend. Busy weekend as we said. Hopefully it will be a great one for you.
J.J. YELEY: I do appreciate it very much.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you, again, to the media. As always, appreciate your help and your coverage.
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