NASCAR Media Conference
April 17, 2007
HERB BRANHAM: Good afternoon, everyone. Thanks for joining us. Welcome to the weekly NASCAR teleconference. It's in advance of this weekend's events at Phoenix International Raceway, which includes Saturday nights Subway Fresh Fit 500. That will be the eighth race of the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series season.
Have a great guest today. It's Phoenix's own J.J. Yeley, driver of the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet for Joe Gibbs Racing. J.J. is in his second full-time NEXTEL Cup season. He comes into the weekend's race 22nd in series points. Also pretty neat he's going to be making his 50th NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series start.
J.J., the first three weeks of the season you were in the top 10 in points. Pretty good start for you. Had a little bit of bad luck this past Sunday at Texas, to say the least, getting caught up in an early incident. What is your outlook for this week's race in your hometown and the rest of the season?
J.J. YELEY: Touching on Texas, it's probably the most disappointed I've ever been in a race. Being in Texas, home of Interstate Batteries, we had a fantastic car through both practice sessions. Really don't even have a clue how good my race car was going to be on Sunday because I was taken out coming to complete lap number one. It's horrible.
But the season up to then has been pretty good. We've fallen to 18th in points. The last three or four races we've faltered just a little bit as a team near the end of the race. I think we have cost ourselves a little bit. All in all, we've gelled a lot better as a team. We've made some changes in the car chief position, some of the crew members are a little bit different, and it's really showing up in the performance. It's given the team more confidence. It's given me a little more confidence. Because of that we were definitely a lot more competitive on the racetrack.
We almost need to change our outlook how we approach each race. We have cars good enough to go out there and win races, run up front, versus taking chances for those good finishes.
So going to Phoenix with the COT car, Joe Gibbs Racing has been really good with those cars. Obviously going back home makes it even more special.
HERB BRANHAM: Thank you very much. We'll take questions from the media.
Q. What do you think you have learned from the first two Car of Tomorrow races on the short tracks and how do you think it might help you here on a mile track in Phoenix on Saturday night?
J.J. YELEY: It's a good question. You know, I think everything that we've learned chassis-wise from the first two races, we learned the most from Martinsville because it's a flat racetrack. Going to PIR, we'll have a lot more speed. Especially being a night race, I think the track will have a lot more grip. It will be a lot racier than the first two Car of Tomorrow races.
I don't know that we can use a whole lot that we learned from those two races. A lot of the setup will be something similar from the Richmond test we had about three or four weeks ago.
You know, I think the fans are going to enjoy it. Especially it being a night race, I think the speeds are still going to be down a little bit. To me, you know, there's nothing wrong with the cars. They're a little bit slower. The more time teams have to spend with these cars, the faster they make them. I think the car, really their potential is going to be up to Goodyear. If Goodyear starts bringing back softer tires, because the cars don't handle as well, don't go as fast, you'll see faster speeds and the racing will be just as good.
Q. Have you had a chance since Sunday to speak with David Ragan one-on-one?
J.J. YELEY: He came up to me in the trailer after the race, apologized obviously, said that his spotter said he was clear. You know, to me it's just a ridiculous statement. He was inside of me. I was clear against the wall. He hit me in the left rear quarter panel. If he can't see the front two-thirds of my car in front of him, he needs to change the way his seat is mounted or start looking around where he is on the racetrack.
At the same time his spotter apologized to my spotter, said he got loose. To me it's just a matter of trying too hard way, way too early in the race. The track conditions were not like what we had in the previous day practice. Especially being a rookie, I would have been taking it easy just to make sure I knew what my car was, loose or tight. I just think it was a stupidity on his part because it took me out and damaged four or five other cars that really never should have happened.
Q. J.J., have you had a chance to talk with your teammate Tony Stewart after the interesting day he had?
J.J. YELEY: No, I didn't. I left the racetrack a little prematurely on Sunday. I watched it from the airport in Dallas-Fort Worth and saw that his day went better than mine, but definitely not the day that Tony Stewart is used to.
I think he might have been a little frustrated. He just didn't have the car that he thought. In practice on the first two days, he had an awesome race car. It looked like they were struggling to be maybe a 5th- or 10th-place car. At that point he showed a little bit of frustration. Then obviously things got worse for him.
He's a championship contender. Obviously he's won championships before. He knows what it's going to take. I guess drivers have bad days. It definitely wasn't neither one of ours on Sunday.
Q. In terms of the Car of Tomorrow and the car of today or the current car, is there anything from the driver's standpoint that you definitely notice inside the car that's different besides the handling?
J.J. YELEY: You know, there's a lot more room in the new Car of Tomorrow. To me it's funny sitting in the car because you sit very, very low compared to the roof. It's almost like driving a Craftsman truck. It looks like the windshield is twice as big. Your perspective from inside the car is a little bit different. There's more subtle changes, but that would be the biggest, other than the two cars handling totally different.
Q. I was curious with the Car of Tomorrow, your plans for running in the Busch Series, do you continue to run a bunch? How much can you learn at a race where you're going to run the Car of Tomorrow in Cup and the conventional car in Busch?
J.J. YELEY: I think once we get to the schedule where they conflict between the regular Busch Series and the Car of Tomorrow, you really won't learn much car-wise. I mean, all that is going to go out the window. It's just going to be a matter of learning something about the racetrack.
To me the more time I spend in the stock car, the better off I'm going to be. My entire life I've raced cars that weighed a third of what a NEXTEL Cup or Busch car weighed. The more time I can spend in it, the better I'm going to be.
At the same time I'm a racer. I'm not going to quit racing the Busch Series because they're different vehicles. I'm already there for the race weekend. I'd rather spend Saturday driving a Busch car than sitting there watching a Busch race on TV or playing golf or anything else.
Q. I know you can't learn from running a dirt race. How much good does it do as a driver to win a race in a totally different circuit and car?
J.J. YELEY: You know, last year I think that's probably what saved me. I was able to sneak off every now and again and go run some races. The schedule's very demanding. People don't get to see what it's like I guess being a NEXTEL Cup driver, not just from your race weekend but what it takes between testing, public appearances, things you have to do for your sponsor. It can turn into a really long grind. Especially if you have a tough season, there's a point there where I guess you almost want to give up.
For me last year getting to go run some dirt races, it reminded me why I've worked so hard in my life and through my career to make it to this point. You go out there, you have a little bit of release, you have a little bit of fun. You go back and you're back to a hundred percent trying your best at doing what you love to do: go win races and run up front.
Q. This your 50th Cup start, hometown of Phoenix, night race, you get to try and rebound from Texas. Do you think this gives you a lot more motivation than most other drivers Saturday night?
J.J. YELEY: I don't know if the motivation is going to come from my 50th race. It's a surprise to me I've already run that many races. Going to Phoenix, obviously it's a racetrack where I feel the most comfortable, a racetrack that I probably have the best chance of winning a race. The night race, to me going to Phoenix, is a lot more fun than when we race in November. The racetrack has a lot more grip. You can pass. It has two grooves. It's a little bit more fun.
Third of all, the Joe Gibbs' cars have been phenomenal so far in the two COT races we've run. We were very fast at the Richmond test. All those things add up.
I know when we go, we're going to be fast. We have as good a chance as any to win. It would be even more special to me to do it in front of the hometown crowd.
Q. When you take over a car like you did Bobby Labonte in the 18, now that you've had a year in it, this is your year, do you feel now you take off and that 18 is yours? Most people say that's J.J. Yeley as opposed to that's Bobby Labonte's old car?
J.J. YELEY: Yeah, it's really funny how that went last year. I feel obviously everyone at Interstate Batteries has welcomed me, they're proud to have me. I'm proud to be driving the car. From the fan point of it, it is my ride now. I think that's really cool. There was a lot of pressure last year taking over for Bobby. He's won a championship in that car. He's been with the team in that car for over a decade. That's just so much history and heritage to take over.
You know, I'm just glad this year is going so much better than last. It's making it a little bit easier.
Q. You mentioned Gibbs has done a great job. Like with Hendrick, the two teams seem to have an edge over some of the other teams, what did you do to prepare for the COT that's given you the edge?
J.J. YELEY: I think something that's a huge advantage for us at Joe Gibbs Racing, we have probably one of the heavier-staffed engineering departments than a lot of the other teams. I think Hendrick would rival what we have at Joe Gibbs Racing. That has made such a huge advance, especially in the cars we've been running. They've just been able to spend so much time trying to find out and figure out a way around the rules and the way the cars travel. It's really shortened up the learning curve.
A lot of these teams that don't have that have trial and error at the racetrack. Sometimes it's real tough to AB a test, with limited testing that NEXTEL Cup gives you with tires, it's really hard to go out and get a really good feel for what the cars want to do. I think that's been a huge difference so far. Hopefully we can keep that advantage all year long. I'm sure a lot of teams are going to start figuring things out and become more competitive.
At the same time, you know, you look at some of the teams that are struggling, like maybe an Evernham, some of those teams, where you have guys that are teams that don't have really big budgets that might have hit on something that are running good on the short tracks. It's really what is the biggest thing to gain. But just definitely glad the engineering staff at Joe Gibbs Racing has put in a lot of hard work.
Q. One of the rationales for the Car of Tomorrow was it was going to level the playing field for teams that didn't have the big engineering departments. Is that I guess not playing out? Was that, I don't know, a pipe dream?
J.J. YELEY: Yes and no. You know, I think we figured out some small things that are huge on the racetrack, huge with the car. At the same time you take a team -- you look at some of the testing. Kenny Wallace, who is with a team that's very under-funded, doesn't have a lot of help with any other teams, not a multi-car team, haven't been in the sport for a very long time, were really good in the tests at Richmond. But then you take some of the other teams that have been good, maybe an Evernham, some of the other teams, that have struggled.
It has leveled the playing field, but there's still the opportunity for a handful of teams to really figure something out that's going to give them an advantage. I just think for a while there's going to be five or six teams, and those are the same teams that are going to be at the top no matter what, if it is the Car of Tomorrow or the conventional car we've been running.
Q. Have you tested the Car of Tomorrow at night yet? Do you have a sense of what the car is like both inside and how it performs at night?
J.J. YELEY: We did do the test at Richmond. The first day was during the evening. The second test was shortened due to rain. We do have an idea. It really didn't change much inside the car. Not any kind of big difference that you would think of. The biggest thing is the way the racetrack is going to change and what it's going to take for the crews to adjust the cars.
I don't think we have as many adjustments to make the cars, per se, turn better, more forward bite than what we do on the conventional cars. At Phoenix, if the track gets a lot more grip as it gets cooler temperatures, you know, it's going to be a little bit more guesswork in finding out exactly what you need to do to your car.
Q. David Ragan you talked about being too aggressive early in the race this past weekend. Do you think inexperienced drivers have a responsibility to know their limitations, especially while they're learning on the track?
J.J. YELEY: I believe so. But I guess I had the advantage of being the rookie at a later stage of my career. I was a rookie at the age of 29. I've gone through a lot of that. I think he's only 19. I'm sure he has a lot of pressures taking over the No. 6 car, being so young, not having a lot of experience.
But to look back through his career, he was set down last year by Roush organization for some wild racing at Martinsville, I believe. He's been involved in a lot of different wrecks. It's just a matter of maybe sometimes you can sit back and take things a little easier. Maybe he had a lot more confidence because he had a great day in the Busch car. I don't know.
I was just really disappointed. It was nothing I would have expected out of him. Actually I thought someone might have got into him. After seeing the replay, I had to sit there with disgust.
Q. As you've grown through your career to get to where you are right now, have you looked to older drivers as you've gone along and sought out advice from them?
J.J. YELEY: Absolutely. I mean, that's the only way you learn, through your own experience or through someone else's. The more you can learn from someone else, you're going to shorten that learning curve that much more.
That is the great thing about NASCAR versus IRL, because I've participated in both. It's easier to get help from drivers and they're going to shoot you straight. It's almost like a family type of organization. You'll get honest answers from different drivers. It doesn't matter if they're within your team or if it's a veteran from another team.
I mean, sometimes, I don't know, a driver just doesn't want to seek that information, they'll feel embarrassed by it. I think it's something that all rookies should do, regardless of what series you're in.
Q. Is there anything you do special when you're in town at Phoenix, go out to your favorite restaurant, catch a movie, baseball game or anything?
J.J. YELEY: Generally when I'm in Phoenix, I eat as much Mexican food as possible. I lived in Indianapolis for six years. I moved to Charlotte now. To find really good Mexican food is next to impossible.
In between In-N-Out and Mexican food, that's all I eat while I'm in Phoenix. With the schedule being as difficult as it is, I don't normally get to find enough time to meet with family and friends. But I do manage to make it to a couple meals every time I'm there.
HERB BRANHAM: J.J., thank you very much. Best of luck to you on what will be your 50th NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series race back home, the whole thing. Good luck.
J.J. YELEY: Thank you for having me.
HERB BRANHAM: We have a little look ahead to next week's teleconference in advance of the Talladega event. Slated to have Dale Earnhardt, Jr. That is scheduled for next Tuesday afternoon. Thank you for joining us today. As always, we appreciate the coverage.
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