Cup Driver Joins The Best Super Late Model Drivers in the Northeast
In the long, proud history of open-wheel racing in Midwest, J.J. Yeley occupies a place in the record books with another driver known primarily by his initials, A.J. Foyt, as well as NASCAR Nextel Cup and Indy Racing League champion Tony Stewart.
Now on the fast track to stock car stardom, Yeley is about to find out how his talent translates to one of the greatest spectacles in short track racing. The 29-year-old driver from Phoeniz, Ariz., has entered the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford Plains Speedway (ME).
No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet as a NASCAR Nextel Cup rookie in 2006. He also is attempting a full schedule for the second straight year in the NASCAR Busch Series.
Through six Busch Series races, Yeley ranks second in the point standings behind Kevin Harvick. He sits 22nd in NASCAR Nextel Cup points but has been one of the standouts in a star-studded rookie class. Yeley finished eighth at California Speedway, and he qualified in the top five at both California and Atlanta. Last week, he led the event at the 1/2-mile track in Martinsville, Va., before posting his fourth top-20 finish in six starts.
Yeley has a tough act to follow as the driver of Gibbs' famed No. 18. His predecessors won a Daytona 500 title (Dale Jarrett) and a Cup championship (Bobby Labonte).
"This year is all about getting seat time," Yeley said. "I'm still learning how to drive these heavier cars on different styles of tracks. Coming to Oxford is something that should only help me in my career."
He is the latest in a lengthy parade of young drivers who launched their career in open-wheel, open-cockpit racing and gravitated to the unsurpassed fan support of NASCAR stock cars. Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne all share Yeley's link to the Indy feeder system.
Yeley won the United States Auto Club (USAC) Sprint Car championship in 2001. Two years later, he supplemented that title by topping the Midget and Silver Crown divisions, as well, becoming only the second driver in history to win the USAC Triple Crown.
J.J. Yeley will take time out from driving the #18 Joe Gibbs car in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series to try his hand in the TD Banknorth 250 at Oxford in July. (NASCAR Photos)
Also in 2003, Yeley won 24 USAC-sanctioned feature races, smashing Foyt's record of 19 that had stood for 42 years.
After getting his start in quarter midgets at age 10, Yeley rapidly moved through the ranks to go karts, midgets and sprints. In 1998, at age 21, he became the youngest Indianapolis 500 qualifier in history and finished ninth. If he qualifies for the TD Banknorth 250, Yeley will join Bobby Allison, Jim Hurtubise and Bentley Warren as the only drivers to start both Oxford's crown jewel event and the Indy 500.
"Much of my racing experience before coming to OPS
was my involvement in Indy racing, so I've always been
a fan and I've always heard a lot about J.J. Yeley," said OPS president Bill Ryan. "When a car owner who has won three NASCAR Nextel Cup championships chooses you to drive his car, that says it all about your talent. J.J. Yeley is definitely a rising star in our sport, and down the road I think it's going to be great for our fans to be able to say they saw him compete during his rookie Cup season."
Now firmly entrenched in the world of full-bodied cars, Yeley seeks his first major victory. He finished second at last year's Busch Series race in Memphis and has two top-5s and five top-10s on his Busch resume this season in the Vigoro/Home Depot machine.
Only two months into the 2006 season, Yeley has topped a combined $1 million prize money in the two divisions.
In working with the Whorffs, Yeley is connected with a team that has proven it can put a top-notch driver in a car capable of winning the TD Banknorth 250. Kenseth finished third in the race after starting at the rear of the field in 2004.
"Matt Kenseth was a pleasure to work with the last two years, and from what I know about J.J. Yeley's background, he is going to love this race," Bill Whorff Jr. said. "It's a fun challenge for our little Saturday night race team to try to prepare three cars for the biggest race of our season. Hopefully either Jeremie, J.J. or I will be in victory lane when it's all said and done."
Yeley's TD Banknorth 250 attempt will be sponsored by AAA Auto Insurance and Antique Radiators.
Bill Whorff Jr. has won Oxford Networks Pro Stock feature races at OPS in three different decades. He and Jeremie have also been part of the short track excitement in Florida surrounding the Daytona 500 in 2005 and 2006.
"People even talk about the TD Banknorth 250 down there," said the elder Whorff. "It's like the Super Bowl for us."
Yeley joins Ricky Craven of Newburgh, Maine, as drivers already entered in the TD Banknorth 250 with a NASCAR pedigree.
Past race champions expected to take their shot at another title include Craven, Mike Rowe, Ben Rowe, Gary Drew, Scott Robbins and Canadian racing legend Junior Hanley. And that doesn't include a lengthy list of short-track stars who have yet to solve the toughest short track race in America, including Johnny Clark, eight-time OPS champion Jeff Taylor, Tracy Gordon and Dale Shaw. Mike Rowe is attempting to become the first four-time TD Banknorth 250 champion.
Yeley gets to meet some of the fans during a NASCAR Nextel Cup weekend.
Yeley will drive a car prepared by Whorff Motorsports of Topsham in the 33rd annual Pro Stock extravaganza on Sunday, July 30. Team owner Bill Whorff Jr. and son Jeremie Whorff furnished a ride for NASCAR Nextel Cup champion Matt Kenseth in the TD Banknorth 250 each of the last two seasons.
"The TD Banknorth 250 is one of those races that you hear a lot about when you travel around the country, whether you're in the Nextel Cup garage or racing at a dirt track," Yeley said. "With the qualifying races, it's a lot like the atmosphere at some of the big sprint car events. I'm excited to get there and be a part of it."
Currently a teammate of longtime friend and fellow open wheel ace Stewart, Yeley is driving the familiar