JJ Yeley, driver of the #28 JGL Dodge, finished 5th in the Nationwide Series Garden Denver 200 Fired Up By Johmsonville at Road America last weekend. JJ joined this team well after the start of this season. With no corporate sponsorship, this newly formed team has locked down some amazing finishes, the most recent last weekend. Add the fact that Yeley has limited road course experience and that they competed during a rain soaked race, just finishing the race would be quite a feat indeed, yet this team with maybe 7 or 8 crew members along with Crew Chief Steve Platenburg, prepared and maintained a race car for Yeley that 37 other driver/crew members were probably left (at the end) green eyed and astounded. I spoke with JJ to hear his take on the race, team performance and his incredible finish.
"I had a fantastic run for my first time at Road America. Going through practice and just trying to learn the race track, get re-acclimated to road course racing, being the first road course that we've participated in this year, we were pretty decent in some of the practices. I got more and more comfortable with the race car, the race track and trying to find where I was gaining and losing speed. I was a little bit disappointed in my qualifying effort but I was never able to get a clean, clear lap. There's a lot of different schedules that everyone has. We just rode around during first couple of laps, just trying to get clear, just to stay out of trouble not wanting to wreck or get taken out early in the race. There are some guys with road course experience and a lot of guys with very limited experience and as the race progressed we got comfortable with passing some cars. We were running around in the 15th and 16th positions, taking it easy and then the rain came."
"That really changed the entire event which was good for us and the JGL Racing team. That was the first time I ever raced in the rain. It was definitely a unique experience, trying to figure out where I needed to be on the race track, where the grip was, trying to see the cars and dodging the cars between the spray and the rain. The windshield wipers didn't really work, weren't really effective. Luckily the guys did some Rain-X to the windshield before the race started to give me some better vision. Having the rain was almost like a great equalizer. The teams that have the big horsepower were unable to get that power down to the race track. Using some of my Saturday night dirt track experience definitely prevailed and I got comfortable with the race track and how hard I could push it. Next thing we knew we were in the top 10 and then in the top 5 at the end. I thought on the last lap I really had an opportunity of getting in the top 3 but it just didn't work out for us on the last half a lap. Regardless it was a fantastic finish, the first top 5 for the team with very minimal damage which is sometimes difficult to get away with when you go to a road course."
"Steve Plantenburg and all the guys worked very hard. We had 2 cars up there. The team car actually had some issues in qualifying that required them to do extensive work. I think they cut down a tire, spun and there was something sticking out of the wall that grabbed the left rear tire that created a ton of damage. The guys really had to work hard to get that car back on the track. at hte end of the day those guys are working very hard. This was a great rebound for us. There were 2 or 3 races where we hadn't gotten the finishes we deserved. We've caught back up in points but at the end of the day you sit back and look at those 15 to 20 points we've given away of having a little nit of a failure at Dover and some bad circumstances that cost us positions under caution. We would be closer to the top 10 in points verses being in the 15th, 16th position."
I don't have a ton of road course experience and I had zero experience when I came to NASCAR but to me it really comes down to being consistent in your line and your shifting and taking care of your equipment. Sometimes it's easy to put down a fast lap but it's very difficult to put down a number of consistent fast laps. I don't always have that crazy lap that's going to put me on the top of the board but there's that fear that on the next lap you're going to wheel hop or slide off the track and do something that will create a mechanical failure. It's very easy to beat yourself and that gives your competition a leg up by doing so. That being said I just try to be consistent with my line and we were able to put pressure on some of the drivers and make them make the mistake first verses the other way around. Again it was a great top 5 finish and we're looking forward to this weekend's race in Kentucky. We're going down early for testing and that will give us the ability to try some things that we haven't been able to do at this point that will hopefully pick up our short track program and our mile and a half program on some of these rougher race tracks."
"This is the first time, other than Montreal, that I've had to in the rain. That was experience for us and now we have that under our belt so at Mid Ohio or Watkins Glen if we have rain issues we know some of the things we can do to make things better. The more I run with these guys the more comfortable I am with the more comfortable I am with making a call with the race car or talking it through with Steve. Those are the things that have made us really more successful now than earlier in the year. The chemistry is good which is a big, big help. Hopefully we can continue on this path and hopefully get a sponsor to really believe in us and see how truly good this program is and how they can get a return on their investment. With those additional funds we could make some big changes with the program to get a little ahead of the curve verses week to week like we are having to do right now."
"We've managed to do a great job and James has invested quite a bit in this program. We are continually doing better with 10 ten finishes and now a top 5. His goal is to be a successful owner and just wants to win races. Now if we can consistently run in the top ten we will put ourselves in the position to maybe sneak a win away from one of those big teams. I've got all the confidence in the world in my guys and between this weekend's race at Kentucky where I almost won my first race to Daytona the week after where anything can happen we're going to try to ride this momentum in to, hopefully victory lane."
Owner James Whitener has said he expects to win. The team wants that as much as James does. It's seems just a matter of time when you hear them speak. They know they can do it!
Somewhere in this great country there is a company that fits this team like a glove. Perhaps an established company in a certain geographical area has dreams of expanding to other parts of the country. NASCAR racing covers coast to coast. NASCAR fans number in the millions. With sponsorship like that this team and sponsor can roll into Victory Lann and right into millions of living rooms nation wide. And off season offers fantastic opportunities for driver appearances and fan "meets and greets". NASCAR fans are driver and sponsor loyal.