Friday, February 25, 2011

Daytona a 'Cinderella story' for J.J. Yeley

J.J. Yeley raced his way into the Daytona 500 by way of the
Gatorade Duels last week at Daytona. (Getty Images for NASCAR)
In all the excitement of Brian Keselowski making the Daytona 500 by racing his way in, the other go-or-go-home teams were somewhat overlooked. J.J. Yeley was one of the drivers who had to race his way into NASCAR’s biggest race of the season - the Daytona 500.

It wasn’t an easy day for the second-year Whitney Motorsports team.

“For me, it was the first time in my NASCAR career where I had to make the race based on beating a certain amount of people to lock myself in,” Yeley said Friday at Phoenix International Raceway.

"My first three years in Cup, I had a car that was locked in points. You could go down there and be brave and try to get the best finish you possibly could and not worry about getting caught up in a wreck and having any kind of problem and still make the Daytona 500.”

It certainly isn’t the situation that any Sprint Cup team wants to be in, especially an underfunded one like Whitney Motorsports. “Going down there, having a poor qualifying run, having to race our way in was probably one of the more stressful situations I've had to be in in my NASCAR career,” Yeley said.

Yeley raced his Whitney Motorsports Chevrolet in Gatorade Duel number one and took 17th place. For any points-racing day, a 17th-place finish wouldn’t be the most desirable finish, but this wasn’t a normal race. This was a qualifying race and 17th place was all it took for the 46 team to make the Daytona 500. And that finish meant everything to Yeley and his team.

“It's a small team, Whitney Motorsports, and because of the situation which fell into place, it's helped us come up with some new sponsorship. It's created a lot of buzz around the team that's making it easier to help us find some associate sponsors and some primary sponsors as well.”

Two of the cars that Yeley had to outrace were Joe Nemechek and Kevin Conway.

“The manner in which we did, we caught a caution late in the race that put us in a position, I was able to get by two cars on the restart and obviously kind of made it a Cinderella story for us,” he said.

“You need everything to go your way and the cards fell our way and we locked ourselves in. We only made 10 laps before the engine failure (in the Daytona 500), but, nevertheless, all the guys were very excited and it was a good motivation for our team.”

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