J.J. Yeley Revamps Career After Initial Struggles


Like the old saying goes. NASCAR is a humbling sport. Phoenix, Arizona’s J.J. Yeley has found that out first hand. Coming into the 2006 season life was good for Yeley. The 29-year-old had just been named a driver for the No.18 Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet, replacing Bobby Labonte who had been with the team the last 11 seasons. Labonte had won 21 races and the 2000 NASCAR Cup Championship with the team so the pressure was on Yeley to eventually put up big numbers.

Yeley had made a name for himself after finishing 11th in the then NASCAR Busch Series point standings. Yeley, along with teammate Denny Hamlin, he was considered one of the top young drivers on the NASCAR Nextel Cup circuit.

In his first season at Joe Gibbs Racing, however, things didn’t go the way Yeley or Joe Gibbs Racing had hoped. He had just three top ten finishes in 36 starts with the team and finished a stunning 29th in the series point standings. Still there was optimism for an improved 2007 season.

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Yeley improved for sure. He finished 21st in points for the team and recorded a second place finish in the 2007 Coca-Cola 600. Still it was not the numbers that were expected. There was some rumors that Yeley would be replaced for the 2008 season. Hotshot young driver Kyle Busch was not returning to Hendrick Motorsports for 2008 and rumors began to swirl that Busch was going to replace Yeley in the No.18 car. Yeley began weighing his options. A few reports had him talking to the Wood Brothers to possibly drive the No.21 Ford but the team went with an array of drivers instead of Yeley.

Yeley elected to stay in the Joe Gibbs Racing family, driving for their satellite team, Hall of Fame Racing. Hall of Fame Racing was a team originally owned by Hall of Fame quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Troy Aikman. By the time Yeley had gotten there the team was sold to Arizona Diamondbacks CEO Jeff Moorad and COO Tom Garfinkel. With Moorad and Garfinkel now in control of the team, there were high hopes for Hall of Fame Racing after two lackluster seasons. Yeley signed a three-year contract to drive for the team.

Yeley began the year at the No.96 team and struggled, badly. By the time the Aaron’s 499 came around at Talladega Superspeedway in April, the team found themselves on the outside of the top 35 in owner points. When qualifying came around the No. 96 car didn’t have the speed and were forced to load up and go home, greatly displeasing sponsor DLP HDTV/Texas Instruments. Talladega wasn’t the only misfortune for the team. Yeley would miss three more races, including the prestigious Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

Yeley only competed in three more races for the team before they parted ways prior to the running of the Centurion Boats at the Glen in August. It looked like Yeley’s NASCAR career could be over just three years into his Cup career.

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In 2009 Yeley didn’t do much NASCAR racing at all. He ran just five races in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series and had one NASCAR Nationwide Series start. The only appearance Yeley made in the Cup Series in 2009 was when he qualified a Toyota for Jeremy Mayfield Racing. Mayfield had recently been suspended by NASCAR for violating the substance abuse policy. Yeley qualified Mayfield’s No.41 Toyota at Charlotte but failed to make the field.

Yeley then got an opportunity to drive for Whitney Motorsports in 2010. The team had initially hired former truck series veteran Terry Cook to drive their No.46 Chevrolet but after Cook missed nine of the 12 races he attempted to start the season, Yeley replaced him. The team immediately picked up their performance and Yeley would get himself back into the Sprint Cup Series. He ran 17 races in 2010 driving for Whitney Motorsports, Tommy Baldwin Racing and Latitude 43 Motorsports.

From there Yeley worked his way back to the Cup level. He drove Whitney Motorsports and Front Row Motorsports in 2011 missing just three of the 34 races he entered that season. He drove for Robinson-Blackeney Racing as well as another stint at Front Row Motorsports in 2012. Yeley moved to Tommy Baldwin Racing in 2013 and ran a partial schedule for BK Racing in 2014, to go with a partial schedule in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for JGL Racing.

Heading into the 2015 season, Yeley will drive a full-season at BK Racing and a full NASCAR Xfinity Series season for JGL Racing. It’s a revamped career for Yeley, who was virtually out of the sport in 2009. While he may never get an opportunity like he had at Joe Gibbs Racing again, he’s given himself a chance to prolong his career and that’s all he could have hoped for in 2009.

Clayton Caldwell (CCaldwellBTF) is a Feature Writer for Beyond The Flag. Be sure to follow them on Facebook and Twitter (@Beyond_The_Flag)