While he admits he has little experience racing full-bodied cars on short tracks, Nextel Cup rookie J.J. Yeley hopes his expertise racing sprint cars will give him an edge with the heavier cars at Oxford Plains Speedway.
Yeley announced Thursday that he will enter the 2006 TD Banknorth 250. The 33rd running of Maine’s stock car showcase is scheduled for Sunday, July 30.
“I’m looking forward to having the opportunity test my skills against the best of Maine,” Yeley said by telephone from Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, while preparing for this weekend’s Nextel Cup and Busch series races. “Hopefully they won’t beat up on me too bad.”
The 29-year-old driver from Phoenix is the second driver with ties to NASCAR to enter this year’s race, joining 1991 winner and Maine native Ricky Craven.
Yeley will team with Whorff Motorsports to provide him with a car for this year’s race. Bill and Jeremie Whorff, father and son, had supplied Matt Kenseth with his car the past two years. Kenseth finished third in 2004.
The ninth-place finisher in the Indianapolis 500, Yeley conceded that, while he has heard of the race, he knows little about the TD Banknorth 250 or the OPS track.
“I try to race as much as possible,” Yeley said. “Anytime you can get seat time anywhere, you’re going to learn something that will help somewhere down the road.”
The trip to Oxford coincides with an off-week on the Nextel Cup circuit, but Yeley does have a Busch race the day before the 250 in Chicago.
While returning to his open-wheel roots might sound appealing, he acknowledged that it was much easier for him to receive permission to race late-model cars.
The 29-year-old driver from Phoenix tore up the open-wheeled USAC circuit, easily breaking A.J. Foyt’s 42-year record of victories in a season (19) when he won 24 features in 2003. Yeley is one of two drivers to win USAC’s triple crown – winning the Sprint Car championship in 2001 and the Midget and Silver Crown titles in 2003.
Following the career paths of Tony Stewart, Jeff Gordon, Ryan Newman and Kasey Kahne, he jumped to NASCAR in 2004. After spending two years in the Busch series, Yeley was hired by Joe Gibbs Racing to replace Bobby Labonte in the No. 18 Interstate Battery car this year.
In six races, Yeley is 22nd in the Nextel Cup standings – the second among rookies – with a season best finish of eighth at California. He has finished in the top 20 in four of his six races.
“I’m satisfied with the season,” Yeley said. “We’ve had some really good runs, especially the last two races. We’ve been competitive, running in the top 10 in every race.”
Yeley said he is relying heavily on teammate Stewart, the reigning Nextel Cup champion, to help his development.
Pulling double duty, Yeley is also racing full-time in the Busch Series, He is currently second to Kevin Harvick in the standings with one pole and top-10 finishes in all five races.
He has yet to reach Victory Lane in his three NASCAR seasons.
Tickets for the TD Banknorth 250 are priced at $50, $40 and $30 and are available at the speedway office or by calling 539-8865.