Race Weekend Central

JJ Yeley Earns Best Cup Finish Since 2008

HAMPTON, Ga. – Among the noise and bustle of NASCAR Cup Series crew packing up equipment and loading cars into haulers were the drivers making their way to their haulers to change and leave the Atlanta Motor Speedway as quickly as possible on Sunday night, July 9.

By the time reporters reached the garage area, what little drivers that remained were already in their casual clothes and had begun fast walking to their motor homes.

All except one.

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JJ Yeley, a 46-year-old NASCAR veteran of 20 years, high-fived car owner Rick Ware as the two smiled and laughed underneath the hauler loader with rain drops picking up around them. After 185 laps of racing, he was scored in seventh place. Around 15 minutes later, race officials ended the event and Yeley’s running position was cemented as a result.

It was his best in 15 years.

“He’s been around a long time,” team owner Rick Ware told Frontstretch. “I mean, he’s a seasoned veteran, and I’m thankful for what he’s done at times when we didn’t have a whole lot to offer, and it’s good for him and us for letting him be able to see what we can do when we have a better equipment.

“I mean, these are the best drivers in the world, and we made some decisions, and he raced them for 20-plus laps and beat them.”

It didn’t start off easy for Yeley, however.

It was a night of confusion for many in the field. The threat of rain increased as laps ticked away and with it, driver aggression increased as well. The incoming rain cell that was approaching the 1.5-mile circuit manifested the idea that the 400-mile race was going to end early. With that, caution laps became commonplace.

Out of the seven caution flag periods, five of them were the result of multi-car incidents, leaving plenty of drivers out of contention thanks to damage and loss of track position.

The No. 15 of Yeley was not one of them. Contrary to the Fords that had been fast all weekend long, Yeley struggled a bit in the middle of the pack as track position was a difficult thing to acquire.

“Passing is almost impossible,” Yeley told Frontstretch. “You know, you can get a good run, you can pick guys off, but it’s very easy to lose a position almost as quick as you gain one.”

So, with track position a key factor and the rain approaching the racetrack at any minute, the Rick Ware Racing team decided to stay out on one of the final caution periods at the risk of running out of fuel before the race ended.

It was a gamble that paid off. The ensuing restart allowed Yeley to keep the track position long enough for the next yellow flag to come out as a result of another multi-car crash. Then the awaited rain began to fall.

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A yellow flag became a red one, and Yeley’s top-10 run became a top-10 finish. It was his first since the 2013 Daytona 500 and his best finish since New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2008.

In fact, in Yeley’s 19 seasons of Cup Series racing, Sunday night’s result was his third best finish – ever. Yes, that includes his time with Joe Gibbs Racing.

Despite that, a humble Yeley owed it all to the team and its allies.

“All the guys at the shop here at Rick Ware Racing have been working so hard just trying to make these cars better,” Yeley continued. “I can’t stress how critical and important it is for the alliance with RFK [Racing]. I think they’ve been very generous with the time they’ve taken to help us make better race cars and just give us more information that we just never had privilege to. It takes great partners.”

Even better, he thinks he could have gotten a top five.

“I made a little bit of mistake,” Yeley said. “I let [Kyle Busch] get to the outside of me, and it brought me back to a couple of positions. I think we would be fighting for a top five instead of sitting in seventh.”

The result is only the latest in a series of successful runs for the usually struggling RWR program. With it, Yeley has now become the first driver in the team’s history to place in the top 20 four times in a single season. It’s also the organization’s first top 10 since Riley Herbst‘s 10th-place finish at Daytona International Speedway in February.

With this momentum, it likely won’t be the underdog team’s last top 10 of 2023, either.

“We’re off sometimes,” Ware added. “And we’re just trying to have less of those. So, to be in the top 10 in one of the hardest sports in the world in motorsports. I mean, that’s saying something.”

Indeed, it is.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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The 15, 51, 78 and 77 will be in their usual positions close to the slowest qualifiers and end Sunday’s event many laps down, despite the musical drivers.

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