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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Q&A with J.J. Yeley

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J.J. Yeley has been going to race tracks since he was barely two weeks old.

That’s what happens when your dad, “Cactus” Jack Yeley, is a seven-time Arizona Midget Racing Association and two-time World of Outlaws midget champion.

At 40, J.J. Yeley is in his 13th year of competing in NASCAR. Yeley, who has also raced in the Indianapolis 500 and is a USAC Triple Crown winner, got his start racing midgets in his home state of Arizona at the age of 16 … actually,  make that 14.

J.J. Yeley drives during qualifying for the Xfinity Series at Kentucky Speedway on July 7, 2017 in Sparta, Kentucky. (Photo by Matt Sullivan/Getty Images).

“I started racing at an age than I was legally allowed to, I guess,” Yeley told NBC Sports. “I had some very fancy documentation that showed I was older than I really was and that allowed me to start racing two years earlier than I was supposed to.”

Did any of the proper officials become aware of his “fancy documentation”?

“Well, it is funny because my mom was actually the president of the midget association. She was aware,” Yeley said. “My parents made sure we had the insurance that was going to be necessary so the tracks or someone wouldn’t be held liable for me obviously not being of age. I think I was the first minor to be emancipated in the state of Arizona, again just to make sure we were doing everything we possibly could knowing I was younger than I was supposed to be.”

Now Yeley, a former Joe Gibbs Racing driver, is one of the grizzled veterans on the Xfinity circuit. Heading to the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course this weekend, he and his TriStar Motorsports teams are 14th in the points two weeks after he placed his No. 14 car sixth at Iowa Speedway for their first top-10 of the season.

The following Q&A has been edited and condensed.

NBC SPORTS: You made your first Xfinity start on March 6, 2004 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Since then you’ve made 555 total NASCAR starts. Could you have imagined back in March 2004 you’d have been able to be in this sport for 555 starts across all three national series?

Yeley: Probably not. That’s not one of those things you look forward to. It’s still hard to believe I’ve been racing in NASCAR for I think this is my 13th year. I know I hear some drivers complain about the schedule and the things that come along with it. Luckily and thankfully I’m still not to that point. I’m 40 years old. I feel like I’m in better shape now than I’ve probably ever been. I spend more time focusing on my health and what I eat vs. probably what I used to. … I look forward to every week getting to the race track and getting behind the wheel of a race car. I’m not thinking about how many starts I’m going to have as man, I want to win one of these dang races. I’ve finished everywhere but (first), I’ve had some fantastic opportunities that I unfortunately had slip away and I think to some of those events, those guys wanted it more than me.

I can remember back to getting beat by Clint Bowyer at Memphis and it was a matter of we kept having restarts and he kept doing everything in the world that was crazy that according to a rule book that he should have been punished by. But he still did them and he didn’t get penalized and he won the race and I lost by a car length. David Gilliland moved me out of the way at Kentucky when I had a car that was dominant. Even those are events that happened years and years ago, those are races I should’ve won, that I could’ve won and for whatever small reason, I finished second. To think, especially now that you’ve told me I’ve participated in so many races and to not have won, I still have that drive to go out there and do that.

NBC SPORTS: I know this has probably been a difficult couple of weeks with the passing of TriStar’s owner, Mark Smith. How close were you with him after two years of racing for him?

Yeley: We weren’t overly close. Mark had been battling some back issues before I had come to TriStar. I knew Mark was heavily involved with his team being a family-run program. He was basically at the race track every week and if it was taking care of his race team or overlooking his engine program, having some of those issues kept him very limited to where if usually I needed to see him or talk with him it was either done over the phone or I go up to the engine shop and talk with him. He was just such an easy guy to get along with. He just wanted to do whatever was going to be best for the team and always wanted to be fair. As a race car driver having an owner like that, it’s hard to ask for anyone other than that to be in that type of situation.

NBC Sports: Was it important for you and the team to get that sixth-place finish at Iowa in the wake of his death?

Yeley: Absolutely. Mark always had a saying, ‘Let’s end this day on a high note.’ That was something we heard quite often. We have it now in the trailer above my locker and to know again that something like that would happen and everyone would push on and to get the finish and kind of have the breaks and luck and things go along, it was almost like he was up there looking over us. Obviously, would have loved to be able to win that race but there at the last restart, I had a fender rub and kind of put it into protection mode just to make sure we didn’t cut a tire and ruin what was going to be a great finish. It meant a lot for the team and obviously a huge push for the program and then unfortunately we were knocked back into reality with that part failure last weekend in Watkins Glen.

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Yeley: My first vehicle was a 1980 Chevy pickup truck that my dad painted Corvette yellow. It had a 383 small block and it was loud and fast. You could hear me coming from a mile away, which I’m pretty sure that was by design because you could tell when I came home and when I left home.

NBC Sports: Why yellow?

Yeley: At the time my race cars were Corvette yellow. It was actually an old diesel pickup truck that we had kind of rebuilt as a father-son (project) in the driveway. I believe it was a matter of we had some leftover paint, so that was a reason. If it wasn’t loud you could definitely see it coming from a couple of miles away. 

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a street car or race car?

Yeley: Actually, this year was probably one of the first years we’ve done that. When we have unsponsored races we’ve been calling the car ‘Black Betty’ after the old song. A friend of mine, that’s his favorite tune. We have a little decal that goes in the car for every time that we run it flat black. ‘Black Betty’ was alive and well there in Iowa.

NBC Sports: What’s the weirdest piece of merchandise you’ve ever had your face or name on?

Yeley: A gentleman had a photo of me flipping in Las Vegas in a sprint car of all things and it was on his forearm. He wanted me to sign it because he wanted to have my autograph tattooed into the photo. I can’t remember if it was just a cool picture of me flipping but that was something where there’s one gentleman roaming around the world that (has a picture) on his forearm of me flipping a sprint car violently at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

NBC Sports: What does JJ stand for?

Yeley: It stands for Jimmy Jack. … It is initials from my dad, Jack, and his best friend, who is basically my uncle, Jimmy. My real name is Christopher. When I was born in 1976, I was a Cesarean (birth), so obviously that took awhile. My mom wanted me to be Sean Michael, my dad wanted me to be Anthony Joseph after AJ Foyt. Obviously, there was a point there where my mom was pregnant and they hadn’t figured this out. They were at odds with each other, so while I was in the process of being birthed, my dad and Jimmy would take turns to see my mom while the other would go back out into the lobby. They would change hats and they had some glasses, they were always pretending to be the other. So that’s where I got the J.J.

NBC Sports: Who actually calls you Christopher?

Yeley: Realistically, the only person in my entire life that’s called me Christopher was my grandmother. She passed away last year. Or when I was in grade school, I went by Chris. Other than that, anybody that knew me outside of school, if it was a friend, anything, I’ve been J.J. my entire life.

NBC Sports: If you could have a one-on-one race with any driver, past or present, on any course and in any type of car, what would be your dream arrangement?

Yeley: I’ve always been a huge fan of the racers back in the 60s, mainly because that’s when race car drivers were real race car drivers, you know. T-shirts, leather helmets and unfortunately a lot of great race car drivers lost their lives almost on a weekly basis. To get to back and race on dirt against the likes of an A.J. Foyt, a Parnelli Jones, Jud Larson, I don’t know that I could just pick one. But to get to participate against a field of drivers that ultimately raced the same way I feel now, where they gave 100 percent and if they gave their life doing it, then so be it. It would be a dirt race somewhere back in the 60s.

NBC Sports: What’s the last song you got stuck in your head?

Yeley: It would be a Cody Jinx song. I think it’s “Thunder and Rain.” (“Loud and Heavy”) … It’s more like country (music). He would be like a Waylon Jennings, a newer version. … Good friends with my crew chief, Wally. They have some pretty catchy tunes if you’re more an older type of country guy. It’s more like a Willie Nelson, Waylon Jennings kind of era.

Previous Xfinity Spotlights

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

Daniel Hemric

William Byron

Spencer Gallagher

Cole Custer

Ross Chastain

Elliott Sadler

Ben Kennedy

Blake Koch

Brennan Poole

Matt Tifft

Tyler Reddick

Kyle Benjamin

Ty Majeski

Ryan Sieg

Dakoda Armstrong

Brendan Gaughan

Garrett Smithley

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NASCAR America: Scan All from Michigan International Speedway

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It was another Cup race and another win for Kevin Harvick Sunday at Michigan International Speedway.

The Stewart-Haas Racing driver scored his series leading seventh win of the season after sweeping each stage.

Relive the race with the latest edition of Scan All from NASCAR America.

Here are some highlights.

Watch the above video for more.

PRN reporter Wendy Venturini to return at Bristol, still recovering from injuries

Wendy Venturini
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Wendy Venturini will return to her duties at the Performance Racing Network this weekend at Bristol Motor Speedway, almost two months after being struck by a car while running in Novato, California.

Venturini made the announcement in a surprise appearance Tuesday on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “Tradin’ Paint.”

She had been in California to be a pit reporter for PRN’s radio broadcast of the Cup race at Sonoma Raceway.

Among the injuries Venturini suffered in the incident were a skull fracture and a concussion.

“I’m looking forward to it,” Venturini said of the upcoming race weekend. “It’s been a long two months and I’m not 100 percent, but I’m getting closer and closer and this is step back into real life and real world stuff. So I think it will help in my recovery.”

Venturini is still wearing a knee brace.

“I’m still pretty slow these days, but it’s good,” Venturini said. “I will have a brace on at the race track in a controlled circumstance. I can take it off at night, at home. … It’s healing. My LCL is healing, my brain is healing, my skull is healing. Everything’s taking progress.”

Venturini became the first female to serve as a co-anchor for a NASCAR Cup race in September 2014 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. She also has served as a booth analyst for PRN broadcasts this season.

Venturini became the first female broadcaster to call an entire race on a national level during the July 2007 Cup race at Sonoma Raceway for DirecTV. She also has reported on NASCAR for Speed Channel and Fox Sports 1.

GMS Racing reveals Bill Elliott’s Road America scheme

Daniel McFadin
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Two weeks ago GMS Racing shocked the NASCAR community when it announced Bill Elliott would drive its No. 23 Chevrolet in the Aug. 25 Xfinity race at Road America.

The Hall of Famer’s unexpected return to NASCAR competition became a little bit more real Tuesday when he and GMS Racing unveiled his throwback paint scheme for the race at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Photo: Daniel McFadin

The paint scheme is inspired by the No. 11 Budweiser Ford that Elliott drove to his win in the 1994 Southern 500 while racing for Junior Johnson. That win would be his last until November 2001 at Homestead-Miami Speedway

Elliott’s trophy and the checkered flag from the 1994 win were also on hand. The inspiration for the scheme is also on display in the Hall of Fame’s lobby.

“I’m trying to figure out which one threw me under the bus here for this dang thing,” Elliott joked after the reveal, which was done with GMS Racing President Mike Beam, who was a crew chief for Elliott throughout the 90s, including in his 1994 win.

“They just said, ‘Hey, you’re going to do it.’ I’m in the car,” Elliott said. His son Chase Elliott has made four starts in the No. 23 this season and will compete in Friday’s Xfinity race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

While Bill Elliott hasn’t competed in NASCAR since the July 2012 Cup race at Daytona, the 62-year-old isn’t rusty by any means.

He’s kept busy recently by competing in vintage races, like the SVRA “Indy Legends” Charity Pro-Am in June. He also competed in the Trans Am Series presented by Pirelli at Road Atlanta in March.

“It’s not this league of racing, I’ll put it that way,” Elliott said. “It’s still competition. Everything you do as you look at it is competition.”

The 44-time Cup winner has no expectations for his first race at Road America

“I feel pretty good in the cars,” Elliott said. “This will be the whole fun of it, ‘How does this all work?'”

He’s been aided by his son. Chase Elliott shared his notes from his most recent race at Road America, when he drove for JR Motorsports in 2015. He placed fourth in both his starts on the road course.

The notes are welcome, but they are also a stark difference between generations in the approach to race preparation.

“I never took notes,” Bill Elliott said with a laugh. “It’s pretty neat to have at least a rough idea of what you got and what you’re looking forward to. But on the flip side, the aero package has changed from that era.”

Elliott, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015, was asked a simple question at one point.

Why do it?

“How do you know if you don’t try?” Elliott asked. “Whether you lose, win or draw, you always try to do things extra at the end of the day. I think from this standpoint, just go out and have a good time with it …

“There’s a lot of deserving guys that could be in this thing. They want me to do it, I’ll do my best.”

Photo: Daniel McFadin

GMS Racing also unveiled the throwback paint scheme Spencer Gallagher will have in the Sept. 1 Xfinity race at Darlington Raceway.

Gallagher will sport the scheme Davey Allison drove in ARCA in 1985.

The race will be Gallagher’s third Xfinity start since being reinstated from an indefinite suspension that began in April after he violated NASCAR’s substance abuse policy.

“This is definitely the most special thing I’ve gotten to do since I started driving race cars,” Gallagher said. “Getting to run the livery of none other than Davey Allison, one of the most pivotal drivers of his generation, 19 wins, Hall of Fame inductee, winner of the Daytona 500 … There’s no other way to describe it. That’s the coolest thing I’ve ever had on the car.”

NASCAR America at 5 p.m. ET: Scan All, Bristol preview

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN and begins to turn the page to this weekend’s racing in Bristol.

Carolyn Manno hosts with Kyle Petty in Stamford, Connecticut. Jeff Burton joins them from Burton’s garage.

On today’s show:

  • We will re-live all the sights and sounds of Kevin Harvick‘s dominant victory to re-affirm the “Big 3’s” grip on the 2018 season with today’s edition of Scan All: Michigan.
  • We’ll make the turn from the Irish Hills to Thunder Valley as we begin to preview Saturday’s Night Race at Bristol. Our panel of experts will talk about Kyle Busch‘s recent mastery of the World’s Fastest Half-Mile. Plus, we’ll examine several drivers seeking their first victory of 2018 and a highly coveted ticket to the Playoffs.
  • And, our own Kyle Petty will hop into the iRacing Simulator for some hot laps in Thunder Valley. How will he handle Bristol’s high banks, along with some distractions that we will throw his way?

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch it online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.