NASCAR

Yeley's philosophy a good fit with Mayfield

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Lee Spencer

Lee Spencer is the Senior NASCAR Writer for FOXSports.com. She has provided award-winning coverage of auto racing over the last 15 years. Spencer has lent her expertise to both television and radio and is a regular contributor to SiriusXM Radio and the Performance Racing Network. Follow her on Twitter.

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"Well, I guess it's official now," J.J. Yeley said over the phone on Tuesday.
Yeley was introduced as the new driver for No. 41 Mayfield Motorsports team at the shop on Monday less than 48 hours after NASCAR suspended former driver/team owner Jeremy Mayfield for violating the substance abuse policy. Of the drivers on the short list, Yeley's first concern wasn't his compensation. That alone moved him up the pecking order quickly. "J.J. was at the shop when we got there and after talking to him we realized he really wanted to race," said Shana Mayfield, who has assumed ownership duties temporarily. "He wasn't doing it for the money. He just wanted to race. "He understands the team's not where we want it to be yet but it has the potential to get there." Yeley's racer's philosophy squared with the fellow competitors at the former Stavola Brothers race shop, circa 1998. The timeworn facility is not a "garage mahal" complex of the Hendrick Motorsports or Roush Fenway Racing ilk. Mayfield Motorsports more closely resembles the island of misfit toys. These are renegade racers sans formal titles willing to work 16-hour days in a variety of capacities to pursue their life's true passion. "J.J. has something to prove just like we all do," said crew chief Tony Furr. "We want someone that's hungry just like us. Everybody on this team has at one time or another worked for a larger organization. We're all racers who are all hungry, who all want to make the most of second chances and J.J. sort of fits that mold."
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Yeley showed promise during his Nationwide Series stint in the uber-competitive Joe Gibbs Racing equipment. But as Yeley auditioned for the No. 11 Cup car in 2005, he was overshadowed by Denny Hamlin, a diamond in the rough who was discovered on the Virginia short tracks and immediately acclimated to the top series under the direction of veteran crew chief Mike Ford. With the announcement of Bobby Labonte's departure from JGR that same year, Yeley was moved into the No. 18 car. In 2006, the former Triple Crown USAC champ (titles in Sprint, Midget and Silver Crown in the United States Auto Club) and protégé of Tony Stewart scored nine top-fives, 22 top 10s and three poles in his second full season of NNS and finished fifth in the standings. In Cup that year, Yeley scored three top 10s but seven DNFs. After 2007, Yeley felt the sting of being cast off from Joe Gibbs Racing to its satellite team, Hall of Fame Racing. The latter relationship lasted just 17 races before Yeley and the No. 96 team parted ways at Pocono last summer after the team ran the car out of gas with four laps remaining in the race. In Yeley's defense, HoFR was going through a transition of its own to the extent of losing its general manager Philippe Lopez, running five different competitors and breaking ties with JGR and Toyota before season's end. For the last nine months, Yeley, 32, has tried to get his career back on track. There have been glimmers of hope along the way but no concrete offers — until now. With a renewed desire to return to his first vocation, Yeley is determined to make a difference. "It's going to be good," Yeley said. "I actually spoke with Tony a lot in the offseason. I thought he might be able to work with me at Hall of Fame Racing, but that didn't work out. "We'll see if we can't make things work now. Having a crew chief that understands your needs is important." What the team lacks in resources, it makes up for it in ingenuity. Yeley immediately noticed the team's commitment. Although the shop is dramatically different, Mayfield Motorsports' back to basics approach to racing appeals to the Phoenix native. "When I first went to the shop, it was like old time racing," Yeley said. "But they've been making huge improvements over at Mayfield Motorsports over the last few weeks and I believe I can help progress the team." Shana Mayfield said her first goal for the team is to "keep things intact." Currently, there is "no timeline on what's going to happen" in regards to her husband's situation but he intends to follow the guidelines established by NASCAR to return to the sport. Mayfield added All Sport as a sponsor, and smallsponsor.com has given the team "their full support." She also wouldn't be opposed to bringing on a partner to advance the organization. The No. 41 team has attempted all 11 races, qualified for five events and posted a season-high finish of 32nd. If Yeley can turn the team around, the seat will be his regardless of whether Mayfield is reinstated. "We just have to keep going," Mayfield said. "It's emotional. Jeremy's No. 1 concern is the team. He'll come back as owner. If he's out and things are going great with JJ, he's not going to upset the team if the results are there. "Jeremy will still be a huge part of the team. He physically can't be at the track but other than that nothing is going to change."
Tagged: Tony Stewart, Bobby Labonte, Denny Hamlin, Jeremy Mayfield, J.J. Yeley

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