Yeley's philosophy a good fit with Mayfield
"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.