2014 Xxxtreme Motorsport Driver:
JJ Yeley began his racing career at age 14. Beginning in Quarter Midgets then on to Sprint Cars, Midgets and Silver Crown cars. Winning and breaking track records along the way.Learn More
In 1998 at the young age of 21, a golden opportunity came about via the IRL IndyCar Series. After debuting in an Indy car at his hometown track – Phoenix International Raceway – he went to Indianapolis Motor Speedway to became the youngest driver (at the time) to qualify for the Indianapolis 500. Yeley started the race in 13th and notched an impressive ninth-place finish.
While Yeley ran in three more IRL events that season, funding didn’t materialize to continue racing in the IRL, so he focused on his budding USAC career. That focus paid off as Yeley won his first USAC Sprint Car Series championship in 2001.
Yeley followed up his USAC Sprint Car championship with a USAC Silver Crown championship in 2002, but nothing would prepare him for one of the most impressive seasons in USAC history. In 2003, Yeley reeled off an amazing 24 USAC wins, breaking the single-season record set by racing legend A.J. Foyt who won 19 races during the 1961 season.
In addition, Yeley became only the second driver in USAC history to win the “Triple Crown” by capturing the Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown championships in a single season, joining JGR teammate Tony Stewart as the only other driver to accomplish that feat (1995).
While the 2003 season was a magical one, Yeley will tell you that 2002 is the year that meant the most to him.
“To me, 2002 was probably more special than 2003,” said Yeley. “I won one championship and finished second and third in the other two divisions. 2002 helped me prepare during the off-season to make 2003 possible. Everyone would say that 2003 was the greatest year because we won all the races and broke all the records. If it hadn’t been for the success I had in 2002 and how close we came to achieving the Triple Crown, I wouldn’t have pushed myself as hard to prepare more in the off-season for the next year. When 2003 came around, I was able to take care of the little problems and set myself up to win all three series.”
The success of the two previous seasons helped catapult Yeley into the limelight, and Joe Gibbs Racing took notice. In 2004, Yeley was tapped to drive a part-time NASCAR Busch Series schedule for JGR. He competed in 17 races that season, earning four top-10s with a best finish of sixth at Kansas Speedway.
The biggest break of Yeley's career came in 2005 at Chicagoland Speedway. During a SPRINT Cup practice session, JGR teammate Stewart became injured after crashing his primary car in practice, and on very short notice, Yeley was called upon to resume practice and qualify the No. 20 team’s backup car.
Not only did he practice the car and qualify a very respectable 13th, he also showed everyone at JGR that he was ready to take on the challenge of NASCAR’s top series. As a result, in November 2005 Yeley was selected to drive the No. 18 Interstate Batteries Chevrolet full-time beginning with the 2006 SPRINT Cup season.
“Being able to jump into Tony’s car without any practice showed JGR that I could run with the best of them,” said Yeley. “I had the confidence in myself and the team. I just needed the opportunity to go out and do it full-time. That helped springboard me into the No. 18 Interstate Batteries car.”
Yeley competed in 36 SPRINT Cup races during his rookie year, notching two season-best eighth-place finishes – California Speedway in February and New Hampshire International Speedway in September. But despite running well at most every track on the circuit, the No. 18 Interstate Batteries team did not have the season it is accustomed to.
“Last year didn’t exactly go the way any of us wanted,” said Yeley of his rookie season. “I guess I had a pretty steep learning curve. We had a lot of tire issues and we were in the wrong place at the wrong time. Some stuff you chalk up to bad luck, but the problem is that you can’t chalk all of it up to bad luck. Sometimes there was a mistake that I made that put me in a position to get in some kind of trouble.
“The most important thing is that I learned from my mistakes. For this grassroots racer, driving in NASCAR’s top series for one of NASCAR’s top teams has fulfilled a lifelong dream.
“I never dreamed that I’d be racing in NASCAR or even get the opportunity to drive an Indy car and race in the Indianapolis 500,” said Yeley. “When I was 16 or 17 years old and racing Sprint Cars, for me that was the coolest thing in the world. All I knew was that I was a Saturday night racer that wanted to race. I’m extremely grateful that I get to do what I love for a living.”
In addition to racing, Yeley has a strong commitment to charities and fund raising whenever he gets the opportunity. Thanks in part to being the parent of his daughter, Faith Anne. Yeley has participated in numerous functions for children’s charities as well as others. The "JJ Yeley No. 18 Drives for Kids" Golf Classic was designed to give back to the local community and his hometown, proceeds went to the Phoenix Children's Hospital. JJ has also held numerous raffles for the St Jude Children's Hospital in Memphis and the Jake Owen Raborn Foundation. In 2011 he teamed up with CigRx for the "Race for Research" benefiting the VCU Massey Cancer Research Center in Richmond. JJ teamed up with the Dept. of Delaware Highway Safety in 2011 to help raise awareness for seat belt safety and the importance of a designated driver. This year is no exception, JJ held a raffle at the Annual Chili Bowl Midget Nationals in Tulsa to benefit the Parent Child Center in Tulsa in January 2012.
JJ Yeley looks on during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series 45th Annual Camping World RV Sales 500 at Talladega Superspeedway on October 18, 2013 in Talladega, Alabama.
(October 17, 2013 - Source: Jerry Markland/Getty Images North America)
October 5, 1976