Late Call: NY Racing Tabs Yeley For ‘500’ Attempt


J.J. Yeley (Nigel Kinrade Photography)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Perhaps the most talked-about mystery of Daytona Speedweeks presented by AdventHealth was finally answered ahead of Busch Light Pole Qualifying for the 66th Daytona 500 Wednesday evening.

Ending the “TBA saga” of NY Racing’s No. 44 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 entry, Arizona journeyman J.J. Yeley was confirmed to drive for team owner Johnathan Cohen as he attempts to make his seventh career Daytona 500 start.

Sponsoring Yeley’s car will be 100 Coconut Water, a pure coconut-water hydration beverage which comes in standard, mango, and pineapple flavors.

Past NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series and NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Greg Biffle was rumored to be the original driver for the team, with a leaked image of the team’s race car and hauler surfacing early in the week with Biffle’s name above the driver’s door.

However, after Biffle released a statement Monday afternoon noting that he “had hoped to be running in the Daytona 500 this year” but that it would “not be happening due to unfulfilled contract obligations from 2022 for myself and the team,” Yeley emerged as the driver late Wednesday afternoon.

“I’ve driven for John a handful of times since we’ve both been in the sport,” noted Yeley Wednesday at Daytona Int’l Speedway. “We’ve always had a good relationship. You know, I actually was a part of New York Racing when it was still early in getting started [in 2014]. I don’t know what the situation was that happened between Greg and the team that led to the decision to do something different for this year’s Daytona 500; obviously, that’s beyond me. But I’m always down to be behind the wheel of any kind of race car I can get into.

“I ran almost the entire season last year [with Rick Ware Racing] so I’m familiar with these [Next Gen] cars,” Yeley added. “Once [Cohen] gave me a call to see if I’d come down and give this deal the best opportunity we could to try and make the race, I was all for it.”

Yeley has driven in six Daytona 500s over the course of his career and has experienced the nerves of trying to qualify in during Busch Light Pole Qualifying before. He said this year’s run with NY Racing is no different than several of his past Daytona efforts in recent years.

“We’re definitely going into [qualifying] blind,” Yeley admitted. “I’m sure from the build of the car and things like that – it’s a beautiful looking race car – but I’m not the one who knows how much to push the envelope on the body [aerodynamically] to find that speed. It takes a lot of time and a lot of effort to find enough raw speed to go out there and really put down a [qualifying] lap, especially with these particular cars. So the reality is that there’s some big teams that have brought open cars that are [probably] going to race in on speed.

“Ultimately [qualifying on speed] is not going to be in our department, so we’re just going to have to be smart in our Duel [qualifying race], make no mistakes, and see if we can race our way into the show.”

What’s the strategy going into Thursday night’s Bluegreen Vacations Duels, where the top-finishing open car in each 150-mile qualifying race will lock into the 40-car starting field for the Daytona 500?

Survive, Yeley tipped, and let the chips fall where they may.

“Typically, it’s not much of an issue to keep things clean going into the Duels here. With these [Next Gen] cars, everyone seems to race a little more conservatively. It’s not like the old days where you would see guys go out there and tear race cars up to go try to win a Duel,” Yeley noted. “Again, you just have to find your place in the field, keep yourself clean through the draft, and see how you shake out at the end.

“Typically, you’re going to have to make one green flag pit stop in that Duel, and that’s the critical point of the race, because you have to get in with a good pack, don’t speed, and kind of wedge in within a group to keep speed and keep your momentum up,” Yeley added. “Once it breaks up into two- or five- or seven-car packs, unless there’s a wreck at the end, you really don’t have much of a chance to make your way forward.

“We haven’t seen a lot of those late-race crashes in the Duels of late, so it’s going come down to the guy who doesn’t make any mistakes.”

Regardless of the final outcome Thursday night, Yeley is simply appreciative of the fact that – at 47 and on the waning side of his NASCAR career – he has the means to make his 10th Daytona 500 attempt.

“I was pretty disappointed, originally, that I wasn’t going to get the chance to come back here this year [for the Daytona 500]. About a month or a month-and-a-half ago, some things changed for what I was trying to do for this year, so to get here and have another attempt at the Great American Race is a big deal,” noted Yeley, who will drive for his ninth different team in Daytona 500 competition this week. “Obviously, it’s difficult coming in with a small team to do anything in this sport, especially in the present-day Cup Series … but with some of the affiliations that John has with Chevrolet and Hendrick [Motorsports], I’m hoping we’re going to be in a good place.

“We’ve got a beautiful race car here, like I said earlier … and, hopefully, it’s going to have good speed [for the rest of the week].”

Busch Light Pole Qualifying for the 66th Daytona 500 begins at 8:15 p.m. ET, live on FS1, the Motor Racing Network, and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.

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About Jacob Seelman

Jacob Seelman is Motorsports Hotspot’s News Editor and Race Face Digital’s Director of Content, as well as a veteran of more than a decade in the racing industry as a professional, though he’s spent his entire life in the garage and pit area.