LONG POND, Pa. – Mark Smith’s decision is paying off.
The XFINITY Series team owner at TriStar Motorsports made the call to replace the driver of the No. 44 Zachry Toyota, David Starr, with J.J. Yeley nearly two months ago. Yeley, who started the year in the No. 14, has driven the car in the last five events and the results have been immediate.
“It’s been going great since I made the adjustment and the switch to the 44 car. We should have run top 10 at Richmond in our first race. We’ve had really good runs,” Yeley told POPULAR SPEED. “Last week at Charlotte was my worst run, but we ran in the top 10 and had a spring failure where some spring rubbers broke. Also hit something and knocked the front grille opening out.
“So we had some things that caused the lack of speed at the end of the race that took away from our finish. The fact that we’ve been a top 15 team every time we’ve been in the racecar is great.”
When the announcement was made, Smith referenced the “commitment to our sponsor” regarding the need for an immediate change to improve the overall program. Not only has Zachry been thrilled with the improvement Yeley said, but everyone has been working has a cohesive unit.
“Team morale has gone way through the roof. The things that we’re doing have made our teammates better as well,” he said. “All in all, things are good at TriStar Motorsports right now. We know we need to make some more improvements but being a single-car team, not having a Cup affiliation, I think we’re holding our own pretty well.”
Sitting 17th in points, Yeley has earned three top-15 finishes in the last five races. Overall, he’s finished no worse than 23rd. Saturday, Yeley was credited with a 13th place finish in the rain-shortened Pocono Green 250 at Pocono Raceway. It was another solid and consistent weekend for the team after they made it to the final round of qualifying and clocked in 11th fastest.
The performances have been par with where Yeley expected them to be when he joined the team. With the competition spread within the series and the gap between the top organizations and like those Tri-Star so wide, Yeley understands they are teams who are going to consistently outrun them and take away a good finish.
But, he said, “honestly we should run top 15 every week. We’re capable of doing that.”
As for his status as a driver, Yeley has found a place at TriStar and he’s enjoying his time there. At 39, Yeley has competed in all three NASCAR national series and is now at the point where he just wants to drive a competitive racecar wherever he can.
Right now, that’s with Mark Smith, who Yeley must be making feel really good.
“We like to have fun. That’s important especially being a small team because it’s a family-owned team, that’s what we’re supposed to be doing. And going and knocking off big teams is fun,” Yeley said. “As the morale gets built up higher, every one of these guys wants to work harder and you don’t always get that at a big race team. That side of it is great.
“Obviously, I’d love to still be in a Cup car, and if I can get that opportunity, I’ll do both in a heartbeat. I’m not going to quit one to do the other. I love being in a racecar and if that means I’m going to spend 7 hours on a Saturday and do it again on Sunday, by God I’m going to do it. But to be in a competitive situation with a great sponsor like Zachry who is very supportive of the team is definitely good for me right now.”
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