Yeley wins Triple Crown
By Roger Diez
Last Saturday night J.J. Yeley became the fourth USAC “Triple Crown” driving champion in history, winning the title in Silver Crown, Sprint Car and Midget divisions. Only Yeley and Tony Stewart have accomplished the feat in a single season, while it took Dave Darland and Pancho Carter each several seasons to post championships in all three USAC divisions. Yeley also scored 25 main event victories in 2003, but came up a little short while trying to win No. 25 Thursday night at Irwindale Speedway’s Turkey Night Grand Prix, finishing fifth in the main. You may remember Yeley as an IRL driver a few years back. He was sent back down to the “minors” as his team had financial difficulties (as so many IRL teams have had). Now 27, Yeley has had the seasoning to move back up to the upper levels of racing.
Yeley, like many open-wheel veterans before him, will move into stock cars for 2004, driving for Joe Gibbs with MBNA sponsorship. Yeley has been Stewart’s protege the past couple of seasons, so it’s appropriate that they will become semi-teammates. He will run an “ABC” schedule (ARCA, Busch, Cup). The term “ABC” was coined by Penske Racing in 2001 to describe the education of Ryan Newman. The program gives a driver track experience and versatility without committing him directly to Cup. Yeley will run seven or eight ARCA races, 10 or 12 Busch events, and two or three Cup races in 2004. If all goes as planned, Yeley would be moved to the Nextel Cup series full-time in 2005
n Ford is switching from Dodge for 2003. Huh? No, I’m referring to Mike Ford, Bill Elliot’s crew chief on the No. 9 Evernham Dodges for the past two seasons. He is taking over as crew chief on Robert Yates’ No. 88 Taurus and will team with Dale Jarrett, who had a less than stellar season in 2003. Barry Swift is also departing the Evernham team to become Yates’ shop foreman for both the 88 and the 38 cars of Elliot Sadler. Swift and Ford were both with Yates in the 1999 championship season. With their return, it is hoped that Yates will be able to field some swift Fords in 2003. (Ouch).
n Meanwhile, back at the Dodge ranch, Bill Elliott had meetings scheduled last week with owner Ray Evernham to discuss options. Ray has said Bill is welcome to stay as long as he wants, but needs to find a young driver to groom as a replacement. Kasey Kahne is at the top of Evernham’s short list but Kahne is under contract to Ford, which is not likely to release him.
n Local racer Nick Halen was featured on SPEED TV last Sunday in action at the Stars of Tomorrow kart race at Infineon Raceways in Sonoma. If you missed it, it will air again tomorrow (December 1) at 2 p.m. local time on SPEED. The series action from Moran Raceway in Canada will air at 1 p.m. PST on December 7 with a replay on December 8 at 2 p.m. A three-hour highlights show with back-to-back programs of the Stars of Tomorrow shows is on tap for Sunday, Dec. 28 at 9 a.m. local time.
n Is the Formula One dominance of Michael Schumacher and Ferrari going to be in jeopardy in 2005? It is if David Coulthard and McLaren/Mercedes have anything to say about it. While we were all chowing down on turkey and the fixings on Thursday, Coulthard was busy breaking the lap record at Valencia while testing the new McLaren MP4-19. Coulthard, whose seat on the team is rumored to be filled by Juan Pablo Montoya in 2005, was two-tenths of a second quicker than Montoya’s Williams-BMW.
The veteran Coulthard was quick to put things in perspective. “Is it quick enough to win a Grand Prix?” he asked. “That’s the question, and we just won’t know until we get to Melbourne and see what everyone else can do.” The good news is that McLaren will start the season with a new car in 2004, rather than limping along with a year-old model as it did at the start of the 2003 season.
Roger Diez is the Nevada Appeal Motorsports Columnist.