By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
The decision to stay out at the end of Stage 2 at Atlanta Motor Speedway put J.J. Yeley in a prime spot with rain threatening Sunday night’s Quaker State 400.
As the NASCAR Cup Series teams made their decision to pit or not to pit at the end of the second stage of the Quaker State 400 Available at Walmart, crew chief Jerry Kelley kept the No. 15 Patriot Mobile Ford Mustang on track. That positioned Yeley just inside the top-10 as the laps clicked off.
With the hybrid of drafting and intermediate style racing, Yeley not only stayed inside the top-10, but pushed forward. The 46-year-old pushed Daniel Suarez into the top-five as the field scrambled to be in the lead when the rain started to fall. The Rick Ware Racing driver never broke into the top-five, but battled with Brad Keselowski, Justin Haley, and Bubba Wallace for sixth, seventh, and eighth.
A spin by Ryan Preece collected Wallace on lap 179. Under the ensuing caution the inevitable rains came. After several pace laps, NASCAR officials were forced to call the race official 85 laps shy of the scheduled distance.
“It was great, obviously the Patriot Mobile Ford had a lot of speed,” Yeley said. “I knew that from [the start], Jerry Kelley and all the guys at Rick Ware Racing have been doing a great job. I could pass guys and make some moves early. We’re all running the same speed, but longer runs I felt like I was getting better and better.
“We decided to take the chance, get some track position. We had pitted off sequence, I had cut a tire during one of the big wrecks on the (backstretch). That negated all of that track position from us being fast. Once we got up front I had no concerns, no worries that I was going to be able to stay up there or put myself in a position that it was going to cause a wreck. Other than letting the No. 8 (Kyle Busch) get to the outside of me, I really felt like I was fighting for a top-five.”
With the intensity due to the encroaching weather, Yeley was not inside the top-10 at the end of the first two stages. Though he is not earning Cup Series points, his top-10 did aid the Rick Ware team.
Yeley’s top-10 finish extended the No. 15 Ford Mustang’s gap over the bottom three in owner points for chartered teams. It is now 31-points ahead of the Legacy Motor Club No. 42 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
The seventh-place finish was Yeley’s ninth career top-10 and his first since the 2013 Daytona 500. It was his best Cup Series finish since a rain-shortened race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in 2008.
The top-10 finish was also just the eighth for Rick Ware in the Cup Series. The most recent top-10 for the Rick Ware Racing team was Riley Herbst in the Daytona 500 earlier this season. It’s the organization’s best finish since Cody Ware’s top-five in the 2022 regular season finale at Daytona.
Next for the NASCAR Cup Series is the Crayon 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway scheduled for Sunday, July 16, at 2:30 p.m. ET on USA Network. The race will also be broadcast on the Performance Racing Network and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, channel 90.