JJ Yeley took over the No. 51 Ford Mustang at Talladega Superspeedway while replacing a suspended Cody Ware. He went out for the Cup Series race, survived the late carnage, and delivered a finish that Rick Ware Racing needed.
Yeley crossed the finish line under caution after Bubba Wallace spun while blocking Ryan Blaney on the final lap. At first, the driver of the No. 51 Ford Mustang sat in the 10th position on the scoring pylon, but he dropped to 11th after further examination. He still walked away with his best finish of the year and RWR’s second-best finish behind Riley Herbst‘s 10th-place run in the Daytona 500.
“It’s massive,” Yeley told media members after the Geico 500 on April 23. “Anytime you can be top 10 in the Cup Series with a small team is huge. I’m just glad. Jacob Construction being on board, obviously, the alliance with RFK Racing is huge.
“That relationship continues to grow weekly. They work with our guys extensively over the week to make our cars faster. I think we qualified faster than we did in the fall. All of those things kind of add together. We ran inside the top 20 all day, obviously, the carnage there at the end made it easier to pick up a few spots.”
The Partnership With RFK Racing Has Featured Nonstop Communication
The 2023 Cup Series season is the second consecutive campaign in which Rick Ware Racing has fielded Ford Mustangs for both entries. The first season had a partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing, but RWR joined forces with RFK Racing after the 2022 season finale.
Since moving to the RFK Racing campus in North Carolina, RWR has been able to be in constant communication with its fellow organization. The team has shared information on a regular basis through emails and phone calls, which has led to some gains on the track. This also coincided with RWR adding a new competition director.
“Some new guys on board. You know, Tommy Baldwin has been a huge asset,” Yeley said. “He’s been around forever. Has a lot of relationships. By bringing him on, he’s helped bridge some of that gap that we were missing, at least speeding up the process with RFK.”
Yeley Has Overcome a Hurdle During the Next Gen Era
The veteran driver has made 359 starts in the NASCAR Cup Series, and he has run multiple full-time seasons. Yeley is by no means a rookie in the world of stock car racing, but he has felt more like that since the Next Gen era began.
As Yeley explained, he has not had the time to fully gain the experience he needs behind the wheel of the new Cup Series cars. He only made 19 starts in 2022, and he has made seven starts in 2023 for Rick Ware Racing. Yeley is getting more comfortable with the Next Gen car, but he still doesn’t have some of the advantages as other drivers.
“Even though I’ve been doing this for a very long time, it’s like learning all over again,” Yeley said. “I don’t spend time on simulator like a lot of the guys get to, so it almost puts us at a disadvantage by the time we get to the race track just for the feel that I need.
“Sometimes, it can take me 20-30 laps. Sometimes, it’s 100. As we continue to get a little bit faster, I think Ford will give us a little bit more help.”