By Seth Eggert, NASCAR Writer
A Top 10 at Iowa Speedway was much more emotional than normal for J.J. Yeley. Less than one week after losing team owner Mark Smith, Yeley drove TriStar Motorsports’ No. 14 Toyota Camry to a sixth-place finish.
Yeley hovered around 20th for the bulk of the US Cellular 250 presented by American Ethanol, only cracking the Top 10 late in the going. He was driving the teams’ unsponsored No. 14 Toyota Camry, affectionately nicknamed ‘Black Betty,’ and carried Smith’s name on the passenger door. A late decision to pit allowed Yeley to have fresh tires for his Top 10 run.
Yeley’s sixth-place run was not without a late-race scare. Matt Tifft spun in front of the field after contact with Brennan Poole. Yeley took evasive action to keep from running into both Cole Custer and Tifft. While he avoided the lazy spin, Ty Majeski, who had been running behind Yeley, was not as fortunate. Majeski spun into Dylan Lupton before sliding into Tifft, completely missing Yeley.
Yeley said that this Top 10 meant more than others,
“It means a ton. There’s nothing on this car and when we run it plain black like this we actually call it ‘Black Betty.’ Obviously with what happened with Mark (Smith, team owner) passing away earlier this week we wanted to just go at it with all of our guns blazing and we had a great car that could run top-15 pretty much the whole race. Then when we started to come in there that last thing we had we had some 30-lap scuffs and I made the last second decision to pit and put them on and go for it. Just got lucky being on the outside there on those last restarts.”
Yeley also thought he had an angel watching over him,
“I think Mark (Smith) was watching from up above and he helped me get by that 19 (Matt Tifft) car when it started to spin and we come away with sixth. I think I could’ve run a little bit harder, but wanted to make sure that we could take what we could get.”
The sixth-place run was the first Top 10 of the 2017 season for Yeley, and the 46th of his NASCAR Xfinity Series career. He also moved up from 14th to 13th in the Championship Standings. Yeley sits 14 points behind Brendan Gaughan, who holds the cutoff for the Playoffs, and 368 points behind points leader Elliott Sadler.
Now Yeley and his TriStar Motorsports team will look to have a strong run at Watkins Glen International.