JJ Yeley is an American racing driver who recorded more than 500 races in all three NASCAR national series between 2004 and 2016, without winning a single one. Earlier in a career, Yeley started in eight Indy Car races, but without notable results.
The highlight of his career was the season of 2003, when he won the USAC Triple Crown, winning the National Midget Series, the National Silver Crown and the National Sprint Car Series in the same season, breaking a record with twenty-four USAC wins during one year.
JJ started racing at the age 14
JJ's full name is Christopher Beltram Hernandez Yeley. He was born on October 4, 1976, in Phoenix, Arizona. He was nicknamed JJ after his father Jimmy and a close family friend Jack, and he was using the nickname for his entire career.
JJ Yeley began his racing career at age 14, driving the Quarter Midgets in the beginning and then Sprint Cars, Midgets and Silver Crown cars. In 1997, he captured the Rookie of the Year award.
Indy car debut at his hometown track
In 1998, he got a golden opportunity to compete in the Indy Racing League with Sinden Racing team. He raced at his hometown track, the Phoenix International Raceway, where he finished 25th. The next race was the Indianapolis 500. At the age 21, Yeley became the youngest driver to qualify for the Indy 500. He started 13th and sensationally finished ninth.
He ran in three more IRL events that season, but the lack of funding forced him to return to the USAC-sanctioned competitions in 1999. In 2000, he tried again in the Indy Racing League, competing in three races for McCormack Motorsports. His best result was 15th place at Kentucky.
Breaking AJ Foyt's record and winning the Triple Crown
In 2001, Yeley again focused on the USAC events, winning his first title, the USAC National Sprint Car Series. In the Midget Series, he finished third. The next year, he added the 2002 USAC Silver Crown championship title to his CV. In the Sprint Car Series and Midget Series, he finished as a runner-up.
And then, one of the most impressive seasons in USAC history followed. In 2003, Yeley scored amazing 24 USAC wins, breaking the single-season record set by a racing legend A.J. Foyt who won 19 races back in 1961.
Yeley became only the second driver in USAC history, after Tony Stewart, to win the 'Triple Crown' by capturing the Midget, Sprint and Silver Crown championships in a single season. It's interesting that he did it by driving Stewart-owned cars in the Sprint Car Series and Silver Crown Series, while the car he was driving in the Midget Series, owned by Steve Lewis, was the same car that Stewart was using in his victorious season in 1995.
Yeley joined Joe Gibbs racing in 2004
In 2004, after reaching the top in the USAC, it was the time for something new, so JJ signed for Joe Gibbs Racing to drive the #18 Chevrolet in the NASCAR Busch Series. He competed in 17 races that season, earning four Top 10 results, with the best finish at Kansas Speedway.
During the season, he also had a NASCAR Nextel Cup debut with Joe Gibbs Racing's #11 Chevrolet and NASCAR Truck Series debut with Morgan-Dollar Motorsports' #47 Chevrolet. In the Nextel Cup, he participated in two races while in the Truck Series, he was on the grid once. In 2004, Yeley also competed in the International Race of Champions and finished 12th.
In 2005, he competed full season in the Busch Series, scoring twelve Top 10 results and he finished 11th in the points. The biggest break of Yeley's career came in July 2005 at Chicagoland Speedway. During a Nextel Cup practice session, his teammate Tony Stewart crashed out with a primary #20 car. Yeley was called to replace him. He finished in 13th place, showing everyone in the team that he was ready for the next challenge.
2006 - First full season in the Nextel Cup
He had a full-time schedule in the 2006 Nextel Cup Series season, in the cockpit of the #18 Interstates Batteries-sponsored #18 Chevrolet. Yeley competed in 36 Cup races during his rookie year, finishing in the 8th place at California Speedway and New Hampshire International Speedway. At the end of the season, he was 29th in the points.
During 2006, Yeley continued to drive the #18 Chevrolet in the Busch Series, scoring his career-best result – 5th place in the final classification. He reached the Top 5 nine times and twenty-two times he was among Top 10 finishers. He was closest to victory at Kentucky Speedway, where he finished second, behind David Gilliland.
JJ scored his only NASCAR Cup Series pole position at Michigan
In 2007, another full Nextel Cup season followed in the #18 JGR car. Yeley improved his performance, reaching one Top 5 result and three Top 10 finishes. His recorded a career-best result in the Coca Cola 600 race at Concord, finishing second behind Casey Mears. Three weeks after that race, Yeley scored his only Cup Series pole position, beating Jimmie Johnson by one thousand of a second at Michigan International Speedway. At the end of the season, Yeley was 21st in the Cup points.
In the 2007 Busch Series, Yeley switched to #1 Phoenix Racing's Chevrolet, scoring only one Top 10 finish and ending the season in 17th place.
Kyle Busch gets #18, JJ moved to another team
For the 2008 Sprint Cup season, Kyle Busch was a new driver of JGR's #18 car, so Yeley was moved to Hall of Fame Racing, an affiliate of JGR, to drive the #96 Toyota. Since he didn't give a good performance, in August he had a contract cancellation, so he spent the rest of the season without a ride.
In 2009, Yeley was combining occasional appearances in all three NASCAR series with USAC races, but after he broke three cervical vertebrae during a crash in the USAC race, he missed most of the season.
Start-and-park seasons with several teams
In 2010, he returned to the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series, driving most of the season for Whitney Motorsports, but also for Tommy Baldwin Racing and Latitude 43 Motorsports. His best result was the 19th place at Daytona's Coke Zero 400, in Whitney's #43 Dodge.
Yeley continued to drive the #46 car for Whitney Motorsports in 2011. During the second part of the season. he moved to Front Row Motorsports and combined their #38 and #55 cars. Yeley's best result of the season was 22nd place at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
For 2012, Yeley became a start-and-park driver for Robinson-Blakeney Racing, driving the #49 Toyota in the Sprint Cup Series. He was 26th at his home track in Phoenix. Halfway through the season, Yeley moved to Max Q Motorsports to drive the #37 Chevrolet, again mostly as a start-and-park driver.
Full-time return in 2013 Sprint Cup season
In 2013, Yeley returned as the full-time driver to the Sprint Cup, for the first time since 2008. He was driving the #36 Chevrolet for Tommy Baldwin Racing. His best result was the 10th place in the season-opening Daytona 500. It was also his best finish in six participations at the biggest NASCAR race. Later in the season, he shined again at Daytona, finishing 13th at Coke Zero 400. In other races, he was no better than 24th, finishing 32nd in the points at the end of the season.
During the 2014 Sprint Cup season, Yeley was competing with five different cars but his main ride was the #28 Dodge of JGL Racing in the Nationwide Series. He recorded two Top 10 finishes and placed himself to the 17th position in the final standings.
NASCAR Xfinity Series regular in 2015 and 2016
In 2015, Yeley prolonged a contract with JGL Racing in the Xfinity Series, moving the #28 number to Toyota Camry. His season-best result was the fourth place at Talladega and he finished 12th in the points.
For the 2015 Sprint Cup season, Yeley joined BK Racing as a replacement for Alex Bowman in the #23 Toyota. In the mid-season, Yeley and BK Racing teammate Jeb Burton switched rides, with Burton moving to the #23, while Yeley moved to the #26 Toyota. Yeley's best result was the 14th place at Talladega's GEICO 500.
In 2016, Yeley is again competing full season in the Xfinity Series, driving for TriStar Motorsports. He started a year with #14 Toyota, switching to #44 Toyota after six races. He didn't enter the Chase and his season-best result was the 8th place at Dover's Drive Sober 200.
Committed to charities and fundraising
In addition to racing, JJ Yeley has a strong commitment to charities and fundraising whenever he gets the opportunity. As a father of a girl (Faith Anne), he is especially sensitive to children's needs, so he mostly participates in children’s charities.