TULSA, Okla. – J.J. Yeley already holds the record for the most mains participated in during a Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals, going from F main to A main in 2004.
However, he’ll have to make an even more historic run through the alphabet soup if he wants to have a shot at racing during the MAVTV telecast of the Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals finale on Saturday night.
Thanks to a disqualification from his heat race and later, a flip during the C main, on his preliminary night, Yeley is buried in the O main this year – the lowest possible letter in the sequence.
In order to get to the A main, Yeley will have to successfully navigate 15 different feature races through the course of the day on Saturday. It’s a tall order, but one he’s excited at trying to conquer.
It’s also a journey he’s surprisingly relaxed going into.
“Honestly, my mindset for tomorrow is going to be really easy to get into. I’m just going to have to pass a lot of cars and not get caught up in someone else’s melee,” Yeley told SPEED SPORT. “That’s what can happen when you get mired deep in the alphabet soup like we are for this year. I’ve been in it plenty of times, though, so it’s a great opportunity to make a bunch of laps and see what we have in our car.”
One thing Yeley isn’t worried about is whether or not his car is fast. He knows he’s got speed.
“I had a ton of speed,” Yeley said with a grin. “The car felt really, really good and I felt really good after the Race of Champions on Tuesday night about the changes we made, but then I climbed a wheel and tore it up pretty bad. Now we just have to go out there, pass a bunch of cars, win some races and see if I can’t break my record.”
Looking back on his previous run through the soup, Yeley pointed out that many of the same qualities and necessities that got him through the day that day will be needed again to continue advancing.
“There was a lot of luck,” Yeley recalled of his record F-to-A main run from 15 years ago. “Sometimes being in the right flight makes a difference … being in the second one versus the first one. Usually they’ll go out and prep the race track and it makes it hard to pass. Sometimes you need a caution flag, and I’ve been in a race where we’ve had one of the fastest cars, and it went green to checkered for 10 laps.
“You hate to have to force a caution at someone else’s expense, but it just depends on how you want to make that next race.”
As if Yeley needed an extra reason to push forward, OILFIRE Rye Whiskey and Liqueur has put up a $500 bonus for the first driver to successfully advance through four main events, with an additional $200 being added on for each subsequent main that driver can make it through.
Knowing that, Yeley is excited to tackle the biggest challenge he’s ever faced inside the Tulsa Expo Center.
“It’s no extra motivation, but it is an added bonus,” noted Yeley of the OILFIRE Challenge. “With as many races as I’m going to have to go through, I might make more with the bonus money than the guy who’s going to win the race tomorrow night,” he joked. “It’s a cool thing to do and I’m glad to go chase it.
“This is my 24th attempt at claiming a Golden Driller, and obviously it didn’t start out real good,” Yeley added. “You hate to say that you’re already looking forward to the next one, but we put so much time and effort into each one of these deals that it’s tough. Hopefully tomorrow goes well for us.”