JJ Yeley has been racing in the NASCAR’s Cup Series since 2004 and knows full well how difficult it is to navigate a long, hot race at Pocono Raceway. The track is called the “Tricky Triangle” for a reason, with its three very different but equally challenging corners.
Add in what could be one of the hottest days for a Cup Series race weekend in years on Sunday, and the M&M’s Fan Appreciation 400 Cup race numbers will be a grueling day for anyone, again. minus one pilot in a fire suit on a scorching track for three or four hours
It’s a situation ripe for a migraine, something Yeley has had to deal with throughout his career and which he and his team, Rick Ware Racing, are trying to raise awareness of through Biohaven Pharmaceuticals, one of team sponsors.
“As a racing driver, I deal with a lot of heat and stress in the NASCAR world,” Yeley said. “I’ve been doing it for 18 years now and the temperature inside the car is usually over 125 degrees and our races last three to five hours, so managing the heat is something I do on a weekly basis. For so many years after a race or sometimes even before a race I would develop these debilitating headaches. More or less I have learned to live through them and manage the pain as best I can. Riding 200 miles per hour , one of those headaches is breaking your dealership, which obviously isn’t exactly good for your performance.
Yeley’s wife, Kristen, has also suffered from migraines for a long time.
“She went to see her doctor who switched her to Nurtec ODT and that was a big thing for her,” Yeley said. “It was the only thing she took in her whole life that got rid of them. So, I thought man, this is amazing for her, and I talked to my own doctor about it and got a prescription and I take these after a run, especially when the temperature hurts. It lifts my spirits and brings me back to a point where I can get to the airport and go home. Without it, getting back on track can be a very difficult thing.
Yeley will race Saturday’s Xfinity Series race, as well as the Cup race. This imposes even more physical constraints on him.
“I’ll be in a car all day with Xfinity and then I’ll practice a bit and qualify with the Cup car,” he said. “Obviously dehydration becomes a factor and you know all the things you need to do as an athlete to get through a day like Saturday. Then on Sunday you have to prepare for a longer Cup race which will have a lot It’s a very fast race track and the high ambient temperature will make it even more uncomfortable.
Pocono’s long straights will contribute to wear and tear on the car, Yeley said.
“A smaller track like New Hampshire last week or Martinsville (Virginia) requires a lot more use of the brakes while having a little more movement in the car makes it a little more enjoyable, but it’s still going to be tough. with the super high temperatures that we are going to see this weekend,” he said.
Yeley said he’s had migraines at times during races and admits “it’s tough”.
“They’ll come in the later stages of races where you’re trying to get through those last 40 or 50 laps,” he said. “For us as a driver, it’s the time of the game when you’re trying to get the most out of the equipment and wondering all you can. Unlike other sports, there’s no There are no downtimes. There are no half-times. We go after without any breaks. That’s when you have to be as well prepared mentally as physically. The migraines at the end of the race can make you nauseous and I’ve had accidents with my helmet before, which is a very unpleasant experience. But you just have to persevere.”
Dealing with heat-related headaches adds an additional challenge to what looks to be a tough weekend for drivers involved in all three NASCAR events.
“There are so many things that are new for us coming back to Pocono, even though the track hasn’t changed in several years,” Yeley said. “With our 2022 format, we are limited in the amount of training we have. And hopefully your team has been working hard all week to find the best setup possible and then you adjust things based on the weather conditions and the nuances of the track. I’m sure the track conditions this year will be completely different from what we experienced here last year.
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Yeley finished no higher than 11th in 21 Cup races at Pocono, and that 11th-place finish came in his second race at Long Pond in 2006 while with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Still, Yeley loves coming to Pocono.
“I liked coming to Pocono because the area is beautiful and the fans are great,” he said. “From a family perspective – and in NASCAR we always consider ourselves a family sport – there’s a lot to do here. There’s a campground, there’s a playground, there’s concerts in the infield. Families have fun. There are also plenty of opportunities for fan interaction. So I’m a little disappointed that we’re only coming here once. It will be good to come in Pocono and spend the weekend without rain.
Rain fell unexpectedly late Friday afternoon and canceled the practice session and qualifying for the Camping World Truck Series race. That left Zane Smith on pole for the race scheduled for a midday start on Saturday. The race will be marked by Todd Bodine’s 800th and final start in one of NASCAR’s top three series. Bodine will become just the 27th driver to make at least 800 career starts.
Yeley isn’t far behind with 745 career starts and is still looking for his first win.
“I still appreciate it 100%,” he said. “I can’t imagine doing anything. I’m excited to hit the race track. I’m excited to get behind the wheel of a race car and get out there and get every little ounce of speed I can. And I love the interactions with the fans. This is what makes our sport great. This is what continues to motivate me every week year after year. I continue to fight to be part of this sport and I continue to try to do well.