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Rick Ware Racing Punching Above Its Weight So Far in 2023

Thanks to the addition of Tommy Baldwin and a partnership with RFK Racing, the two-car organization is making improvements and seeing the results on track.


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While J.J. Yeley’s seventh-place finish in last Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway may have turned a lot of heads, the veteran driver is not surprised at all to see Rick Ware Racing make progress and climb the finishing results week after week.

So far in 2023, Yeley has eight starts in the No. 15 Ford and five starts in the No. 51 Ford for Rick Ware Racing, working with crew chiefs Billy Plourde and Jerry Kelley. He has earned one top-10 finish, three top-16 finishes and has an average finish of 24.0. That average finish is Yeley’s best since 2007 when he was racing full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing.

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It’s fun to be a part of a program that’s on an upswing. We’re punching above our weight."

J.J. Yeley

This has helped the No. 15 RWR Ford get to 32nd in the NASCAR owner point standings, placing it 10 points behind the No. 14 of Stewart-Haas Racing. The No. 51 RWR Ford sits 33rd in the owner standings, putting both cars ahead of Legacy Motor Club’s No. 42 Chevrolet and Spire Motorsports’ No. 77 Chevrolet.

“Fans of NASCAR, they can be brutal, and Rick started with virtually nothing and built, what I consider, a mini racing empire with all of the different divisions we participate in. Obviously, we won in three of those series this year, but in the Cup Series we weren’t the strongest program four years ago,” said Yeley. “We relied on old equipment that was bought second-hand from other teams. Those days are gone. They are completely gone. Rick has invested a lot of time and money to get to where we are now.

“It’s hard to explain to fans that may not really get it, but the Cup Series is so much different now than it has ever been, especially in my time in the sport which is over 20 years,” he said. “There are no more B-plan motors. There are no more old cars. Everything is the best you can get, all the way down to the teams that show up and don’t have charters. So, the competition level is astounding, and to accomplish what we’ve been able to accomplish from a financial side is a lot of hard work and a huge shout out to the folks at RFK because that’s a huge improvement.”

One of the biggest attributes to the increased performance of Rick Ware Racing across the board is the new relationship with fellow Ford team RFK Racing and the addition of racing veteran Tommy Baldwin. Moving on from their technical partnership with Stewart-Haas Racing following the 2022 season, Yeley believes the flow of information, technology and resources from RFK Racing has allowed the smaller team to improve week after week.

“It’s very obvious, the biggest improvement is the relationship with RFK Racing and that alliance. (Rick Ware Racing) brought Tommy Baldwin on, and with his years of experience as a crew chief and owner – and he’s just a brutally honest kind of guy – it’s easier for him to have those conversations and fight for the information that we’re lacking,” said Yeley.

Rick Ware Racing Taps Tommy Baldwin for Position of Competition Director

“As we become so much more competitive and brought better products to the racetrack, it shows from a competitive stance,” he said. “The appearance of Rick Ware Racing is second to none. From the haulers to the pit equipment to the race cars, you wouldn’t be able to tell as a fan that we have a tenth of the budget that the guys on the other side of the garage have.”

Yeley believes what may seem to many as minor things – the appearance of the haulers, equipment and cars – has helped RFK Racing build confidence in the Rick Ware Racing program and open their doors, and notebooks, a bit more.

“Through all of those things, I feel like RFK has gotten more confident in the relationship and they are doing more to try and help us,” he said. “I think there’s a point where Rick Ware Racing can become, realistically, a huge asset to RFK, in the sense of taking a two-car team and kind of combining it into a four-car team. We’re relying on their information, but we can start sharing and be better, versus other alliances where you only get what you pay for.”

In addition to the alliance with RFK and the addition of Baldwin, having experienced drivers such as Ryan Newman and Cole Custer fill the seats throughout the season also brings a new level of information and feedback to the organization that was lacking before.

However, that means the crew chiefs – Plourde and Kelley – have to manage a lot more than most and must work even harder to get in a rhythm with so much change from week to week.

“As race car drivers, we all have different characteristics, we all do different things, have different wants and needs, so having to relearn some of those things makes it even harder on our crew chiefs,” said Yeley.

These small steps and improvements have ultimately changed the mindset at Rick Ware Racing from a team that was simply participating in the race and “stuck at a certain level of competition” to being able to run inside the top 15 and top 20, earning solid finishes through consistency and strategy instead of attrition and luck.

J.J. Yeley Notches Rick Ware Racing's Best-Ever Non-Superspeedway Finish in Coca-Cola 600

That change in performance has also led to other competitors working with Yeley and the RWR cars more than before, especially at drafting style tracks.

“Anytime you get to have a fast race car and get to showcase your talents and showcase your equipment, the level of respect that you get or how it changes with your competitors – I won’t say it’s like the old days, but you’re up there racing against teams with 10 times the budget and all of the resources and they can’t do anything with you,” he said.

While the road to consistent top 10 and top five runs may still be down the path a bit for Rick Ware Racing, the organization’s performance this season – especially when Yeley is behind the wheel – have shown they are willing and able to make those strides. Change and improvement do not take place overnight, but the independent team is doing all they can to set the stage for success in the future.

Photo Courtesy Will Bellamy, Racing America

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