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It All Comes Down to Miami for Johnson

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (Nov. 14, 2002)—What better way to end a season than battling for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title and third place overall in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series point standings at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That is exactly the position that Team Lowe`s Racing and rookie driver Jimmie Johnson find themselves in this weekend.

Johnson is currently fourth overall in the championship standings, a mere eight points out of third and 64 points ahead of eighth-place driver Matt Kenseth. And while he`s fighting for a top-three points finish, he will also be battling with fellow rookie Ryan Newman for the 2002 Raybestos Rookie of the Year title.

“We’ve both had incredible seasons and we still don’t know who is going to win the Raybestos Rookie battle,” said Johnson, who has 20 top-10s, six top-fives and three victories in 2002. “With the way the scoring system works out, the past has shown that whoever has the highest number of Winston Cup points usually ends up with the Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors. So possibly that will happen. I’m not 100 percent sure. But we’ve both worked hard and have had great seasons.

“Regardless of how it turns out, we’re very proud of our season.”

Currently, Johnson trails Newman by 20 points in the rookie battle, a deficit that he cannot mathematically overcome with just one race left. But it’s not that simple. A rookie panel made up of NASCAR’s president, director of operations, Winston Cup director, Winston Cup manager of communications and the defending Winston Cup champion (because Jeff Gordon is part owner of Johnson’s team, he was replaced with 2000 champion Bobby Labonte) will judge the two in four separate categories, awarding the drivers bonus points (10 through one system) to each driver in the following categories: conduct with officials, track conduct and awareness, personal appearance and relationship with the media.

“Of course you want to win it,” Johnson said. “That’s what you start out the season to do. So, I’d definitely be upset in that respect but we can’t complain about the season we’ve had.”

While each rookie has the statistics to back up their claim as to why he should be the Raybestos Rookie of the Year, it is sure to come down to this final vote taken during championship weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

With a good performance, the Lowe’s team can walk away with the best rookie showing since James Hylton’s finished second in championship points in 1966—and a Raybestos Rookie of the Year title to boot.


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