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Johnson Tops Vegas Speed Charts at Testing

  • Jan 30, 2003

LAS VEGAS (Jan. 30, 2003) – For the second consecutive season, Team Lowe’s Racing made the long journey westward to test the 1.5-mile oval of Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Driver Jimmie Johnson and nine Team Lowe’s crew members made the trek to Nevada to try out the new Chevrolet body style on an intermediate track, which is the type of venue that hosts the majority of NASCAR Winston Cup Series events.

“With the type of weather we’ve had out on the east coast the last couple of weeks, we had to come out west to make sure that we didn’t compete with the ice and snow,” said Johnson during Monday’s lunch break. “At Vegas, we know we’ll get a good environment. There will be a lot of cars out here to gauge off of and see where we’re at in the new Monte Carlo body style. It’s a great place to come out and get some consistent data and get a couple good days on the race track.”

Team Lowe’s Racing didn’t waste the opportunity to feature its hardware during practice on Monday, posting the fastest unofficial lap of the 13 drivers who tested Winston Cup cars in race trim at 168.161 mph (32.112 seconds).

“We had a good day of practice on Monday,” crew chief Chad Knaus said. “Coming into this test we just wanted to make sure that we continued to shake down the new body style and make gains throughout the session. We needed to come here and improve on our qualifying runs and look for speed out of this new body.

“Last season here we started 25th, so we really need to improve on that and get good data that will help us on tracks that are similar to this 1.5-mile oval.”

The Vegas test session marks the second time Team Lowe’s Racing has tested this season—NASCAR’s “Preseason Thunder” at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway three weeks ago was the first. The No. 48 race car posted the 44th fastest time out of 53 race cars during both Daytona test sessions, a far cry from where the Lowe’s team was last season, when it was on top of the speed charts following the session, which lead to the pole for the Daytona 500.

Unlike a year ago, the Lowe’s team has the luxury of not having to show everything it has from the start, since the team has provisionals to fall back on if something were to happen, like bad weather or an accident.

“We had to come out of the box with everything we had (last season) and play our game up front to make sure that we honestly knew where we were at,” Johnson said. “This year, we are a little bit more conservative. We’ve got a little bit more room to wiggle. But, I feel everyone in the garage area does, as well.

“We’re not really sandbagging or doing anything like that in that respect. The biggest challenge we have right now is we’re learning a brand new car.”

Heading into his second test session, Johnson feels like Las Vegas will be a better indication on what the season has in-store for the Lowe’s team.

“It’s so early that with all the changes that happen each year, this (track) is a true test of what you have for your downforce package,” he said. “Rockingham is hard to tell because the track is so rough, and there’s so much mechanical grip involved. When we get to Vegas, it’s a lot more aero-dependant track, so it’s our first real try at seeing what we have for our downforce cars. With that in mind, a lot of people come here and test.”

With NASCAR’s new testing rule changes, Johnson knows that each opportunity to test is now magnified because of the limited number.

“Our test sessions are so valuable—we only have five now in the (NASCAR) Winston Cup Series,” he said. “Coming from our rookie year last year where we had 12 (tests), we tested a lot more and had a lot more opportunities to figure out our race car. Now, we have to make the most of every test that we have.”

The Lowe’s team backed up Monday’s solid session posting the fastest lap time on Tuesday at 168.666 miles per hour (32.016 seconds). Team Lowe’s Racing is hoping to come out of the gates hard for the start of the season in Daytona and carry the momentum it gained from the Las Vegas test into the intermediate tracks the first half of the season.

“We accomplished everything we set out to for this test session,” Knaus said. “We learned a lot from here and we’ll take valuable information back to the shop and hopefully be able to apply this to the intermediate tracks early in the season. We are still in the learning process with the new Monte Carlo body style, but this session moved us closer to fine-tuning the Lowe’s Chevrolet.”

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