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Johnson Gearing Up for ’06 at Daytona Testing

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Jan. 10, 2006) – If Jimmie Johnson feels anything like Cinderella at the ball, it’s understandable—two second-place finishes in the last three years for the NEXTEL Cup Chase for the Championship can do that to a guy.

Dig a bit deeper and recall that in 2004, had Kurt Busch’s right-front wheel come off even a millisecond sooner, Johnson would probably be answering questions about the likelihood of winning his second NEXTEL Cup title in three years.

But, if Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet team bear any scars from his near misses, they certainly don’t show it: In the first day of testing at Daytona International Speedway, Johnson’s Chevrolet once again took up its familiar position, right near the front of the pack. Johnson and the No. 48 were second-quickest in both of Monday’s practice sessions at the 2.5-mile superspeedway (in the morning, Johnson trailed only fellow Hendrick Motorsports driver Jeff Gordon, turning a lap at 186.928 mph).

“Those are fast lap times,” Johnson told reporters after his first practice of the day. “I think we’re already faster than what the pole was [last year]—or it’s real close.  From the minute we’ve been on the track with the new body and new engine stuff, we’ve been flying. So it’s been good.”

Johnson was referring to subtle changes in the Chevrolet Monte Carlo’s body mandated by NASCAR for 2006. While the changes are slight, teams can never be certain how they’ll impact a car until the rubber hits the road; in this case, it would certainly seem that neither Johnson nor his Chevrolet is any the worse for it. (If anything, it appears that the 2006 Chevrolet has adjusted incredibly well to this year’s rules landscape: Chevrolets occupied eight of the top-10 spots in the afternoon practice session.)

Indeed, Johnson could be excused if Monday’s test sessions made him even more confident about the likelihood of winning his first NASCAR NEXTEL Cup championship (and Chevrolet’s 30th) in 2006.

“We haven’t really worked on the race package yet,” he said after he got out of the car Monday afternoon.  “It’s really just been in qualifying trim.  I can tell it’s fast.”

(Photo Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images)

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