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Johnson Aiming to Defend Shootout Crown

 

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 11, 2006) – If Jimmie Johnson wins Saturday night’s Bud Shootout, he will become the seventh driver in the event’s 28-year-history to do it more than once.

Of course Johnson, the defending Shootout champion, would much rather become the fifth driver to win the Shootout and the Daytona 500 in the same year, but whatever happens on Saturday and for the rest of the month in Daytona, Johnson believes he and his team have reason to feel good about the near future.

“I think we’re a stronger team, more mature,” he said this week. “We’ve had some changes at Hendrick Motorsports and we’ve got a lot of new blood and new energy.

“I see a different environment in the shop—we’ve got a bunch of new guys in the 24/48 shop that aren’t necessarily accustomed to winning and being a part of all those [Hendrick] championships. The excitement and the eagerness to get started is like nothing I’ve seen before.”

That last sentence says a lot about Johnson and the group he has working with him.  Despite finishing second in points twice and fifth twice and winning 18 races in just four years (tying him for 34th on the all-time list), the No. 48 Lowe’s team still finds itself motivated for more.

“That’s what Rick’s (Hendrick) got us here for, [winning] and that’s what we expect out of our team,” says Chad Knaus, entering his fifth season as Johnson’s crew chief.  “That’s what Jimmie expects of me, and that’s what I expect of him.

“When [someone] becomes a part of the No. 48 team, he knows what’s expected.  You expect to win races and contend for championships.”

And though winning or losing the Shootout won’t ultimately determine whether or not 2006 is a success, it’s one heck of a good way to start the year.

“To start racing again in something as wild and fun as the Shootout is really cool,” Johnson said.  “It’s one of the races everyone anticipates.  Winning last year was a great start for us. It’s the equivalent of hitting a home run in your first at bat or throwing for a touchdown with your first pass.”

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