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Johnson gearing up for Daytona

CONCORD, N.C. (Feb. 4, 2009)—Coming off his third straight NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship, Jimmie Johnson enters the 2009 season well-relaxed and determined to win his fourth consecutive title—a feat that never has been done before in NASCAR.

There was no offseason testing in January at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway, but Johnson still found ways to kept busy by making room for fun activities with his friends and wife Chandra.

“There have been some neat opportunities based on our third championship, so there’s been a lot going on,” Johnson said. “Nick (Lachey) and I were down in Tampa for our Super Skins tournament and the Super Bowl last weekend, so I was excited about that.  I went to the BCS Championship game. Chani and I went on a great vacation. It’s been a good mixture of business and pleasure.”

This Saturday it’s back to work for Johnson, who will drive the No. 48 Lowe’s Impala SS in the Budweiser Shootout, which airs live on FOX at 8 p.m.  ET. Johnson won the Budweiser Shootout in 2005 and finished third in last season’s event. The 33-year-old has appeared in the exhibition race every year since 2003 and never has finished outside the top-10.

Participating in the event also means Johnson will have additional seat time on the 2.5-mile superspeedway—a definite benefit going into the Daytona 500 on Feb. 15.

“Without any testing this year, the Shootout is going to be a great practice session for all the teams,” Johnson said. “It’s always been a benefit to be a part of it, but this year probably more than ever. I’m really excited to get back in the car and get back racing. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the start of our season and that’s really the first part of it.”

In addition to the Budweiser Shootout this weekend at Daytona, Sprint Cup Series qualifying for the Feb. 15 Daytona 500 will take place on Sunday, airing live on FOX at 1 p.m., ET.

In seven Daytona 500 starts, Johnson has qualified just once outside the top 10. He has won the pole award twice—last season and in 2002, which marked his Daytona 500 debut.

“These days, your starting position and track position in general have been very, very important at Daytona,” Johnson said. “These cars punch such a big hole in the air that from fifth on back you can’t really even stay in the draft once the tires get old. If you can start up front and stay up front it’ll really do a lot for you, especially in the daylight hours.

“Once the sun goes down I think the grip comes back to the track, and it’s a little easier to stay in the draft. The start of the race last year we were really spread out and that front starting position was really important.”