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Johnson gears up for 13th Cup start at Auto Club Speedway

CONCORD, N.C. (Feb. 18, 2009) —Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson returns to his home state of California this weekend for Sunday’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, Calif.

Johnson, 33, has an impressive resume when it comes to running at the two-mile track, which is located only two hours north of his hometown El Cajon, Calif. Johnson started off solid there, earning his first Sprint Cup win in his first Cup outing at the racetrack on April 28, 2002. Since then, he has led 523 laps and accumulated three wins, eight top-five finishes, eight top-10s and one pole position in 12 Cup starts there. He always has finished on the lead lap.

This weekend, Johnson will pilot the No. 48 Kobalt Tools Chevrolet in the 500-mile event at Auto Club Speedway. The race will air live on FOX this Sunday at 5 p.m. ET.

“California has a special place in my heart, especially El Cajon,” Johnson said. “It’s neat to go back and let my mind go down memory lane and all the experiences that come with it.

“Maybe some day I can end up back in California when my Cup career is done. But as of now, I’ve been in Charlotte since 1997 so it’s been a while.”

Johnson’s most recent trip to Fontana also ended with a trip to Victory Lane. Last August, Johnson led 228 of the 250 laps before taking the checkered flag.

But this time around Johnson and the No. 48 team only have previous race experience to draw on for preparation.  Johnson said NASCAR’s ban on testing at Sprint Cup tracks means the drivers enter the next couple races without knowing what to expect.

“This year, we don’t have a clue. We haven’t tested,” Johnson said. “My fingers are crossed, but I have to have the mindset that we’re going to be off and just go to Fontana and learn from there.

“I think it’s going to be a very challenging year for the teams. They’re going to have to sacrifice the practice sessions on Friday and the potential for a good qualifying position.”

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