NASCAR Cup drivers testing at Daytona for 24 Hour race

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 3, 2004) -- NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson is accustomed to turning laps on Daytona International Speedway's historic 2.5-mile tri-oval in his No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Chevrolet. But during ...

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., (Jan. 3, 2004) -- NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series driver Jimmie Johnson is accustomed to turning laps on Daytona International Speedway's historic 2.5-mile tri-oval in his No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Chevrolet.

But during Saturday's first day of Rolex Sports Car Series testing for the 42nd anniversary of the Rolex 24 At Daytona on Jan. 31-Feb. 1, Johnson was behind the wheel of the No. 4 Howard-Boss Motorsports Chevrolet Crawford Daytona Prototype.

Johnson, who finished second in the 2003 NEXTEL Cup Series championship standings, will co-drive the sports car with Butch Leitzinger, Elliott-Forbes Robinson and Dave Brule in the twice-around-the-clock challenge.

"I've always wanted to compete in (the Rolex 24)," Johnson said. "I didn't realize I was going to have a chance to compete at such a great level with the Crawford group and the Daytona Prototype class. Through the holidays, it's been the first thing I've been thinking about. I know Daytona is coming for us in the Cup car. But my first race is going to be the Rolex race. When I wake up each morning and think of race cars, I've been thinking of that race and nothing else."

Johnson is only testing on Saturday. Expected to test on Sunday will be fellow NEXTEL Cup Series drivers Tony Stewart and Dale Earnhardt Jr., who will join forces with Andy Wallace in the No. 2 Howard-Boss Chevrolet Crawford Daytona Prototype.

Other NEXTEL Cup Series drivers that are potential Rolex 24 entrants are Kyle Petty and Kevin Harvick.

"I think we're all racers," Johnson said. "If it fits in our schedules, we would love to do it. It's just so hard to do anything else during our busy season. After (the season) you're so burned out you don't want to do anything. But something before (the season), we're dumb enough to climb back in and do it again."

Johnson turned his first laps in the late morning on Saturday and quickly found out how different the Daytona Prototype is from a stock car.

"I think I made two laps," Johnson said. "I spun out on my second one. I didn't hit anything. I got (the spin) out of the way. It's a totally different vehicle to be in. I'm going to have a lot of fun with it. I'm really looking forward to it. It's the first time meeting a lot of the drivers I'm teamed up with. It's going to be a great experience."

Johnson, who sat on the pole for the 2002 Daytona 500, is also looking forward to the Rolex 24 because he won't have to worry about competing for those valuable NEXTEL Cup Series championship points.

"It's just for fun," Johnson said. "It's obviously a serious effort. (The team) wants to win the race. For me, it's a great way to work out all the rust out of my head and get all my hand and eye coordination working proper. It's a great way to knock off the rust and have some fun."

Johnson's co-drivers are helping introduce him to his new ride.

"Jimmie is a really good guy to work with," sports car veteran Elliott Forbes-Robinson said. "He wants to do this and he wants to have a good time at it. He wants to do well at it. But the thing is he will do well at it because he's a good driver."

Rolex Sports Car Series testing continues on Sunday and Monday. The test sessions are free and open to the public with access to the Oldfield Grandstand through the lobby of DAYTONA USA.

Tickets for the Rolex 24 At Daytona are available online at www.daytonainternationalspeedway.com or by calling 1-800-PITSHOP.

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Series Grand-Am
Drivers Andy Wallace , Dale Earnhardt , Tony Stewart , Kyle Petty , Butch Leitzinger , Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson