DAYTONA BEACH, (January 7, 2002) - Rookie Jimmie Johnson, in his first trip to Daytona International Speedway in the new No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Warehouse Chevrolet Monte Carlo, wasted no time taking his new ride to the front of the pack.
Johnson was third fastest in the morning practice session, at 49.227/182.826 mph, and moved up to the quickest spot in the afternoon, running 49.148/183.120 mph. Johnson outpaced teammate and new boss Jeff Gordon in both sessions and led the stable of Hendrick Motorsports drivers. The primary car he tested was a new Chevrolet Monte Carlo built last year for Jeff Gordon but never raced. New crew chief Chad Knaus added a new body and a few adjustments, and the car was ready for action.
"We drivers wish we could take the credit, but everybody knows this is the result of a lot of hard work," said Johnson. "Everybody at Hendrick Motorsports has really put this speedway program as a priority to better the qualifying results. I think all three Hendrick cars that are here today ended up right around the top five. That's a real good showing for the engine department, the chassis department and the aero guys.
Johnson said the pressure to qualify well at Daytona is on his mind, but not a worry. "Qualifying is definitely on your mind when you don't have any provisionals," he added. "You want to put up a good speed and get a solid qualifying lap. Anything can happen on the 125 so you want to be able to fall back on a good lap.
"Today was just a great start for us. There are a lot of new things going on here. A new team, a new driver and a great sponsor like Lowe's. Having a solid test here is really going to help our confidence when we come back. The Lowe's car was working really well with me. I learned a lot about keeping the momentum up and carrying the momentum off the corners. It was great having Jeff to turn to. When I had a realization about something happening in the car, I could go to him and have him confirm what I was feeling."
Johnson added that he is adjusting to his new team and learning how they can all work together. "It's amazing how young this Lowe's team is. I'm the third oldest here, and last year I was the youngest. But, they are all really smart and knowledgeable people. They have the fire to be successful, and so do I. Today I learned that we all share this common desire and that's going to make us a great team in the future.