Southern California natives sit 1-2 in the point standings
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 21, 2006) -- Fresh off his Daytona 500 triumph, Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet) will aim for his second straight victory this weekend at California Speedway. Only this time he will be racing in front of many familiar faces.
The El Cajon native returns home to Southern California as the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup points leader and one of the favorites to win the Auto Club 500.
"Anytime I can go back to California and race there at Fontana I'm pumped up for it," Johnson said. "I got my first Cup win there, lots of family and friends will be around, and coming to that race right off of winning the Daytona 500 is gonna be really special."
In six career starts at the track, Johnson has one win and two runner-up finishes. Based on his team's momentum and preseason tests at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Johnson feels good about his chances at the 2-mile track.
"The biggest thing coming out of Daytona is the confidence this team has that we can go out there and perform," he said. "I definitely feel that we'll be competitive and racing for a top five."
A win at Fontana would bode well for the No. 48 team. The last driver to win the first two races of the year was Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon (No. 24 DuPont Chevrolet) in 1997. Gordon opened the season with wins at Daytona and North Carolina Speedway en route to winning 10 races and the series championship.
Casey Mears (No. 42 Texaco/Havoline Dodge), another Southern California native, hopes to be up front racing Johnson for the win. Mears, from Bakersfield, was the runner-up in the Daytona 500 and sits second in the standings.
"I can't wait to get there," Mears said. "California is usually a good race for us and I have a lot friends and family who show up, so I'm looking forward to getting to the track."
Off the track Johnson and Mears are close friends who grew up racing each other in the off-road ranks. At one point they were teammates in the Super Light Division in the Mickey Thompson Stadium Series.
The two had kept up throughout the years when their career paths took them down different avenues -- Mears tried his hand at open-wheel racing before he joined Johnson in NASCAR. And now, each year when the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series returns to California, both have a chance to catch up with former competitors.
"A lot of them show up for the California race and it's always good to catch up. It's cool to be able to see a lot of the old off-road guys," Mears said.