IT ALL COMES DOWN TO MIAMI Team Lowe's Racing battling for rookie of the year and third place overall in the standings HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Nov. 14, 2002) - What better way to end a season then to battle for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title...
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO MIAMI Team Lowe's Racing battling for rookie of the year and third place overall in the standings
HOMESTEAD, Fla. (Nov. 14, 2002) - What better way to end a season then to battle for the Raybestos Rookie of the Year title and for third place overall in the NASCAR Winston Cup point standings at Homestead-Miami Speedway. That is exactly the position that Team Lowe's Racing and its rookie driver Jimmie Johnson find themselves in this weekend.
Johnson is currently fourth overall in the championship standings, a mere eight points out of third and 64 points ahead of the eighth place driver Matt Kenseth. So while he's battling for a top three points finish, he will also be battling with fellow rookie Ryan Newman for the 2002 Raybestos Rookie of the Year title.
Currently, Johnson trails Newman by 20 points in the rookie battle, a deficit that he cannot mathematically overcome with just one race left. But it is not that simple. A rookie panel made up of NASCAR's President, Director of Operations, Winston Cup Series Director, Winston Cup Manager of Communications, and the defending Winston Cup Champion (because Jeff Gordon is part owner of Johnson's team, he was replaced with 2000 champion Bobby Labonte) will judge the two rookies in four separate categories awarding the drivers bonus points (10 through 1 system) to each rookie for the following categories: conduct with officials, track conduct and awareness, personal appearance and relationship with the media.
While each rookie has the statistics to back up their claim as to why he should be the Raybestos Rookie of the Year, it is sure to come down to this final vote taken during champions weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Hopefully for the Lowe's team, it can walk away with the best rookie finish since James Hylton's second place finish in 1966 and a Raybestos Rookie of the Year title to boot.
JIMMIE JOHNSON ON THE RAYBESTOS ROOKIE OF THE YEAR BATTLE WITH RYAN NEWMAN
"We've both had incredible seasons and we still don't know who is going to win the Raybestos Rookie battle. With the way the scoring system works out, the past has shown that whoever has the highest number of Winston Cup points usually ends up with the Raybestos Rookie of the Year honors. So possibly that will happen. I'm not 100 percent sure. But we've both worked hard and have had great seasons. Regardless of how it turns out, we're very proud of our season."
WOULD YOU BE DISAPPOINTED IF YOU DIDN'T WIN IT?
"Of course you want to win it. That's what you start out the season to do. So, I'd definitely be upset in that respect but we can't complain about the season we've had."
WHAT KIND OF WINSTON CUP CHAMPION WOULD TONY STEWART MAKE?
"He's a racer's racer. He might have done some things off the racetrack that I'm sure he's not real happy with and that have left a negative mark out there for him. But he loves the sport of racing and every race fan respects that fact that he's raced everything on the planet and won everything he's ever been in. Winning in NASCAR Winston Cup racing is about being the best. He definitely represents that and has done a great job all season long to earn the championship."
WHAT KIND OF CHAMPION WOULD MARK MARTIN BE?
"Probably going into it, he's the sentimental favorite. We've all watched him a lot of years get very very close to winning the Winston Cup championship. When you think of Winston Cup racing, you think of Mark Martin. It would be hard to believe that he hadn't won a championship when he stepped down from the sport. I think he'd be a great champion as well."
DO YOU GET A SENSE IN THE GARAGE THAT PEOPLE ARE WORRIED ABOUT LEGAL MANEUVERING REGARDING THE POINTS PENALTY FOR MARK MARTIN?
"I personally haven't heard anything. It's been a concern of mine all year long with our points being taken away from us. I never considered any kind of lawsuit being filed. It's their (NASCAR) series and their rulebook and their decision. I would personally be surprised if anything was filed."
WERE YOU SURPRISED TO SEE NASCAR TAKE MARTIN'S POINTS AWAY SO LATE IN THE SEASON?
"No. I'm taking it out of that context. We were a championship contender earlier in the season when the points were taken away from us. I don't think it matters to them where you're at and I think it needs to be that way. If you have something that's questionable or something that's not right, it needs to be fair for everyone regardless of the situation. They shouldn't cut some slack for someone because of where they are in the points. It needs to be fair for everyone. If, after Homestead, if whoever the champion is has something wrong, they need to dock the points then and be consistent so we all know where we stand on a regular basis."
DOES NASCAR'S POINT PENALTY SYSTEM WORK?
"However it is, I want it to be consistent. Based on the fact that we had a bolt that they didn't like earlier in the year and it costing us 25 points, I'm glad to see them reacting to all things. It might be hard to understand the little suspension parts that are involved and the huge advantages. But a spring that has one less coil that allows travel an inch further - we're fighting to get and extra eighth of an inch in travel. Picking up an extra half-inch or an inch has such an advantage. With the aero advantages that we know of today, some of the smallest things are really important."
Jimmie Johnson Fast Facts
* Ranks fourth in the Winston Cup Series championship standings, only eight points out of third
* Is the first Raybestos Rookie contender in history to lead the Winston Cup points race
* Has won three NASCAR Winston Cup races this season (California, Dover - Spring and Fall), tying the rookie record for wins in a season
* Is tied for the fastest modern day driver to reach two wins
* Has three wins, six top-five and 20 top-10 finishes in 35 races
* Has four Bud Pole positions this season, tied for second most in NASCAR Winston Cup (, Daytona, Talladega, Lowe's Motor Speedway and Richmond)
* Is 20 points back in the Raybestos Rookie of the Year Competition (340-320)
* Has been the highest finishing rookie 17 times this season
* The 20 top-10 finishes is second most in the Winston Cup Series (Las Vegas - 6th, Atlanta - 3rd, Darlington - 6th, Bristol - 7th, Texas - 6th, Talladega - 7th, California - 1st, Lowe's Motor Speedway (Spring) - 7th, Dover (Spring) - 1st, Pocono - 3rd, Daytona (Pepsi 400) - 8th, Chicagoland - 4th, Indianapolis - 9th, Michigan - 7th, Darlington - 9th and New Hampshire - 9th, Dover (Fall) - 1st, Kansas - 10th, Lowe's Motor Speedway (Fall) - 6th and Martinsville (Fall) - 6th)
* Only the third rookie in history to win the Daytona 500 pole
* Only the second rookie in history to win a pole at Talladega Superspeedway
* Holds the NWC qualifying record at Lowe's Motor Speedway
* Has led 13 Winston Cup Series races this season (Las Vegas, Talladega, California, Lowe's Motor Speedway (Spring and Fall), Dover (Spring and Fall), Michigan, Chicago, Pocono, Darlington (Fall) and Richmond (Fall) and Phoenix)
* This is the same Lowe's Chevy that Johnson drove to his first Winston Cup victory in California and his first Winston Cup top-10 finish, a sixth place finish in Las Vegas.