Atlanta II: Jimmie Johnson preview

Team Lowe's Racing looking to gain more ground in Atlanta. Rookie Johnson just 82 points out of lead following a strong 6th place finish in Martinsville. ATLANTA (Oct. 22, 2002) - Team Lowe's Racing's rookie driver Jimmie Johnson might have set...

Team Lowe's Racing looking to gain more ground in Atlanta.
Rookie Johnson just 82 points out of lead following a strong 6th place finish in Martinsville.

ATLANTA (Oct. 22, 2002) - Team Lowe's Racing's rookie driver Jimmie Johnson might have set a world record for holding one's breath the longest last weekend in Martinsville, Vir. Johnson and most of Team Lowe's viewed Martinsville as the racetrack that would provide them with the hardest test over the final five races of the season. Johnson had only one Winston Cup start on the track leading into last weekend and in that start, his Lowe's Chevy lost a rear gear that left him with a 35th place finish.

In addition to Johnson's lack of experience and hard luck on the short tracks this season, he knew that Martinsville is one of point leader Tony Stewart's strongest tracks, a track where he holds the qualifying record and has won there once before in the Fall of 2000.

Johnson was able to let go a big sigh of relief following the Martinsville race when he scored his NASCAR Winston Cup leading 20th top 10 finish of the season. Even better, Johnson was able to pick-up 15 points on Stewart, who experienced handling problems following a collision near the end of the Sunday's race.

Now, Johnson returns to Atlanta for this Sunday's NAPA 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Earlier this year, Johnson scored his first top five of his career at Atlanta finishing third overall. But just when you think that Johnson might have an advantage in the hotly contested championship points battle, Stewart has not been to shabby at Atlanta. One of the two cars that finished ahead of Johnson at Atlanta was Stewarts's who won the event. Team Lowe's Racing is hoping that it can replicate its strong performance at Martinsville, which saw it gain 15 points on Stewart. If Johnson and Team Lowe's Racing can finish 5 spots ahead of Stewart in the points battle in each of the next four races, Johnson could become the first rookie to claim the Winston Cup championship.

Jimmie Johnson on racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway

"Atlanta Motor Speedway is one of my favorite tracks and a track that we've had some success on this season. It offers multi groove racing, which allows for more passing and in my opinion, better racing. Tracks with multiple grooves really work in my favor because with my dirt background I keep searching around for a line that works and usually find something before the day is over. We had a great run there earlier this season with a third place finish and we are hoping that the second time back there, we can be as strong as the first. The important thing is to remain patient and let the race come to you. Don't get me wrong, you need to be aggressive enough to take advantage of certain situations, but these are long races and you don't want to put yourself in a bad position when there is still a lot of racing left."

How fast is Atlanta Motor Speedway

"I was there in a Busch car and got a good feel for how fast it was. In a Busch car you could run flat out around there at the time with the old engine combination. It was pretty impressive. It's a track where you can be as brave as you ever want to be in qualifying. The race is a different story. You can be brave at the start of a run but the tires start to give up and you can't do that all day long. Qualifying-wise, you are only out of the gas a few car lengths in turns one and two, real easily roll out of it and then roll back into it. As you get into turn three, you really don't need to get out of the gas and you only get out to half or quarter throttle and then get back to wide open again. It's hard to make yourself not lift all the way off the throttle. It makes an exciting lap and you really only like to do one and that's about it (laughs)."

As fast as the track is, can you still race

"It's one of our best tracks to race. The race pace slows down a lot and the groove is from the inside wall to the outside wall. That makes for great racing and doesn't limit anyone aero-wise plus it gives you a variety of lines to choose for the setup that your car has."

How different is Atlanta vs. Lowe's Motor Speedway

"Atlanta is totally different than Lowe's Motor Speedway. The whole thing is the way the transitions are and the way you catch the banking. Every track is different. It's how you moved the dirt before you poured the asphalt down. Atlanta is a lot smoother than Lowe's to start with, plus the transitions are a little bit more fluent and you catch the banking sooner which will let you carry more speed. Here (at Lowe's) everything is a little bit more abrupt and a little rougher."

Chad Knaus on racing at Atlanta Motor Speedway

"This will be the fastest racetrack for the Winston Cup race cars. It will be important to have solid horsepower, good down force to get through the corners at a high rate of speed and a little bit of luck, especially to avoid contact during the caution laps.

"Earlier this season the Lowe's team had its first top five of the season and I really think that that race was one that jumped started our season. We had a string of top 10 finishes after that and I think it gave this team a boost in confidence that we've carried this entire season.

"As long as we can stay out of trouble, we'll be happy at the end of the day."

Jimmie Johnson Fast Facts

* Ranks second in the Winston Cup Series championship standings, 82 points behind the leader

* Is the first Raybestos Rookie contender 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 32 races

* Has four Bud Pole positions this season, tied for the 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 (336-316)

* Has been the highest finishing rookie 16 times this season

* The 20 top-10 finishes is tied for the 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)

* 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 12 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))

Jimmie Johnson at Atlanta Motor Speedway

* In two Winston Cup races, 18th is his average qualifying position and 16th is his average finishing position

* His Winston Cup record at Atlanta Motor Speedway is:

* NAPA 500 - 2001: started 21st and finished 29th

* MBNA America 500 - 2002: started 15th and finished 3rd

* In the Busch Series, 18th was his average qualifying position and 18th was his average finishing position

* His Busch record at Atlanta Motor Speedway is:

* Aaron's 312 - 2001: started 25th and finished 9th

* Aaron's 312 - 2000: started 11th and finished 27th

No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet Fast Facts

* Team Lowe's Racing will bring car 4850

* This is the same Lowe's Chevy that Johnson drove to two wins at Dover, a fourth place finish at Chicagoland and a seventh place finish at the Spring Bristol race.

-hm/lowe's-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Tony Stewart , Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus