LOWE'S TEST DAY TWO: NASCAR NEXTEL CUP SERIES TEAMS AT WORK * Standings leader Jimmie Johnson, '05 series runner-up Greg Biffle among media center visitors * Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart top afternoon speed chart CHARLOTTE, N.C. (May...
LOWE'S TEST DAY TWO: NASCAR NEXTEL CUP SERIES TEAMS AT WORK
* Standings leader Jimmie Johnson, '05 series runner-up Greg Biffle among media center visitors
* Elliott Sadler, Tony Stewart top afternoon speed chart
CHARLOTTE, N.C. (May 3, 2006) -- After four consecutive wins at the same track, honing an edge wouldn't seem to be so critical to Jimmie Johnson (No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet). But faced with a newly-paved surface at Lowe's Motor Speedway, the current master of the 1.5-mile tri-oval will take all the testing laps he can turn.
"Track's different, tire's different," Johnson said Wednesday prior to the second day of a NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series test at LMS. "It's really a learning curve right now. I don't feel like we have a huge advantage or that we're going to come in here with the momentum that we may have had in the past just because so much has changed since we were here last time and won."
Consider Johnson's Lowe's Motor Speedway resume:
• Three straight Coca-Cola 600 wins -- the series' longest event
• Four consecutive wins -- including the fall events in 2004 and 2005
• One win in the 2003 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup All-Star Challenge.
No wonder, then, that his opinion is sought. But following the track's off-season re-surfacing, and a new Goodyear tire compound formulated for that fresh asphalt, Johnson and his team are re-stocking their databases this week along with 47 other NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams.
Wednesday marked the second day of a two-day session at LMS, which hosts two points-paying events -- the Coca-Cola 600 on May 28, and the Bank of America 500 on Oct. 14. Lowe's Motor Speedway also will host the non-points NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge on May 20. Originally scheduled as a three-day test from Monday-Wednesday, the sessions were cut to two days because of Monday's rain-delayed Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Still, there is much to learn. Johnson was among five drivers who participated in a Goodyear tire test at Lowe's on March 29. His day ended early after a tire went down and Johnson hit the wall, but this week's session has yielded more information. A harder tire compound and a smaller, NASCAR-mandated fuel cell for LMS events have heightened the learning curve.
"We are working through some things," Johnson said. "We aren't really pleased with the way we ended up last night. We felt like we were learning some things, but some teams were a little bit faster than us. We've got some work to do today, looking forward to getting on the track and making the most of it." This week's Lowe's Motor Speedway test marks the fourth of six designated 2006 tests for NASCAR NEXTEL Cup teams. This year, NASCAR has scheduled those tests as a cost-containment measure at tracks that host series events, and those dates are the only test opportunities at those tracks. The two remaining tests are at Indianapolis Motor Speedway and Homestead-Miami Speedway.
Johnson said not to expect record speeds during the two Lowe's events later this month, partially because of smaller fuel cells to be used in Lowe's Motor Speedway's May events (13 gallons rather than the usual 22 gallons), but principally because of the new tire.
"It has a harder compound, less grip," he added. "We have less grip through the center of the corner and the ability to go fast is way down."
Yet the No. 48 likely will retain the favorite's tag heading into the NASCAR NEXTEL All-Star Challenge and the Coca-Cola 600.
"You know, obviously I hope that I can come back and win another 600, but it's too early and too difficult right now to place a favorite, I think," Johnson said. "After tonight, I think we can form some opinions by looking at the speed charts and go from there. I don't think we have an advantage like we may have had before."
Holding Steady: Biffle Upbeat Despite Poor Luck ... As last season's runner-up to series champion Tony Stewart (No. 20 Home Depot Chevrolet), Greg Biffle (No. 16 National Guard Ford) expected a bit more in 2006 than 23rd place in the standings after nine events.
Mechanical woes and lousy luck may have plagued his Roush Racing team, but not the driver's psyche.
"If you're down in the dumps, have a negative attitude, it reflects on your driving," Biffle said. "It reflects on your pit stops, it reflects on how your car runs. I just go in there thinking that we're fourth, fifth in points, whatever, and we're that kind of team, and we're going to come out of here third or fourth or win, whatever we end up."
The hard knocks include a blown engine the season's second week at California, a race where Biffle led the most laps and was in position to win. Handling problems surfaced at Las Vegas and Atlanta, where he finished eighth and 16th, respectively.
A seventh-place finish at Bristol appeared to stop the trend, but accidents in succeeding events at Martinsville and Texas doomed him to 31st and 42nd, respectively. Two weeks ago at Phoenix, Biffle again appeared headed for victory before running out of fuel in the closing laps. And an early multi-car accident Monday at Talladega gave him a 38th-place finish.
A bolstering call from Director of Ford Racing Technology Dan Davis was particularly welcomed this week, but Biffle said he's truly in good spirits. "The team's real excited because we've been running so well," he said. "We ran extremely well at Phoenix. We ran extremely well everywhere we've been. Our pit stops are really good. We just need to keep doing that. We know that if we keep doing that, we'll get some top-five finishes and some wins in the near future."
Ellliott Sadler, Tony Stewart Fastest in Afternoon Session ... A Ford and a Chevrolet topped the charts following Wednesday's afternoon session. Elliott Sadler (No. 38 M&M's Ford) led all drivers with a top speed of 181.622 mph (29.732 seconds). Tony Stewart (No.20 Home Depot Chevrolet) was second at 181.385 mph (29.771 seconds).
What: NASCAR NEXTEL Cup testing.
Where: Lowe's Motor Speedway.
Track Layout: 1.5-mile tri-oval.
When: Tuesday, May 2 through Wednesday, May 3.
Times: 1 p.m. until 9 p.m. (ET)
Who: 48 drivers in the NASCAR NEXTEL Cup Series