Darlington II: Jimmie Johnson preview

DARLINGTON, S.C. (August 25, 2003) - Team Lowe's Racing driver Jimmie Johnson is looking forward to his return to the track "too tough to tame." In his first two starts at Darlington, Johnson posted two top-10 finishes, but his third start was...

DARLINGTON, S.C. (August 25, 2003) - Team Lowe's Racing driver Jimmie Johnson is looking forward to his return to the track "too tough to tame." In his first two starts at Darlington, Johnson posted two top-10 finishes, but his third start was not as successful. In the spring race earlier this season, Johnson was involved in an early accident early, which made for an extra long afternoon both on the track and in the pits.

This weekend, Johnson is hoping to return to his top-10 ways in the historic Mountain Dew Southern 500. Johnson is coming off of his career best finish at Bristol Motor Speedway (fifth) and a two-position jump in the overall Winston Cup points standing to fourth, 65 points behind third-place driver Kevin Harvick.

Jimmie Johnson Quotes

(WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ABOUT THIS BEING THE LAST LABOR DAY SOUTHERN 500?)

"NASCAR is in a really hard position right now. Yes, it's hard to imagine not racing at Darlington on Labor Day because it's been a tradition for NASCAR and its fans for a very long time. But in order for this sport to grow, NASCAR needs to look at ways of expanding its fan base. In NASCAR's eyes, one of the ways to do this is to relocate races and shift the schedule to areas where we don't race as much, like out on the west coast. We only race in California a couple of times a year and they felt going back there would help grow the sport. In order to grow this sport, we need to continue to reach new demographics and potential fans. There is not a perfect solution on how to best grow this sport, but NASCAR is trying to do its best. The good news is that we'll still be racing twice at Darlington, one of the oldest tracks on the circuit."

(IN THREE RACES AT DARLINGTON, YOU HAVE TWO TOP-10 FINISHES. WHAT MAKES YOU SO STRONG ON A TRACK THAT IS TYPICALLY KNOWN AS VETERAN TRACK?)

"I love racing at Darlington. I said it earlier this year - Darlington is a place where I want to win. The place is so intimidating to hear people talk about and when you finally get out there, you know why it is so intimidating. The walls seem to jump out at you. You just have to race there a few times and develop a feel for the track and what you can and can't do on it. It's a place where you are forced to drive within your means. The most important thing to do, you need to race the track and not the other race cars around you. That's where I got into trouble earlier this year. I started to race the No. 40 and not the track and ended up pinching him and wrecking the both of us. Stay within your means, make the proper changes in the pits and stay out of trouble. If you can do those three things, you'll be in good shape come the end of the race."

(WHAT IS YOUR SECRET TO BRISTOL? YOU HAVE THREE TOP-10 FINISHES IN JUST FOUR STARTS.)

"Three top-10 finishes in four races at Bristol is pretty crazy. Bristol is the type of track that you just don't know what to expect when you strap-in at the beginning of the race. I've struggled in qualifying there, but the more experience there I get, the better I think we will qualify. As a team, we are putting more into the race, especially this season, rather than in qualifying.

"As far as racing there, I've found that you just have to enter the night relaxed and focused and be ready to take what comes. It is a track that you have to be extremely aggressive on, but it is a contained aggression if that makes sense. You have to know when to push real hard and know when to let off. Bristol is a place where you just can't control some things, just ask Rusty (Wallace) about that."

(THE POINTS BATTLE BETWEEN THIRD AND SIXTH IS EXTREMELY TIGHT. HOW DO YOU SEE THE SEASON CLOSING OUT?)

"It's just so hard to say. I'd like to tell you that Team Lowe's will win the remaining 12 races and have the largest comeback in Winston Cup history to capture the cup, but I think that it would be highly unlikely because the No. 17 would still have to run into trouble at every race for us to do that.

"The No. 17 has been extremely consistent and just when you think you have them up against the ropes, they battle back and finish in the top-10. That is a sign of a strong and smart team. Matt (Kenseth) has been able to stay out of trouble all year and take advantage of situations all season long. He is a great race car driver with an extremely strong team around him.

"The points standings will come down to consistency. I like our changes as much as any team. Team Lowe's learned a lot last season when we were in the championship hunt and I think we are more mentally and physically prepared for the final push of the season. We have tracks coming up that we have excelled on. We swept at Lowe's Motor Speedway earlier this year, swept Dover last year and won at Loudon earlier this year, so those are tracks we feel really good about going back to. It looks like Kevin (Harvick) is on a roll right now and has a lot of momentum going for him. Hopefully our first top-five at Bristol will give us some momentum and start carrying us.

"The No. 97 team had a strong push at the end of the last season and you know that No. 24 team is always capable of going on a win streak. We just need to stay consistent, not make any mental errors and give it everything we have over the last push here. It's important for Team Lowe's to continue to learn, continue to grow as a team and end the season on a strong note. Ideally, we want to finish higher in the points standings then we did last season, but at the end of the season, that isn't the main thing we'll base our success on."

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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Kevin Harvick , Jimmie Johnson