Daytona 500: Jimmie Johnson - NASCAR spotlight

Johnson one of many surprises in recent years to capture the Bud Pole for the Daytona 500. DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 6, 2003) -- Jimmie Johnson arrived at Daytona International Speedway a year ago as a virtual unknown, and it only took one fast...

Johnson one of many surprises in recent years to capture the Bud Pole for the Daytona 500.

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. (Feb. 6, 2003) -- Jimmie Johnson arrived at Daytona International Speedway a year ago as a virtual unknown, and it only took one fast lap around the 2.5-mile superspeedway to launch the unheralded rookie in the media spotlight.

Johnson achieved instant celebrity by virtue of performing that one lap during Bud Pole qualifying for the Daytona 500 and becoming just the third rookie in NASCAR modern-era (1972-current) to earn the pole position for the "Great American Race."

"Winning the pole last year was fantastic, but in some ways it also was a strange situation," said Johnson, who won the pole with a lap of 185.831 miles per hour and finished 15th in the Daytona 500 in the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet co-owned by Rick Hendrick and Jeff Gordon. "It is extremely hard going down to Daytona for the first time and winning the pole -- you're a rookie and it's the Super Bowl of motorsports and you do it in your first attempt in a Winston Cup car. It just blows you away."

Johnson proved to not be a one-hit wonder, earning three wins and four Bud Poles en route to a fifth-place finish in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series championship. He also finished runner-up to Ryan Newman in one of the most tightly contested Raybestos Rookie of the Year battles.

Johnson, a 27-year-old Californian, set the tone for the season with the Daytona 500 pole position, but his performance is just one of several Daytona pole surprises that have occurred. It may not match the shocker when former two-time ARCA champion Ramo Stott took the pole in 1976 for fledgling owner Norris Reed, but it fits well with some others of the past decade.

Dating to 1993, four other instances come to mind in terms of surprises on Bud Pole day at Daytona International Speedway. Will a fifth arise when Bud Pole qualifying takes place, beginning at 1:15 p.m. ET Sunday?

Chad Knaus, Johnson's crew chief, is well aware that another one could be in store because of the various factors involved. And he is one that should know. In addition to last year's surprise, Knaus pulled quite a shocker the previous year as well. In his second career race as a crew chief, he put Stacy Compton on the outside pole in a Dodge, which had just returned to the sport after nearly a 16-year absence.

"Everything just has to be perfect to get the Daytona 500 pole," Knaus said. "The sun plays a factor, the wind plays a factor, oil temperature plays a factor -- there are so many variables. To get a great run, everything has to be perfect and I think that's why we may see some guys who have not had success in getting poles wind up getting one here."

Among some of the stunning Daytona 500 pole-winning efforts:

* In 1993, Kyle Petty, driving for Felix Sabates, landed a Pontiac on the pole for the first time since Benny Parsons did so in 1982. It was the eighth pole of his career, but none on a track close to this length. In fact, Daytona's 2.5-mile layout is longer than the three tracks combined where he attained his other poles (1.057-mile Rockingham, .625-mile North Wilkesboro and .526-mile Martinsville). Petty completed 170 of the 200 laps, falling out due to an accident and finishing 31st.

* In 1994, Loy Allen Jr. pulled one of the more startling performances in the history of the prestigious event. The former ARCA driver was making his sixth career NASCAR Winston Cup start -- and first in the Daytona 500 -- for the moderately funded team of owner Mark Smith and put the No. 19 Ford on the pole. He went on to finish 22nd.

* In 1997, rookie Mike Skinner, driving for Richard Childress in his first full season, became the second rookie in four years to win the pole in the season-opening event. The pole came in his first Daytona 500 attempt and just his 16th career NASCAR Winston Cup start.

* In 2001, Bill Elliott earned the fourth Daytona 500 pole of his career, tying him for the all-time lead with Cale Yarborough and Buddy Baker, but the significance was in the manufacturer he put on the pole. Elliott placed a Dodge on the pole in its first race after the manufacturer returns from a nearly 16-year absence from the series. It marked only the third time in Daytona 500 history that a Dodge has sat on the pole, the others being Bobby Isaac in 1972 and Buddy Baker in 1973.

Johnson added to the lore by winning the Daytona 500 pole in his first attempt and fourth NASCAR Winston Cup start overall. He is looking to become the first driver to repeat as the Daytona 500 Bud Pole winner since Ken Schrader won three in a row from 1988-90.

"Last year we had to put everything on the line in testing since we had no provisionals to fall back on being a new team," said Johnson, who was atop the speed charts throughout the 2002 winter test session at DIS. "This year we have not shown everything we have and we also are in a learning process with the new 2003 Chevy Monte Carlo body style. In an ideal world, we'll qualify strong and hopefully be in the top 10. We won't know what we truly have until we get down there."


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Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Bill Elliott , Jeff Gordon , Mike Skinner , Kyle Petty , Ken Schrader , Ryan Newman , Stacy Compton , Jimmie Johnson , Benny Parsons , Chad Knaus , Buddy Baker , Felix Sabates , Cale Yarborough