Talladega: Jimmie Johnson preview

Johnson hoping to make it past warm-up laps unscathed. Team Lowe's Racing eager to erase memories from last Talladega event. TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 1, 2003) - To say Team Lowe's is exciting about going to Talladega this weekend might be an ...

Johnson hoping to make it past warm-up laps unscathed.
Team Lowe's Racing eager to erase memories from last Talladega event.

TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 1, 2003) - To say Team Lowe's is exciting about going to Talladega this weekend might be an understatement. Driver Jimmie Johnson and crew chief Chad Knaus have had a hard time forgetting about the last time Team Lowe's tackled Alabama's superspeedway.

Johnson started on the pole as a result of a rainout, and during the warm-up laps just prior to the start, Mark Martin's car made contact with the Lowe's Chevy. The resulting damage wreaked havoc to the car's aero package and forced Johnson onto pit road just when the race went green, leaving Team Lowe's to play catch-up all afternoon.

Just when they thought it couldn't get any worse, Team Lowe's lost its engine just when it looked like it was going to be able to salvage some points out of a bad afternoon. This Sunday offers Team Lowe's the opportunity to wipe the slate clean at Talladega and continue its charge to the front of the Winston Cup points standings.

Jimmie Johnson on mentally preparing for Talladega

"Speedway racing, with the restrictor plates and everything that goes on, probably requires the least amount of mental preparation of the events we compete in. I find through the practices, Happy Hours and everything else we have going on, there's a lot of emphasis on remembering the draft and to sort out what changes we have for that year's car. But in general, looking ahead to Talladega right now, I'm laid back and I'm expecting a mellow weekend."

Johnson on what it will take to get a win at Talladega

"It's been very important for me to gain experience in speedway races. I've made some rapid improvement. I almost won the Daytona 500. If we can keep the DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.) cars separated and get some help from one of my teammates, I think we have a shot at it (the win)."

Johnson on if he is the guy that can beat Dale Earnhardt Jr. and if there is more emphasis on Talladega because of his qualifying success there

"I hope so. I like that position. Paying attention to qualifying there is really not related to the driver. That's something that the team is able to find - the motor shop finding more horsepower - the driver has nothing to do with that. I've been very fortunate to start up front every time I've been at Talladega. I think we've made some improvement to our racecars since Daytona. I think I qualified 14th on speed there. I think we'll be top 15, top 10. Chad had his hand slapped pretty good last year trying to find all that magic he gained on the pole in a speedway race. I don't anticipate us really researching those gray areas to find that speed because of what we went through last year. It cost us some valuable points there. So qualifying-wise, we're not too worried about. But I've gained a lot of experience and made some good friends out there in the draft. Hopefully when we get up there we'll give the leader a run for his money."

Johnson on pacing himself at Talladega

"My game plan is to stay towards the front. Obviously, the closer you are to the front the safer you feel. But in recent history, we've had some of the biggest wrecks start at the front. So, it's kind of hard to know exactly where you need to be. But it seems like two-thirds of the race, there are different moves that you know you're not going to make yet. It's too early. It's not worth it. And then as you get to the end there - really the last pit stop - the slack you give people gets shorter and shorter. That whole space between the cars seems to get smaller and smaller. That just seems to be the rhythm of the race I think, rather than my own style. It's just kind of what I've seen go on and take place. It's just not worth it to be too risky too early."

Johnson on whether or not bravery is a reason for his success at Talladega

"I don't think bravery is really the key. Every one of those guys out there is pretty courageous. I think it's more about smarts. I've found that in general about a lot of racetracks. It's not about courage. It's about using your head. I've been over-drafting the car at other racetracks and it's also a case that you can look a little erratic or be too risky and lose trust between yourself and the other guys out there. You can't work alone there. You have to have everybody trust you and believe in you and work with you."

Johnson on making the right decisions in restrictor plate races

"At Daytona, I felt like I made all the right decisions and took the right risks at the right time, but I made a move that hurt me in the 125 Shootout and in the IROC race. I got a little anxious and made a move at the three-quarter mark that hurt me. I shouldn't have done it. For the (Daytona) 500, I wasn't going to make that same move again. Really, your smarts come into play in recognizing what's going on behind you in your mirror and how your line is forming. Those are the situations you've got to look for. It's really hard to set that stuff up. You've just got to be smart and patient and wait for that exact time to happen. If it doesn't happen, hopefully the guy in front of you is impatient and you can get by him because of a mistake that he makes. But you've got to be smart and give the guys behind you no other option but to follow you. And that's the whole key."

Johnson on driving in the rearview mirror

"Your spotter really paints a picture behind you about how tight the formation is and who is back there. From past experiences, when you look in the mirror and see who it is, you know if the guy will work with you or if he's going to try and hang you out. You kind of remember the day's events and what's gone on, plus past races and what someone's done to you before and handle each situation differently."

Johnson on Team Lowe's engine problems

"I knew we dropped a cylinder in Atlanta and in practice they were just freak part failures and weird things happening. But we did drop a cylinder in Sunday's and we're trying to learn why."

Chad Knaus on winning the last four poles at Talladega

"I've been fortunate enough to have a group of guys that share my same passion for restrictor plate racing. To win a pole at a restrictor plate everything has to come together. You're guys have to put everything together right at the shop. The guys at the track have to put everything together preparing for qualifying. In addition, you have to push the envelope try and find the right combination. It takes a lot to get the race car where it needs to be to sit on the pole, but when you do, it is a great feeling."

Knaus on the odds he'll be five for five on poles at Talladega

"Team Lowe's is not going there this weekend thinking we'll sit on the pole. As I said before, to get the pole you have to push the gray areas and last season we tried and got dinged 25 points and that really hurt us. We have won poles on restrictor plate tracks, we now want to win a race and that is one of our goals this season. In Daytona we concentrated on getting the Lowe's Chevy in the best shape for racing and we finished third. We have the same philosophy this weekend and we hope it equals a better finish."

Jimmie Johnson Fast Facts

* Ranks fifth in the Winston Cup Series championship standings, 205 points behind leader Matt Kenseth.

* Johnson has four top-10 finishes (Daytona - 3rd, Rockingham -8th, Bristol - 8th, Texas - 8th)

* Johnson was on the pole for both Talladega races last season.

* Including last season, Johnson has won the pole at Daytona and Talladega three out of the five races.

* Johnson scored the second most points on superspeedways in 2002 with 3,813 points. He was 32 points behind teammate and part car owner, Jeff Gordon.

* On superspeedways last season, Johnson had three wins, three poles, six top-five and 19 top-10 finishes. He also led 13 races for 837 laps or 1,128.502 miles.

Jimmie Johnson at Talladega Superspeedway

*    In the Winston Cup Series, 1st is his average starting position and 21st is his average finishing position.

     * Aaron's 499 (spring) - 2002: started 1st and finished 7th
     * EA Sports 500 (fall) - 2002: started 1st and finished 37th
*    In the Busch Series, 28th was his average start and finish.

     * Touchstone Energy 300 - 2000: started 28th and finished 29th
     * Subway 300 - 2001: started 29th and finished 28th

No. Chassis No. 4870

* 4870 was newly built over the off-season for the 2003 superspeedways. This is the same Lowe's Chevy that Johnson drove during the 2003 Daytona Speedweeks. During Speedweeks, Johnson finished 7th in the Budweiser Shootout, 5th in his Gatorade 125 heat and 3rd in the Daytona 500.

Broadcast Schedule
Qualifying - Friday, April 4 at 4 p.m. (ET) on SPEED; 4 p.m. (ET) on MRN

Happy Hour - Saturday, April 5 at 1 p.m. (ET) on FX (Taped Delay)

Race - Sunday, April 6 at 12 noon (ET) on FOX; 12:30 p.m. (ET) on MRN

-hm/lowe's-

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Dale Earnhardt , Dale Earnhardt Jr. , Jeff Gordon , Matt Kenseth , Jimmie Johnson , Chad Knaus , Mark Martin