Johnson To Jump-Start Season
February 2, 2005 | 12:00 A.M. EST
That's the unfortunate persona the Californian now carries after finishing second in the NEXTEL Cup points standings two straight seasons. But Johnson doesn't look at his second place runs as failures, rather he believes they will only help him in the future.
"We always feel that there's more to win and I think that's just the competitive nature in everyone," he said after a recent test session in Daytona. "To be second two years in a row - we really, really want a championship. From growing up around the sport, watching it, and working in it--it's not something you sign up for and get. We understand how hard that is. We're grateful to have two great years-really three great years in the sport. We hope we're able to win a championship."
His amazing run through the "Chase for the Championship" portion of last season was punctuated by the devastation the entire Hendrick Motorsports organization suffered after the October plane crash that took the lives of ten family members, team personnel and friends.
However Johnson feels the tragedy in some way brought the team closer together and is ready for the season.
"We finished up strong last year and had to overcome one of the biggest challenges with the airplane going down," he said. "Professionally, personally and the range of emotions that go along with that...we've had a winter to heal some more. Everybody has a spring in their step. We're looking forward to a great season. With the rules changing coming, it's going to really mix things up."
The unknown entity of NASCAR's new rules for rear spoilers and tires was somewhat solved during this week's testing session at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Johnson thinks the changes will make for an interesting start to the season.
"The first 6-8 races on the intermediate tracks, it's going to be hard to know who's going to be up front," he said. "There will be an opportunity to have multiple winners. Different winners. No one really has a grasp on this thing yet and granted we are going to have some test sessions coming up for everyone.
"I was in a tire test in Atlanta last week and it's a totally different animal. It's going to be very interesting. A quarter of the way through the season, you'll start to see the usual suspects rise to the top. But in the beginning I think it's going to be a mixed bag. It's going to be a real interesting start to the season."
Which for Johnson will begin just a bit early as he takes the wheel in this weekend's 24 Hours of Daytona.