Jimmy Johnson hopes for big success this season
Published 9:20 pm Wednesday, February 22, 2006
By By SCOTT NOVAK / Niles Daily Star
NILES - No one since 1949 has won the Daytona 500 and the NASCAR Nextel Cup championship in the same season.
Jimmie Johnson hopes to change all that.
Johnson will have to do it without his crew chief, Chad Knaus, for the next three races.
Johnson continues to answer questions about the legitimacy of this Daytona 500 victory on Sunday instead of questions about winning a series championship or how it felt to win NASCAR's biggest event.
In a teleconference on Tuesday, Johnson said that he knows first hand how tough it is to win a championship after taking the season-opening race.
After all, he watched teammate Jeff Gordon win the Daytona 500 last season and three races in the first two months of the season, and then fail to make the "Chase for the Cup" at the end of the year.
"I heard a stat today that the last time someone won the 500 and the championship was like in 1949 or something crazy," Johnson said in a telephone interview. "So a long time ago, whatever it was. I hope that's not the case.
"You know, Daytona is a different race. We only have four plate races a year. I feel very confident with our restrictor plate program. It's been a very strong part of Hendrick Motorsports. With that in mind, I've got three other chances," Johnson continued. But the season really starts this coming weekend. The track in Fontana really sets the pace for the rest of the season. Once we leave Fontana, we'll know a lot more about where we stack up in the championship race relative to the competition."
Johnson learned later in the day the extend of the suspension for Knaus, who was banned from Daytona following qualifying when the No. 48 Lowe's Chevrolet was found to be in violation of NASCAR rules.
It was not the first time Johnson's Hendrick Motorsports crew chief has been found in violation of the rules over the years.
"My version of fair is probably a lot different than anyone else's," Johnson responded when asked what he thinks a fair penalty would be for Knaus. "I just had to be without my crew chief the biggest race of the year, you know, told we're being penalized for something that took place in qualifying, we served our penalty, went to the back of the field, worked our way up through the duels, went on from there.
"I think from my standpoint, we've been through a lot already for a qualifying infraction. But I also do know that NASCAR is in a position that they have past history, and they have to be consistent in their rulings," he said. "So we're preparing for a four week suspension based on that with what happened with Todd Berrier. I'm mentally preparing for it, the team is, but we're obviously hoping for better than that and we'll have to see what happens."
On having to answer so many questions about the team and the violation, Johnson said that it is getting to be tiresome.
"You know, there's nothing I can do about it, so I'm accepting it," he said. " I'm happy to see that as these last two days have gone by, a lot of people are understanding that it was a qualifying infraction, and there was a whole week that followed, along with the race and the duels, then we cleared inspection in the 500 after we won the race.
"As everybody could imagine, we were being closely watched to make sure nothing happened, and we flew inspection four or five times with flying colors. I think that story is now coming out, and I'm very glad to see that. I think it's been a little misleading. Yes, we were disqualified and our time was thrown out, but it was a week ago in qualifying and it had nothing to do with the Daytona 500. I hate that I'm answering the questions, but it is what it is," he added.
Johnson said the fact that he actually won the biggest race that his sport has to offer is beginning to set in.
"To win the Daytona 500 of all things, it's indescribable," Johnson said. "Coming off of turn four, watching the flashbulbs pop, seeing the starter with the flag in his hand, I had a four car length lead over the guys behind me, I couldn't believe it. I just came unglued."
The Nextel Cup heads to Fontana, Calif. This week for the second of 36 races this season. The Auto Parts 500 can be seen live on Fox Sports beginning at 3:30 p.m.