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Johnson ready to shed runner-up status

1/19/2005

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- After losing the title by just eight
points last year in the closest championship race in the history of
NASCAR's top series, Jimmie Johnson can hardly wait to put that behind him and get started on 2005.

"As far as '05, we finished up strong last year and had to
overcome one of the biggest challenges with the airplane going
down,'' Johnson said, referring to the Oct. 24 crash of a Hendrick
Motorsports plane in which 10 people, including team owner Rick
Hendrick's son, brother and two nieces were killed.

"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.''

Johnson is testing this week at Daytona International Speedway,
along with the other teams that finished in even-numbered positions
in 2004 Nextel Cup points.

Scott Riggs led the way Wednesday in a Chevrolet at 186.097 mph,
followed by Johnny Sauter's Dodge at 185.935 and the Chevys of Joe
Nemechek at 185.924, Robby Gordon at 185.300 and Johnson at
185.193.

The top lap by Riggs places him second so far this month. Dale
Jarrett turned a lap of 186.455 in a Ford during three days of
testing last week by the drivers who finished in the odd-numbered
positions in the points.

Johnson, who won a series-high eight races in 2004, has been in
Cup racing only three years and has finished in the top five in
points each time, including the runner-up spot each of the past two
seasons.

"To be second two years in a row, we really, really want a
championship,'' Johnson said. "From growing up around the sport,
watching it, and working in it, it's not something you sign up for
and get.

"Last year was a very special year for us to win eight,
overcome the tragedy of the airplane, and win four in the final 10.
That's going to be tough to beat. A championship will beat that.''