Streaking Johnson confident in plate-racing program

Jimmie Johnson, right, talks to his crew chief Chad Knaus during the practice session for the Pepsi 400.

The Associated Press
Published: Saturday, July 1, 2006 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, July 1, 2006 at 12:00 a.m.
DAYTONA BEACH - Nextel Cup points leader Jimmie Johnson believes he has improved significantly at restrictor-plate races.
The results agree. Johnson has won the last two restrictor-plate races, claiming the season-opening Daytona 500 in February and taking the checkered flag at Talladega two months later.
He has a chance to make it three in a row tonight in the Pepsi 400 at Daytona.
"The thing I have learned in restrictor plate races is patience," said Johnson, who will start ninth. "That has worked twice this year and I hope it works again Saturday night."
At least one of Johnson's competitors has noticed the change.
"Jimmie was really bad about blocking very aggressively," said Dale Earnhardt Jr., who has nine victories in various series at Daytona. "I think he gets talked into those situations. I don't believe that's his true personality. I believe he gets sort of talked into making those split-second decisions.
"I've listened to a lot of the radio conversations over the weeks after the races and he gets put in that situation of, 'Look, you can't let them by no matter what.' When in reality it's OK. ... There have been times where he made some moves that I felt caused us a lot of trouble and was a pain in the butt."
Johnson said he feels more confident than ever at restrictor-plate tracks, not surprising considering his recent results.
He attributed his newfound patience to a better understanding of the constant forward-and-back flow of tightly packed cars, which is caused by horsepower-sapping restrictor plates that keep cars under 200 mph in the interest of safety.
"In the past, I've been real worried about being up front and trying to lead laps because I know how hard it is to get the lead," Johnson said. "Coming into this year, I'm just letting the race develop on its own. I know I've got great equipment. I understand the draft ... so I've made some adjustments. The last two races, that's worked.
"That strategy might not work this weekend. We'll just have to see, but I feel much more comfortable and confident in the way I'm entering this race than I did in the plate races last year."

Cheney visit

Vice President Dick Cheney will visit Daytona International Speedway today, speaking with fans during pre-race ceremonies and visiting with NASCAR drivers, teams and executives.
It will be the latest in a long list of political visits to Daytona in July.
President George W. Bush was the grand marshal for the Pepsi 400 during his 2000 campaign. His father attended the 1992 race.
In 1984, Ronald Reagan gave the starting command from Air Force One. Secretary of State Donald Rumsfield attended last year's race.

Spark plugs

Kirk Shelmerdine, a surprise qualifier for the season-opening Daytona 500, also made the 43-car field for the Pepsi 400. He will start 27th. This time, though, he already has a sponsor: Catdaddy Carolina Moonshine. ... A rookie has finished in the top 15 in all 16 races this season. Four rookies will start in the top 15 tonight, including David Stremme. He qualified third behind pole sitter Boris Said and defending race winner Tony Stewart.

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