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Johnson's savvy is mark of a champion

January 11, 2013, Holly Cain,

By avoiding draft session, Five-Time avoids massive pileup

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Jimmie Johnson was understandably growing quite fond and well-accustomed to offseasons spent basking in the NASCAR championship spotlight with celebrity-like perks, spontaneous celebrations and plenty of title talk.

But after winning five consecutive NASCAR Sprint Cup Series trophies from 2006-2010, Johnson has endured a rare back-to-back break in the championship run and its afterglow.

“Last year (in 2011) the way we lost our competitiveness and Tony (Stewart) and Carl (Edwards) ran off with the show, the season couldn’t end fast enough,’’ Johnson said Friday from NASCAR’s Preseason Thunder test at Daytona International Speedway. “The offseason was nice to have and it seemed way too short. There was a lot of recharging that I needed and I think the team needed.

“This last year (2012), I wasn’t ready for the season to end. Sure I would have loved it to end after Texas when we had the points lead and we could be champions, but I honestly had more in the tank when the season was over.

“I think I did a much better job of managing the pressure and stress than any other year. I think (crew chief) Chad (Knaus) did, my guys did and although it came to an end, I could have gone the next week and raced again. I had more left. I enjoyed the offseason, I had fun, but I’m ready to go racing.’’

The eagerness is apparent. Two days into the new season’s first test, the future Hall of Fame duo is reminding others what makes them so successful.

Johnson was the only member of the four-car Hendrick Motorsports team not involved in a 12-car accident during the afternoon portion of Friday’s test.

And it was a calculated decision -- made before they even arrived in Daytona Beach-- not blind luck that kept the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevy out of the fray.

“For us, it makes no sense to go out there and draft because you aren’t going to learn anything,’’ Johnson said about an hour before the multi-car accident. “You’re just taking a chance of ruining your best race car.’’ 

And that’s exactly what happened to a few of his competitors Friday when his Hendrick Motorsports teammate Dale Earnhardt Jr. triggered the melee while experimenting with the draft. It was the first time a large group of the new Generation-6 cars had tried to draft. Earnhardt, like the others, was simply trying to see how the new body styles matched up.

With a lot of damage to a lot of cars -- and not many backups ready for the track -- several teams opted just to pack up and end the test early.

Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski was among the Ford contingent that cut their losses.

“Looking to draft but all my friends are heading home now,’’ Johnson joked later on Twitter as the sound of private jets heading back to North Carolina could be heard above the roar of the remaining cars on track.

Instead, Johnson will stay in Daytona Beach, methodically developing the Gen-6 Chevrolet SS, preparing to utilize any advantage the extra track time might create.

He’s got another championship to win.

“I think historically, changes have been good for the 48 and good for Hendrick,” Johnson said. “I hope and assume that we will be in that front wave of guys figuring things out.’’