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Archive for Thursday, November 29, 2007

Competitive fire still burns

Despite consecutive titles, the No. 48 team feels it has plenty of room for improvement

November 29, 2007

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With two straight championships in hand, it's hard to argue that Jimmie Johnson and his race team are not the best in the NASCAR Nextel Cup Series right now.

The question is, though, are they still getting better?

"I think so," said Johnson, who on Friday night in the Grand Ballroom of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel picks up his second Nextel Cup trophy. "I think every year that the team is together, we're stronger, and we learn from the past season."

That's a scary proposition for the teams that will try to get in the way of a third straight title for Johnson, crew chief Chad Knaus and the team they've assembled on the No. 48 Chevrolets owned by Rick Hendrick.

In six full seasons of Cup competition, Johnson has won 33 races. That's 10 more than Hendrick Motorsports teammate Jeff Gordon's second-best total over that span, and 13 more than Tony Stewart.

He also, of course, became the first driver to win back-to-back titles since Gordon in 1997-98. Johnson has never finished lower than fifth in the final standings and fell just eight points short of winning the 2004 title that could have made three championships in four seasons.

The numbers are daunting, but Johnson is not ready to make any grand declarations just yet.

"We like to go out and let our stats speak for ourselves," Johnson said. "That has been the way we've done things all along. We'll leave the opinions to everyone else, and hope that our record speaks for itself. We'll work hard, and do everything we can to win races and championships."

But that doesn't mean Johnson doesn't believe that more good things can be in store for the his team.

"I feel we're just really hitting our stride," he said. "I think we have a lot of good years ahead of us, and we'll be fighting for more championships and certainly winning more races as years go by.

"As each year goes by, and the core of the team stays together, we're able to make it stronger and stronger, and better and better. There are a lot of lessons, not just one specifically, but a lot of lessons learned last year that helped this year. Even losing those two championships taught us a lot. It was painful. We went back and looked at it and tried to adjust and fortunately it's worked out and it's led to these two championships."

In the immediate aftermath of the season-ending race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, Knaus spoke about how anxious he already is to get back to work on 2008.

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