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Vegas testing is crucial for Team Lowe's Racing

A lot can happen over two days in Sin City.

But for Jimmie Johnson and the No. 48 Lowe's Home Improvement Crew, the focus is solely on racing. Las Vegas is the only intermediate test scheduled until after the Lowe's Motor Speedway track is repaved in March. And with three 1.5-mile tracks scheduled before the Coca-Cola 600 in May, this is the only opportunity teams have to dial in their downforce cars before the season starts. This test is crucial to the Chevrolet and Ford teams. Each manufacturer has new noses and tails on the cars. Setting up the cars to find the proper balance will be the key to a successful test.

"There's more to it than just the nose and the tail of the car," Johnson says. "We actually have just as many changes to our car as Ford has on theirs. We just don't have a new name on it. So there's changes from bumper to bumper. All 13 templates that sit on the car have been adjusted some this year.

"We virtually have a new car that we have to work through. Everything that we saw in the tunnel for our downforce stuff was really strong. Typically, your downforce stuff won't carry over to Daytona. It slows the car down. One thing I believe, we have a lot of horsepower under the hood and put up some strong numbers at the Daytona test. Then I think our guys have been creative to do the right thing to take some drag out of the car. So I think we have a good compromise."

As strong as the Chevrolets were in 2005, Johnson feels the teams have a good baseline on which to build. And with three additional Hendrick Motorsports teams testing at Las Vegas, Lowe's crew chief Chad Knaus has a solid sounding board to share information and make improvements.

One other area that Chevrolet is looking to advance on is the engine block and cylinder heads. It has been nearly four years since any concessions have been made on the SB2 engines.

"We've been dealing with same combination for a number of years," Johnson says. "Obviously everyone is hopeful that we'll be able to make changes to stay on an even playing field with the other manufacturers (like Toyota) that are coming in. I think it's a big concern in general.

"We're very happy with the changes we're getting this year, but I still think that if we're allowed to have an equal block and an equal engine combination as some of the other makes, we'll really be able to show what our teams are capable of."

Johnson will have the opportunity to show what he's capable of in the acting realm when he makes his debut on the TV show "Las Vegas" on February 6.

"It's definitely not as easy as it looks," says Johnson, who shot part of the footage at Atlanta Motor Speedway and the fictitious Montecito Casino shots last December. "Fortunately, I got to play myself, so I think that made it a little easier for me. I'm not sure how I would have done if I had to play someone else and read lines as that character. It was fun, but I think I'll stick to driving my race car."

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2005 Season Stats

Position : 5
+/- : -3
Points : 6406
Behind : -127
Starts : 36
Wins : 4
Top 5 : 13
Top 10 : 22

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