Jimmie Johnson team sandbagging

UPDATE This rumor is upgraded to 'fact' today. Jimmie Johnson, disappointed with a provisional starting spot (39th) in Friday's time trials, bounced back in Saturday's opening practice, posting the second-fastest time. Johnson, 18 points behind leader Kurt Busch heading into Sunday's season-ending Ford 400, made a best lap of Homestead-Miami Speedway in 30.772sec (175.484mph), just a shade behind Greg Biffle (30.763), who will start second Sunday. Johnson still has a lot of ground to cover from 39th at the start. His speed was just about what he showed in qualifying, indicating the team may have attempted to qualify in race set-up. SPEEDTV.com 11/19/04 The car cover was wrapped tightly around the #48 Lowe's Chevrolet, its driver and crew long gone for the day. All around the garage, teams worked feverishly on their cars, but Jimmie Johnson was nowhere to be found. The absence of the Hendrick Motorsports team after qualifying Friday raised eyebrows everywhere at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Did they go home in disgust after qualifying 39th for Sunday's season finale — Johnson's worst starting position of the year? Or were they playing mind games with the competition? No one was really sure. All that was certain was that it was unusual for Johnson to qualify so poorly. His effort was the worst of his career, surpassing two 37th-place starting spots last season. But even stranger was that noted perfectionist Chad Knaus, the crew chief, wasn't tearing the car apart trying to figure out what went wrong. "I heard him on the radio — it didn't sound like he was disappointed in the lap," Jeff Gordon, Johnson's teammate at Hendrick Motorsports, said. "It sounded like the speed wasn't there." Johnson heads into Sunday's season finale trailing series leader Kurt Busch by 18 points in the race for the Nextel Cup. Gordon is third in the standings, three points behind Johnson. Robbie Loomis, Gordon's crew chief and Knaus' partner in strategy, said it was way too early to count Johnson out. "They probably are as strong as anybody in this garage when they have their backs stacked up against the wall," Loomis said. AP/CBS Sportsline

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