Originally created 02/27/06

Johnson's off to a fast start after two races



FONTANA, Calif. - If Jimmie Johnson never finishes any worse than first or second the rest of the year, he won't have any problems winning his first NASCAR Nextel Cup Series championship.

After winning the season- opening Daytona 500, Johnson followed with a second-place effort Sunday in the Auto Club 500 at California Speedway.

That allowed him to leave with a 39-point lead over Casey Mears in the standings.

"We've been close before," Johnson said. "We won the Daytona 500, so maybe we can win the championship, too."

Mears finished third at Daytona and seventh at California.

STEAMED STEWART: It didn't take long for Tony Stewart to have his first meltdown of the season. This time, however, he might have been pushed.

Stewart decided to make himself more available to the media on race weeks by holding an informal press conference after the final practice session Saturday. But after being pounded by questions concerning last week's Daytona 500, he said he said those sessions are done.

Before Saturday's group session started, he said he wanted to talk only about Sunday's race at California. He warned reporters not to ask about his rough-driving penalty at Daytona or his critical words of Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth.

The questions about Daytona still came.

A columnist from the Los Angeles Times was persistent about pressing Stewart on Daytona. That's when Stewart snapped.

Part of his tirade included a photograph taken of Dale Jarrett and Jeff Green arguing in the drivers' motorhome compound after the race.

"That was between Jeff Green and Dale Jarrett," Stewart said. "It had nothing to do with the media and the media shouldn't have been involved in it. You guys don't need to be a part of everything that goes on in this garage area."

SOUTH OF THE BORDER: The Busch Series moves to Mexico next week in NASCAR's logistical nightmare of travel and expenses.

The support series raced Saturday at California Speedway. It will head to Mexico City for Sunday's road course race before hitting the road for a trip to Las Vegas on March 11.

What makes the trips so difficult is teams use "downforce" cars on the ovals at California and Las Vegas and road course cars at Mexico City. That keeps teams from using the same car at all three races.

To make it work, teams travelled to California with two "downforce" cars - a primary and backup. Two road course cars left the North Carolina area in a separate hauler Friday.

The teams united in Texas to move the road course equipment into the hauler and store the "downforce" equipment in a warehouse.

After the Mexico race, the road course equipment will return to the warehouse, where the team will put the "downforce" equipment and cars back in the hauler and the road course equipment on the second hauler back to North Carolina.

All of this comes as NASCAR said it is concentrating on ways to save teams money.