By Anthony Rhoads
The last time Jimmie Johnson was at Atlanta Motor Speedway last October, he stood in victory lane, celebrating with his Hendrick Motorsports teammates after winning the Bass Pro Shops MBNA 500.
It was an emotional victory. It came a week after a plane crash took the lives of 10 team members and family on their way to a NASCAR race in Martinsville.
Tuesday, Johnson returned to Atlanta Motor Speedway for a two-day test for Goodyear tires.
Even though Johnson is focused on the future and winning the NASCAR Nextel Cup title in 2005, he won't forget the friends he lost last fall.
"(Hendrick engine builder) Randy (Dorton) was such a huge part of Hendrick Motorsports," Johnson said. "I not only lost a good friend but someone who brought so much to this team. We lost 10 very close friends and we're trying to put things back together."
After testing at Atlanta this week, Johnson will head to Daytona next week to prepare for the Daytona 500.
"We'll go down there and work some things out and see what happens," Johnson said. "It's going to be a fun year."
Last year, Johnson won eight races and finished 20 times in the top-five. He came up a little short in the final points standings, finishing just eight points behind Kurt Busch for the championship.
"I think this season will be easier for us," Johnson said. "You have to make it to the top 10 and then race your butt off in the last 10 races."
Kasey Kahne is also at Atlanta Motor Speedway for the Goodyear testing.
Last year's NASCAR Nextel Cup Rookie of the Year, was 11th in the overall points standings in 2004. He didn't win a race last year but had five second-place finishes.
"I feel like we had a pretty good year last year," Kahne said. "This year we just have to work together and get better to get some shots at winning some races."
The testing this week is the first with the new Atlanta Goodyear tire, which is a different compound than any for any other speedway. The test sessions are being used to gauge how well the new compound works with the 2005 NASCAR rule changes, such as the reduced spoiler height. NASCAR officials are expected to be on hand to analyze the results.
This season, NASCAR reduced the height of spoilers by one inch to four-and-a-half inches. The spoiler height reduction won't apply to the non-restrictor plate races at Talladega and Daytona.