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Justin Johnson finished last season with a controversial second place finish at the Thanksgiving Classic at Southern National, but is ready for a fresh start full of success in the CARS Tour.

Preparing for the season-opener at Tri-County Motor Speedway on Saturday night, Johnson is ancy and hopes to take that next step in his career. Johnson returns as one of the Touring 12, comprised of drivers who have pledged to run the CARS circuit. In return for that loyalty, the dozen drivers receive various incentives.

“I think it’s an excellent start from a financial standpoint,” Johnson said. “It helps us with tires and that, but also these sponsors, we want to give them our support and get them as much recognition as possible.

CARS announced their new title sponsor, Response Energy, at their Tri-County testing day March 3. The news was welcomed by the Touring 12 including Johnson, who sees the series evolving.

“Helping the Tour continue to grow and having your name associated with the series, I don’t know why anyone wouldn’t want to be a part of it,” he said.

The 31-year-old driver celebrated his birthday on the same day as the Tri-County test, and looking out on a new year and a new season made him reflect on his past accomplishments. In 2010 he won back-to-back track championships at South Boston Speedway and earned his first-ever NASCAR Whelen All-American Series Virginia championship. “The championship was great, but we won 14-15 races that year and that was by far the most fun year. It’s sad to say, but it made second or third not any fun,” Johnson said.

Even with his NASCAR weekly competition background, Johnson has found a home as part of the Touring 12 in the CARS series, and he hopes fans agree.

“I think it’s the best racing there is right now and it sure beats anything we are seeing on TV,” the Durham, North Carolina native said. “Don’t get me wrong, it’s expensive, but the way NASCAR has gone with their touring series, you’re losing a lot of talent that doesn’t have the funds to get there because you can have a whole lot of talent and have no money backing you and you’re not going anywhere, and you can have a little bit of talent and a lot of money behind you and you can be in the Cup series.”

Ultimately, he says the series has pure heart built from hard work. “You see that hard work put in day in and day out, and almost everyone here has a normal job. It’s late nights and fun weekends,” Johnson said.

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Fambro is a news reporter in Alabama and assists in coverage with Short Track Scene whenever possible.

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