There's no rest for the cheery

Bad news for Jimmie Johnson haters. Crew chief Chad Knaus already is plotting plans to win a sixth consecutive championship. Expect to see the No. 48 team at Daytona International Speedway in a few weeks for tire testing on the new pavement.

"I have some hard discussions to have with Jimmie this weekend about some testing that he's going to have to take part in," Knaus said to bemused chuckles in the media center Sunday evening at Homestead. "But here are the facts. The 2010 season ended two hours ago. And 2011 started two hours ago. We have started preparing at Hendrick Motorsports for next year and we are full force to make sure that we take a better product to the racetrack next year, and it's going to be so. So we are hard at it."

"I'm really dying for some down time," Johnson said on Tuesday, probably to no avail.

On the surface: The tire test set for Daytona is scheduled for Dec. 15-16, and will mark the informal debut of the new racing surface at Daytona International Speedway. A number of select drivers (see note about Johnson) will be back in their cars just a few weeks after the end of the 2010 season to check out how well the Goodyear tires perform on the resurfaced asphalt.

Expect to hear a few complaints about the track being too smooth, but nobody should be overly concerned about anything. I can assure you the Daytona 500 will not be canceled because the tires and the track will not be compatible.

"I'd rather have drivers say that it's too good of a surface rather than complaining about having a pot hole on the track," speedway President Joie Chitwood said. "Being too perfect in our first go-round is a good problem to have."

Evernham available: Expect Ray Evernham to be one of NASCAR's hottest free agents this offseason. He was at Homestead last weekend as part of his TV gig with ESPN but is open to looking at possibilities beyond the booth.

His options include reuniting with Rick Hendrick, with whom he formed a formidable alliance as Jeff Gordon's crew chief in the 1990s. But he adds he has no interest in returning in that capacity, which would rule out speculation he would step in to resurrect Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s career, which is on life support.

"Rick and I just have to meet and discuss things," Evernham said. "I'm interested in a lot of things Rick is doing, on a global basis. … I want to be a project guy — on a project, see results, move on."

— George Diaz

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