Hendrick Motorsports' Jimmie Johnson led the way in the weekend's opening practice session at the fearsome 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway ahead of this weekend's EA Sports 500.

Johnson lapped the monstrous oval in a fastest time of 50.310secs (190.340mph) in his #48 Lowe's Chevrolet ahead of Robert Yates Racing's Elliott Sadler and the surprising #43 Cheerios sponsored Petty Enterprises Dodge of Jeff Green.

Johnson's teammate Joe Nemechek was fourth fastest aboard the #25 UAW/Delphi Chevrolet as he continues to advertise his services for 2004 while Kenny Wallace also did his future prospects with Bill Davis Racing's #23 Stacker 2 team no harm as he set fifth fastest time.

Dale Earnhardt Jr coped well with his return to the cockpit after last weekend's nasty accident at Dover and was sixth fastest, edging out Jeff Gordon, an inspired Christian Fittipaldi in the #44 Bugles sponsored Petty Dodge and Bobby Labonte in the best placed of the Joe Gibbs Racing Chevrolet's.

With several teams running an extra car this weekend so as to give their regular driver's an extra helping hand in the draft should they need it on Sunday, David Green's tenth fastest time with the #60 Hendrick Haas Automation Chevrolet was the most impressive as the current Busch Series driver tries to make amends for the #60 team's debacle at Talladega earlier this year when they were disqualified after qualifying inside the top ten.

Of the other 'extra's' this weekend, Winston Cup first-timer Jason Jarrett was an excellent 22nd fastest in the #98 Robert Yates Ford, John Andretti 43rd quickest in the #90 AOL Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet and Mike Bliss an even more distant 48th in the #80 Joe Gibbs Racing Monte Carlo.

All were better off than Matt Kenseth however as the current points leader ended the session propping up the timesheets in 49th place with a fastest lap of 51.852secs.



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