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Looking for what it takes to win the Chase? After five successful runs, Jimmie Johnson has some ideas
Jimmie Johnson stepped into the number 48 team hauler at Atlanta Motor Speedway, removed his sunglasses and quickly smiled at what he saw spread before him on a countertop: the 2011 Chase schedule. His reaction was hardly surprising, given that Johnson has dominated the 10-race playoff format since it was adopted in 2004. And after finishing second in the points standings in the regular season, Johnson and his team appear well-equipped to capture a sixth straight title. "Just looking at the Chase schedule, it's very hard to pinpoint, before it starts, what the critical moments will be," Johnson said. "I've won championships many different ways. The key is to simply be consistent and try to capitalize at the tracks where you historically run well." So what will be the most significant Chase races? Johnson points to three:
• The opener on Sept. 18 at Chicagoland Speedway.
"You always want to get off to a fast start," he says. "You can't win the championship in the opener, but you can make it very hard on yourself if you have a bad race. Plus, this is a 1.5-mile track, and there are five of these in the Chase. So we'll have a pretty good idea of who will be strong and who won't right out of the gate."
• Race number 6 at Talladega Superspeedway.
"This is the one that everyone worries about because so much is out of your control at Talladega," Johnson says. "You know that the big wreck is going to happen, you just don't know when. A lot of key moments in the Chase have taken place here. This is a race you just want to survive and move on."
• Race number 10 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, the Chase finale.
"This race is about being smart and knowing what you have to do to win the title. There's so much pressure, as the entire season comes down to this race. But I love that, and I feel like my experience, having gone through it five times, is a huge advantage."