Johnson shines when it's Chase time

Chris Symeon, Motorsports Editor

The Inside Line Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Jimmie Johnson made a strong statement by winning Sunday's AAA 400 in dominating fashion at Dover International Speedway, and is once again the man to beat in the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

Johnson, who picked up his fourth victory this year, gained momentum in his quest for an unprecedented fourth straight title. He moved to within 10 points of current leader and Hendrick Motorsports teammate Mark Martin, who finished second.

The Hendrick duo also finished one-two earlier this year at Indianapolis. After Johnson held off Martin in the closing laps to win the Brickyard 400, Martin anointed Johnson as "Superman." He referred to his teammate as the same popular action hero again at Dover.

"That dude still is Superman in my book," Martin said.

Johnson is NASCAR's superhero at the tail end of a season. He has won a Chase race 15 times so far in his career.

Since NASCAR began its Chase format for the Cup Series in 2004, the winner of the fall race at Dover -- the second event in the playoffs -- has not gone on to claim the championship.

Jimmie Johnson has won a Chase race 15 times so far in his career.
But that might not be the case this year.


Johnson excels at the upcoming tracks on the schedule. He is the defending race winner at Kansas, the next stop in the Chase. After Kansas, the series moves on to California, which hosts a playoff event for the first time. Johnson, a native of El Cajon, CA, has won the last two fall events at his home track. Martinsville, where he has won in five of his last six starts, is currently his best track on the circuit.

"With the tracks coming up, I think we have a really good plan in place," Johnson said. "I feel very confident with the approach we have and the cars we're going to be taking. We're pretty well organized, so hopefully it pays off."

Talladega and Homestead are Johnson's weakest tracks in the remaining eight races of the season. Talladega has always been a crapshoot for all drivers competing in the Chase. Homestead might not even be an issue for Johnson, since he has held a big enough points lead heading into the season-finale to all but assure him the championship the past three years.

Despite leading 271 of 400 laps in his victory at Dover, Johnson is not ready to play up the fact that he's on his way to another title just yet.

"I tried to play some of those games with Tony Stewart in 2005," Johnson said." It didn't work out for me. Since that day, I realized I just need to run my race, put blinders on, don't watch television and don't read any of the trade papers and magazines. Just ignore and focus on my world and what's going on with my race car. That's what I'll do through the rest of the Chase."

Johnson won the fall race at Dover in 2005, but ended the season 127 points behind champion Stewart. To put it mildly, he's hoping the same won't happen to him this year.

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