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NASCAR Martinsville 2016: Preview, lineup, starting grid for Goody's Fast Relief 500

Jimmie Johnson is taking nothing for granted, even with three of his better tracks upcoming and a seventh championship a distinct possibility.

With a career encompassing six championships and 78 wins, there isn't much Jimmie Johnson hasn't experienced. Point races that go down to the wire, improbable comebacks from apparently dire circumstances, races he should've won but lost and vice versa, unusual parts failures at the most in opportune times.

In other words, Johnson's been there, done that. Many times over.

Yet, the six-time champion finds himself in an unfamiliar situation as the three-race semifinal round of the Chase for the Sprint Cup begins Sunday at Martinsville Speedway (1 p.m. ET, NBCSN). For the first time since NASCAR went to an elimination playoff format in 2014, Johnson finds himself among the eight drivers vying for one of four spots available in the championship finale.

"Gosh, this Chase has such a different feeling than Chases I've won in the past," Johnson said. "I still feel like I have this massive hurdle to get over to get into the Final Four."

"This format just requires such a different mindset and a different way to make it to the Final Four to even have a shot at the championship."

Each of Johnson's six titles came in a format where drivers accumulated points for the duration of the 10-race playoff. So dominant was the No. 48 team, which won a record five consecutive championships from 2006-2010 and another in 2013, that NASCAR drastically overhauled the Chase.

Perhaps because NASCAR "Jimmie proofed" the Chase, or more so because of a lack of execution combined with bad luck, Johnson hasn't enjoyed much success under the multi-round, knockout parameters.

In each of the past two years Johnson came into the Chase projected to make a deep playoff run. Except neither time did reality align with expectations. In 2014, he was bounced in the second round after three successive subpar finishes brought about by circumstances largely out of Johnson's control.

Last year, Johnson's Chase ended even sooner and in far crueler fashion. Sitting second in points heading into the first round elimination at his best track, Dover International Speedway, he seemed a lock to advance.

Not quite. A rear axle seal -- a part estimated at $5 -- broke, relegating Johnson to a crippling 41st-place finish.

Thus far Johnson has escaped any problems during the Chase. The Hendrick Motorsports driver transferred easily out of Round 1, then won the first race of the second segment to guarantee his advancement and the position he currently finds himself. If he can win one of the next three races or rank high enough in points among the title-eligibles without a victory, he'll qualify for the championship finale Nov. 20 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

Conventional wisdom suggests Johnson is a favorite to make it to Homestead because of how the third round sets up with races at three of his very best tracks. He is an eight-time Martinsville winner, won the past four fall events at Texas Motor Speedway, and his 7.8 average finish at Phoenix International Raceway leads all drivers.

"With this new format I think his Achilles was that second round and by him getting through the second round and being in this round, this is like an excellent opportunity for him," teammate Jeff Gordon said. "I feel very confident they are going to go to Homestead."

Befitting someone who comprehends how rapidly one's fortunes can swing in a format where one bad result can spell doom, Johnson assumes nothing. His mindset is to focus on finishing as well as possible every given week, not of the possibilities ahead.

And if a reminder is needed of what can happen, Johnson just thinks back to Dover last year.

"Stats are cool, but they don't mean what is going to happen in the future," Johnson said. "You just cannot take anything for granted. Sure they are great tracks, sure we expect to be competitive, but if you have a bad race at one of the three, and you don't win, you aren't going to make it. You need to have three clean ones or win."

Goody's Fast Relief 500 lineup

Position Driver Make Speed
1 Martin Truex Jr. Toyota 98.206
2 Joey Logano Ford 98.165
3 Jimmie Johnson Chevrolet 97.840
4 A.J. Allmendinger Chevrolet 97.729
5 Chase Elliott Chevrolet 97.699
6 Tony Stewart Chevrolet 97.684
7 Carl Edwards Toyota 97.613
8 Denny Hamlin Toyota 97.518
9 Kyle Busch Toyota 97.508
10 Jeff Gordon Chevrolet 97.427
11 Kyle Larson Chevrolet 96.904
12 David Ragan Toyota 96.830
13 Ryan Newman Chevrolet 97.422
14 Jamie McMurray Chevrolet 97.372
15 Ryan Blaney Ford 97.292
16 Aric Almirola Ford 97.292
17 Matt Kenseth Toyota 97.222
18 Paul Menard Chevrolet 97.172
19 Brad Keselowski Ford 97.073
20 Kevin Harvick Chevrolet 97.048
21 Regan Smith Chevrolet 97.048
22 Kasey Kahne Chevrolet 97.008
23 Kurt Busch Chevrolet 96.968
24 Danica Patrick Chevrolet 96.914
25 Greg Biffle Ford 97.058
26 Casey Mears Chevrolet 97.008
27 Matt DiBenedetto Toyota 97.008
28 Clint Bowyer Chevrolet 96.820
29 Chris Buescher Ford 96.666
30 Michael McDowell Chevrolet 96.657
31 Trevor Bayne Ford 96.573
32 Austin Dillon Chevrolet 96.533
33 Landon Cassill Ford 95.694
34 Reed Sorenson Chevrolet 95.381
35 Brian Scott Ford 95.295
36 Gray Gaulding Chevrolet 95.146
37 Dylan Lupton Toyota 94.794
38 Jeffrey Earnhardt Ford 94.548
39 Ricky Stenhouse Jr. Ford 92.997
40 Michael Annett Chevrolet No speed