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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Tonight’s Duels will be critical in determining the starting order for Sunday’s Daytona 500.

But Jimmie Johnson sees another benefit to the 150-mile events.

“We haven't had a chance to draft with our 500 cars,” Johnson explained, “so the Duels are going to be that moment in time where we understand, ‘Am I going to set this thing up to lead and hope that I can keep track position for 500 miles, or do I really need to focus on handling and being in the draft?’”

And he noted that there’s a big difference between the two setups.

“Two or three rows back in traffic is a totally different environment than leading,” he said.

Of course, when it comes to the final restart, Johnson wants to be the car out in front of the pack.

“Spending time watching last year's 500 on the flight in last night, once you get the lead, it's hard to lose it,” he said. “It has to be the perfect storm behind you to create the opportunity to pass with a smaller restrictor plate.”

With a record-tying seventh NASCAR Cup Series championship under his belt, Johnson said he recognizes the “great opportunity” ahead of him to set a new record with an eighth title.

But as the 2017 season gets underway, it’s also far from his mind.

“There's so much racing between now and Homestead, and the fact that we have to qualify for the playoffs and then stay alive in the playoffs helps take pressure off of me and our organization to do that right now,” he said.

“So, we’ll just go racing and see what happens.”