Ryan: Finally reaching the Round of 8 will mean a chance at seven for Jimmie Johnson

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CONCORD, N.C. – The silver-edged and black magnetic bulletin board with the handy brackets and snazzy magnets didn’t tell the full story while displayed in victory lane Sunday at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

Jimmie Johnson’s name and No. 48 was listed on the first magnet slotted into one of eight slots below “Martinsville/Texas/Phoenix.”

Because of that trio, no one would have blanched if Johnson’s name would have been slid over to the next tidy collection of empty straight lines on the board.

Those represent the four championship contenders in the Nov. 20 finale at Homestead-Miami Speedway.

The six-time series champion undoubtedly will be among them after a three-year absence.

With his win in the Bank of America 500, Johnson qualified for the Chase for the Sprint Cup’s Round of 8 for the first time Sunday.

In reality, the Hendrick Motorsports superstar effectively clinched much more than that — a shot at a record-tying seventh championship. Securing passage to the third round lays out like a layup for Johnson.

He has eight wins, tops among active full-time drivers, at Martinsville Speedway, the 0.526-mile that Johnson adores.

He also has six wins at Texas Motor Speedway, including four consecutive in the November race on the 1.5-mile oval where Johnson’s knack for tire management is supreme.

Phoenix International Raceway, the flat 1-mile track where Johnson has four wins and 19 top 10s, would be considered his “worst” of the lot.

After Auto Club Speedway, these are the three best tracks on Johnson’s resume when ordered by average finish (7.5 at Martinsville, 7.8 at Phoenix, 8.3 at Texas).

“I’m super excited from the simple fact if there is any driver you want to go into the third round with, I don’t know who else it would be other than Jimmie Johnson,” crew chief Chad Knaus told NBC Sports. “We’re very optimistic for the next segment.”

Leading his team (including the driver) with the single-minded discipline of a drill sergeant for 15 seasons, that’s as close as you’ll come with getting Knaus to size up the No. 48 Chevrolet’s path to the championship as a cakewalk.

But it’s an absolute firewall that will catapult Johnson into the championship round for the first time in the three-year history of the playoffs revamped with points resets, elimination rounds and expanded fields that make it more difficult to recover from a setback.

There have been whispers of whether the changes had “Jimmie-proofed” the Chase.

But Sunday reaffirmed it mostly was circumstantial that Johnson – who raced for a championship at Miami in every season but one from 2004-13 – hadn’t reached the championship round in the new era.

Remove an axle seal failure at Dover in 2015 and a flat tire at Kansas in 2014, and Johnson might be aiming for his ninth title this year.

“All we needed was an opportunity to make it to that final round, and we could have been competitive,” Knaus said. “When you have mechanical problem that’s unforeseen. Those things happen. It just does. It’s life. Racing is a tough sport. It knocks you back into reality in a heartbeat.”

There will be no rude awakenings anytime soon. Clutching a golden ticket to the Round of 8, a rare two-race respite awaits the No. 48 – along with the dread-filled 500-mile roulette wheel at Talladega Superspeedway, which was the first place Johnson went after his 78th career victory.

“I just took a deep breath and was like, ‘Yes, we did it,’” he said. “I don’t have to be worried about finishing at Talladega.”

It’s the rest of the Chase field that should be worried now – though Johnson typically wasn’t betraying any hint of overconfidence and presumption.

“We can’t sit back and celebrate too much,” Johnson said. “We’ve got to buckle down and get to work and keep advancing our race cars.”

A date with history at Homestead-Miami Speedway awaits – and is virtually assured.

NBCSN to broadcast NASCAR announcement at 6 p.m. ET Monday

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NBCSN will air live a press conference held by NASCAR industry stakeholders to discuss the upcoming 2017 season at 6 p.m. ET Monday.

The announcement will be attended by NASCAR executives, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers, NASCAR team representatives and NASCAR track representatives.

The press conference is being held at the Charlotte Convention Center.

Kyle, Kurt Busch compete in first day of Race of Champions exhibition

DOVER, DE - MAY 30:  Kurt Busch, driver of the #41 Haas Automation Chevrolet, left, talks with brother Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 Skittles Toyota, in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series FedEx 400 Benefiting Autism Speaks at Dover International Speedway on May 30, 2015 in Dover, Delaware.  (Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images)
Photo by Drew Hallowell/Getty Images
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Kurt and Kyle Busch are in Miami this weekend to take part in the international auto racing competition, Race of Champions. The exhibition event is two days and pits drivers from every major auto racing league against each other.

The Busch brothers are the only NASCAR representatives in the competition. They are joined multiple Formula One drivers, Verizon IndyCar Series drivers Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Alexander Rossi, Ryan-Hunter Reay, James Hinchciffe and Tony Kanaan and action sports star Travis Pastrana. Prior to the start of the races, all of the drivers got psyched up together.

And right before the event began, Kurt Busch showed off his new No. 41 Monster Energy Ford by doing donuts in the middle of the race course.

But when it came time to race Kurt Busch’s had a tough day. He and former Formula One driver David Coulthard competed in the vehicles used in the NASCAR Euro Series and Coulthard crossed the finish line with a healthy lead over the Stewart-Haas Racing driver.

Kyle Busch was marginally better in his first race against F1 driver Jenson Button, who won but with the Joe Gibbs Racing driver right at Button’s rear wheel.

But Kyle Busch bounced back in his second race and defeated Hinchcliffe, which advanced him out of the first round. But he was eliminated from the competition when he was swept by Coulthard in the next round.

In Kurt Busch’s second race, he faced Hunter-Reay, who was one of his teammates when he competed in the 2014 Indianapolis 500. Busch won, but he wasn’t able to advance to the next round.

The competition was eventually won by Montoya, who is taking part in the Race of Champions for the first time.

Both Busch brothers will be back on Sunday to compete for the Nations Cup.

Kyle Busch entered into SRL Winter Showdown Super Late Model race

JOLIET, IL - SEPTEMBER 16:  Kyle Busch, driver of the #18 NOS Energy Drink Toyota, stands in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR XFINITY Series Drive for Safety 300 at Chicagoland Speedway on September 16, 2016 in Joliet, Illinois. Busch is seen here wearing his NASCAR Sprint Cup Series fire suit.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
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Kyle Busch is entered into the third annual SRL Winter Showdown, a Super Late Model race at Kern County Raceway Park in Bakersfield, California.

Busch, who is competing in the Race of Champions this weekend in Miami, will drive the No. 51 Toyota Camry sponsored by JBL in the Feb. 11 race.

Busch and his competitors will be trying to claim the $30,000 prize for winning the race. Kyle Busch Motorsports had a presence in last year’s Showdown when Todd Gilliland competed for the team.

“They have a pretty strong field lined up again this year with Bubba Pollard coming back and trying to make it three-in-a-row. And then you add in some of the West Coast guys like Derek Thorn, David Mayhew and Noah Gragson, who will be running one of my trucks full-time this season, and it has a lot of great drivers,” Busch told Speed51.com. “One of the things that is going to be really cool is that this will be the first time that Erik Jones and I get to race against each other in the supers since he beat me in the Snowball Derby back in 2013.”

Busch is quite successful in his Super Late Model career, having won the Snowball Derby, CRA SpeedFest, the Oxford 250, the Winchester 400 and the Battle at Berlin in recent years.

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Social Roundup: 2017 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction

CHARLOTTE, NC - JANUARY 20:  NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees (L-R)Richard Childress, Mark Martin, and Rick Hendrick pose for a portrait prior to the NASCAR Hall of Fame Class of 2017 Induction Ceremony at NASCAR Hall of Fame on January 20, 2017 in Charlotte, North Carolina.  (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)
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Last night, the NASCAR Hall of Fame inducted its eighth class, including Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Mark Martin, Benny Parsons and Raymond Parks.

The night was filled with current and future Hall of Famers celebrating the history of the sport and the lives of the five inductees.

MORE: Benny Parsons’ Hall of Fame induction an emotional celebration

MORE: Mark Martin went from a “broken man” to a Hall of Famer

Here’s a look at how the night played out on social media with observations on the inductees from current NASCAR drivers and one message from future NFL Hall of Famer Peyton Manning.

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