Chase favorite? It’s easy to pick … or is it?

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MARTINSVILLE, Va. — The Round of 8 has yet to run its first race and half the championship field is all but set some would believe. 

Shortly after Jimmie Johnson won earlier this month at Charlotte, expectations increased that he would make it to Miami because this round sets up so well for him, beginning with Sunday’s race at Martinsville Speedway on NBCSN.

Then, the thinking goes, Kevin Harvick, will make it to Miami for a third consecutive year because of his dominance at Phoenix, figuring he’ll win there next month for the seventh time in the last nine races.

Such an outlook leaves Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin, Kyle Busch, Matt Kenseth, Carl Edwards and Kurt Busch fighting for the final two spots.

“You can go off of numbers as much as you want, and they’re there for a reason, but what you’ve done in the past doesn’t predict what’s going to happen in the future as much as you think in this sport,’’ Logano said Friday at Martinsville Speedway. “You never know what is going to happen.’’

Even if it is Johnson in this round?

It’s hard to ignore Johnson’s success at Martinsville, Texas and Phoenix.

— He’s won eight times at Martinsville.

— He’s won the last four Texas fall races.

— He has 17 top-10 finishes at Phoenix in his last 22 starts, including four wins.

“You just cannot take anything for granted,’’ said Johnson, noting how an inexpensive part eliminated him in last year’s Chase. “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. Three top threes or three top fives to advance with points, I believe. It’s no lay up by any means.’’

Even with that belief, Johnson admits that things are different this time. He said Friday that “this Chase has such a different feeling than Chase’s I’ve won in the past.’’

What’s so different?

“There are eight guys on the table, and then it goes down to four with equal points at Homestead,” he said, noting that in Chases he’s won the list of contenders was much less at this point.“You can’t build a feeling or pick a favorite. It is fun to do, and it creates conversation, but it is impossible to truly pick a favorite at this point.”

Logano, who is coming off a win at Talladega last weekend, is confident his team can be that favorite.

We talk about pressure a lot in the Chase, and a lot of teams crack under it,’’ Logano said. “I believe the 22 team thrives under it. I think we’re excited about that, and I think it’s something that makes us strong. These are three good race tracks for us as well. We’ve won at Texas before (2014). We’ve come close here. Phoenix, we’ve been consistently in the top five, so I think there are three good racetracks to help us get to the next round, and honestly, we don’t think about what other teams have. 

“We think about what makes them strong at each track, but the fact that we can’t go out there and beat them, we know we can do that. We know we can come out here and win all three of these races, so we know we can do that. We’ll go out there and try to.  You have to have an attitude like that or you shouldn’t even strap into the seat.”

Results, point standings after Xfinity race at Richmond

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Christopher Bell led a race-high 120 laps to win the ToyotaCare 250 at Richmond Raceway. It’s his second career Xfinity win.

Bell beat Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Noah Gragson, Elliott Sadler, Matt Tifft and Austin Cindric.

Elliott Sadler won the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus.

Click here for the race results.

Points

Elliott Sadler continues to lead the point standings through eight races. He has a 29-point lead over Bell.

Completing the top five is Tyler Reddick (-31 points), Daniel Hemric (-38) and Justin Allgaier (-48).

Click here for the point standings.

Christopher Bell wins Xfinity race at Richmond

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Christopher Bell fended off teammate Noah Gragson to break through and win his first Xfinity race of the year Friday night at Richmond Raceway.

Bell led the final 79 laps around the .75-mile track to score his second career win. He had finished in the top five in four of the first seven races this season.

“That was pretty special there, buddy,” Bell told Fox Sports 1. “Had to work for it. My teammate was really good and I knew throughout both practices that both of our cars were going to be really strong. Joe Gibbs Racing has been producing really, really fast Camrys for last couple of weeks and it’s really shown.”

Gragson placed second in his first career Xfinity start. He bounced back from an uncontrolled tire penalty early in the race.

He hounded Bell for much of the last 15 laps, but could never pull even with him.

“I didn’t really know what to expect,” Gragson told FS1 of his first series start at the short track. “I found a little something in the track, a little speed there at the end of the second stage on old tires. I kept it in my memory bank until the end and I told me team, ‘I got something, when it’s time to go tell me when.’ About 18 to go, I told them, ‘Can’t wait any longer, I don’t have any more patience.”

Gragson, who drives full-time in the Camping World Truck Series, led 10 laps.

The top five was completed by Elliott Sadler, Matt Tifft and Austin Cindric.

With his third-place finish, Sadler won the $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus.

Bell, Sadler, Tifft and Cindric will be eligible for the third Dash 4 Cash bonus next week at Talladega.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Daniel Hemric

STAGE 2 WINNER: Elliott Sadler, first stage win of season

MORE: Race results, points

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Austin Cindric earned his first career top five after starting from the rear for an unapproved adjustment … Matt Tifft earned his fourth career top five … Ryan Truex placed seventh to give Kaulig Racing its fourth top 10 of the year. It earned five last year … Jeremy Clements placed eighth, earning his first top 10 since he won at Road America in August.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: After winning Stage 1, Daniel Hemric lost his right front tire with three laps to go in Stage 2, but made it to the end. He finished 29th, four laps down … Justin Allgaier spun after ramming into the back of Spencer Gallagher with 86 laps to go. Chase Briscoe was also received damage in the incident. Allgaier finished 14th. Briscoe placed 26th.

QUOTE OF THE NIGHT: “My wife’s already spent it.” – Elliott Sadler to FS1 after winning the Dash 4 Cash bonus.

WHAT’S NEXT: Sparks Energy 300 at Talladega Superspeedway at 3 p.m. ET on April 28 on Fox.

Starting lineup for Cup race at Richmond

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Martin Truex Jr. and Chase Elliott will start on the front row for Saturday night’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway.

Truex won his third pole of the season.

The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

Kyle Busch, who is trying to win a third consecutive race, qualified 32nd.

Click here for the starting lineup.

Martin Truex Jr. wins pole for Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway

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Martin Truex Jr. qualified first for Saturday’s Cup race at Richmond Raceway, winning his third pole of the season.

Truex claimed the pole with a speed of 123.859 mph around the .75-mile track. The Toyota Owners 400 will mark Truex’s 450th Cup start. Truex had DNFs in the last two races.

“It’s definitely been a crappy two weeks,” Truex told Fox Sports 1. “But that’s part of racing. This team, I’ve got so much faith and confidence in them and everything we’re doing. You can’t let those kinds of things get you down. It was nothing we did, just circumstances. Just proud of the effort today.”

The pole matches Truex’s total from last year.

Chase Elliott qualified second (123.621 mph). The top five is completed by Joey Logano, Denny Hamlin and Kyle Larson.

Ryan Blaney will start 12th, followed by Ryan Newman, David Ragan, Clint Bowyer and Jimmie Johnson.

Daniel Hemric will start 22nd in his first Cup start.

Kyle Busch and Brad Keselowski both failed to advance out of the first round. Keselowski will start 28th and Busch will start 32nd.

“We didn’t make a mock run in practice and then we thought the spread would be about three tenths (of a second),” Busch told Fox Sports 1. “It wasn’t, it was faster than that. We only ran two laps trying to make sure we preserve out tires for later on deeper into the session. A bunch of those guys ran three laps and obviously we needed that third lap. It would have picked up. For some reason the tire here today, even in race trim, your fastest lap was the seventh lap. So just takes awhile for everything to come in. Just trying to short cut it a little bit and it didn’t work out for us.”

Click here for qualifying results.