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.”

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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