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.

Carson Hocevar to run full Truck schedule in 2021

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Niece Motorsports has signed Carson Hocevar to run the full NASCAR Truck schedule in 2021, the team announced Thursday.

Hocevar, who turns 18 in January, has run five races for the team this season. His best finish this year is 12th at Dover. He’s scheduled to run at Martinsville on Oct. 30.

“I’m so excited to get the opportunity to race fulltime next year with the Niece Motorsports group,” said Hocevar in a statement. “We’ve had some really strong runs in the few starts that we’ve had this season and I am grateful for the chance to continue that next year. I’ve learned so much already this year and know that we will keep improving next year too.”

“Carson has really impressed us this season,” said team owner Al Niece in a statement. “He’s proven his talent – getting into the truck with no track time and really holding his own. We’re thrilled to have him with us fulltime next season and look forward to contending for wins together.”

TikTok to sponsor Ryan Vargas in six Xfinity races

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JD Motorsports
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TikTok is coming to NASCAR.

The popular video sharing app will break into the sport next month as a sponsor of Ryan Vargas in the Xfinity Series.

TikTok has partnered with JD Motorsports to sponsor the 20-year-old Vargas in the final six races of the season, beginning with the Oct. 3 race at Talladega Superspeedway.

“TikTok has provided me with an incredible outlet to reach new fans and demographics through fun and creative content, and I’ve seen the highest growth in followers on TikTok over my other social channels,” Vargas said in a press release. “The opportunity to run the No. 6 TikTok Chevrolet Camaro in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for the rest of the season is an absolute dream come true. Johnny Davis and the whole JD Motorsports with Gary Keller team took a chance on me last year and I’m excited to bring this amazing TikTok partnership their way. I wouldn’t want to make this partnership a reality anywhere else.”

Vargas has made three Xfinity Series starts this year. His best finish was 13th at Pocono.

The sponsor deal is part of TikTok’s Latinx Heritage Month programming.

A native of La Mirada, California, Vargas joined TikTok last year. He is a former member of NASCAR’s Drive 4 Diversity programming and a winner of the Wendell Scott Trailblazer award, which is given to a minority or female driver who displays exceptional on-track performance, sportsmanship, and community service.

The partnership and paint scheme were inspired by a concept scheme by graphic designer Ryan Pistana, a friend of Vargas’.

“Creators of all sizes and backgrounds show up to TikTok with their genuine, authentic selves,” Nick Tran, TikTok’s Head of Global Marketing, said in a press release. “Partnering with an iconic brand like NASCAR to sponsor Ryan Vargas on his racing journey is a way for us to continue to support, celebrate and elevate the diverse creators that make our TikTok community what it is today. Ryan is an incredible athlete, and we’re looking forward to cheering him on alongside the rest of the TikTok community!”

According to CNBC in August, TikTok has roughly 100 million monthly users, up nearly 800% from January 2018.

TikTok, a Chinese-owned company, has been in national headlines recently after President Donald Trump threatened to ban the app in the United States for national security reasons if it was not sold to an American company. On Sept. 19 he approved a deal for its U.S operations to be operated by Oracle and Walmart.

Las Vegas weekend schedule

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NASCAR’s postseason continues with the Las Vegas weekend schedule, as the Cup Series begins the Round of 12.

In addition to Cup, Las Vegas Motor Speedway will host the Xfinity Series’ playoff opener and the second race of the Truck Series’ opening round.

More: Kevin Harvick on pole for Cup race

Here is the Las Vegas weekend schedule:

(All times Eastern)

Friday, Sept. 25

Noon – 2 p.m. ET – Truck Series haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

2 p.m. – Truck Series garage opens

2 – 8 p.m. – Truck Series garage access screening in progress

2:30 – 3 p.m. – Truck Series rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5 p.m. – Xfinity rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m.  – Xfinity driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

8:50 p.m. – Truck Series drivers report to vehicles

9 p.m.- Truck Series race; 134 laps/201 miles (FS1, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

11:30 p.m. – Truck Series haulers exit

 

Saturday, Sept 26.

11 a.m. – 1 p.m. – Xfinity haulers enter (screening and equipment unload)

1 p.m. – Xfinity garage opens

1 – 6:30 p.m. – Xfinity garage access screening in progress

5 p.m. – Cup rookie meeting (electronic communication)

5:30 p.m. – Cup driver-crew chief meeting (electronic communication)

7:20 p.m. – Xfinity drivers report to cars

7:30 p.m. – Xfinity race; 200 laps/300 miles (NBCSN, Performance Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

9:30 p.m. – Xfinity haulers exit

10:30 p.m. – 12:30 a.m. – Cup haulers enter

 

Sunday, Sept. 27

Noon – Cup garage opens

Noon – 6 p.m.  – Cup garage access screening in progress

6:50 p.m. – Cup drivers report to cars

7 p.m. – Cup race; 267 laps/400.5 miles (NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

11:30 p.m. – Cup haulers exit

NTSB releases final report on Dale Jr. plane crash

NTSB
Photo: Dustin Long
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Pilot error played a key role in the August 2019 crash of a plane carrying Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his family, a final report by the National Transportation Safety Board stated Wednesday.

Earnhardt, wife Amy and daughter Isla were on board the plane, which crashed after a hard landing at Elizabethton (Tennessee) Municipal Airport on Aug. 15, 2019. The report stated all three suffered minor injuries. 

The NTSB listed the probable causes of the accident as: “The pilot’s continuation of an unstabilized approach despite recognizing associated cues and the flight crew’s decision not to initiate a go-around before touchdown, which resulted in a bounced landing, a loss of airplane control, a landing gear collapse, and a runway excursion. Contributing to the accident was the pilot’s failure to deploy the speedbrakes during the initial touchdown, which may have prevented the runway excursion, and the pilot’s attempt to go around after deployment of the thrust reversers.”

A “go-around” occurs when a pilot pulls out of a landing and gains altitude to make another landing attempt.

The report stated that “the flight crew made several comments about the airplane flying too fast and allowed the airspeed to increase well above the reference speed for the approach.”

The report stated that “the pilot did not extend the speedbrakes upon touchdown, which landing checklist required, but instead attempted to deploy the thrust reversers immediately after touchdown, which was a later item on the landing checklist.”

Earnhardt’s Cessna 680A Citation Latitude bounced twice upon landing as it traversed the 5,001-foot runaway.

After the fourth touchdown, the right main landing gear collapsed. The plane went off the road and through a 400-foot long area of grass. It went down an embankment, through a creek and a chain-link fence. It continued up an embankment. The plane came to rest about 600 feet beyond the runway at the edge of a four-lane highway.

The passengers and two pilots escaped as the plane burned.

The full report can be read here.