In This Corner: AAA 400 Drive for Autism Preview (w/ Celebrity Guest Picker Reid Spencer)

Something funny happened on the way to the checkered flag …

Actually it wasn’t funny for Martin Truex Jr. It was more disappointing than anything. In a race that was relatively clean compared to Talladega’s crash-fest a week earlier, Truex found himself on the receiving end of some very poorly timed bad luck courtesy of his pit crew.

He exited pit road after a late-race, green-flag pit stop only to realize his No. 78 Bass Pro Shops/Tracker Boats Toyota Camry had a loose tire. Knowing that he couldn’t race competitively with this issue, much less finish the race, Truex was forced to head back to pit road to have it corrected.

By the time he returned to the track with the problem taken care of he had gone down a lap; however, he gained the lap back as the Lucky Dog when the final yellow flag came out on Lap 242.

When he made it back onto the lead lap it was too late to compete for the win, so he did his best to just move up the field. After 267 laps, Truex finished a still-respectable 14th with three cars behind him on the lead lap.

His pit road problem opened the door for other drivers to take a stab at winning the race, including the driver of the No. 18 M&M’S Red Nose Toyota Kyle Busch, who previously had never won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at Kansas. The win leaves only two tracks currently on NASCAR’s premier series schedule at which Busch has never won — Charlotte and Pocono.

Busch led the race two different times — from Lap 26 to Lap 57 and the final 37 trips around the 1.5-mile track. At the end, he crossed the finish line 1.112 seconds out front of Kevin Harvick. The win was Busch’s 37th in the series and his 162nd between NASCAR’s three national series.

The rest of the top 10 were Kurt Busch, Matt Kenseth, Ryan Blaney, Austin Dillon, Ryan Newman, AJ Allmendinger, Chase Elliott and Brad Keselowski.

For the 10th time in the first 11 races of 2016, at least one of the pickers for “In This Corner” correctly predicted the eventual winner. This week it was celebrity guest picker Carolyn Brewster, who is also a guest columnist for NASCAR Illustrated.

Among the three drivers Carolyn picked this week were Harvick and the younger Busch brother. Her third driver was Jimmie Johnson who came home 17th. Carolyn’s combined 20 points was good enough for first place, earning the celebrity guest pickers its fourth weekly point of the season.

John Farrell still leads the competition with five points, while Alex Pohlman trails both John and the celebrity guests with only two points.

However, if John and Alex were the only two going head-to-head this past weekend, Alex would have scored the victory with a combined finishing position of 30 to John’s 66.

Alex’s three drivers were Kenseth, Keselowski and Kasey Kahne (16th). John had an overall poor performance. None of his three selections finished in the top 10. They were Carl Edwards (11th), Johnson (17th) and Joey Logano (38th).

John and Alex, however, have another chance to redeem themselves (actually 25 more chances) this weekend at Dover International Speedway. Will they accomplish that feat? Or will the celebrity guest pickers continue their streak that has now reached two consecutive wins?

Find out this Sunday when the drivers tackle the track everyone lovingly calls “The Monster Mile.” The AAA 400 Drive for Autism begins at 1 p.m. on FOX Sports 1. You can also catch live coverage of the race on the radio at MRN or Sirius/XM.

If this is your first time reading our “In This Corner” weekly column, we’ll explain how it works. The 2016 season marks the second year our “expert” prognosticators, Alex Pohlman and John Farrell, will choose who they think will win the upcoming race. (They’re only experts in their own heads.)

Every week last season, Alex and John picked one driver they thought would win that weekend’s race. Alex based her picks more on guts, while John based his picks solely on stats. The weekly winner between the two of them was the one who chose the driver who finished better in the race. For every weekly win, they received a point. In the end, Alex beat John 14-10. (It wasn’t a full season as they began with the May Dover race.)

This year, “In This Corner” is similar, but with some new twists thrown in to make it more challenging and entertaining. Joining Alex and John each week will be a different guest prognosticator. In addition, instead of selecting one possible winner, each oracle will pick three drivers they think have the best shot at ending up in Victory Lane.

Whoever selects the three drivers with the lowest accumulated finishing position will receive the point for that weekend. For example, if Alex picks the race winner and the 20th- and 30th-place finishers, but John picks the 10th-, 15th- and 20th-place winners, John would get that week’s point (depending on who the celebrity guest picker selects) because his drivers’ accumulated finishing position total (45) was lower than Alex’s (51).

The celebrity guest forecaster can choose whichever three drivers he or she wants regardless of who Alex or John select. However, Alex and John can only have one pick in common.

We will keep a running tally between Alex, John and the guests every week. At the end of the season, the prognosticator with the most points will be crowned the victor.

Reid Spencer is our celebrity guest picker for Sunday’s AAA 400 Drive for Autism at Dover International Speedway.  Reid has been the leader writer for the NASCAR Wire Service for 11 years. During a 40-year career as a sportswriter, Spencer has covered motorsports, golf, baseball, hockey, the NBA, NFL and a wide array of college sports. In addition to his duties with the NASCAR Wire, he also owns and operates the national golf website www.metrogolfmag.com (Metro Golf Magazines). A former varsity golfer at Yale, Spencer is the author of the book “50 Greatest Golfers: A Celebration of the All-Time Best,” published by The Sporting News in 2002.

REID’S PICKS

IF1. Kyle Busch: The defending NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion is on a roll, with three victories and two runner-up finishes in his last six starts. Hard to bet against the No. 18.

2. Jimmie Johnson: The Dover Dominator has 10 victories in 28 starts at the Monster Mile, and barring a freakish part failure (such as the seal that failed in last year’s Chase race), he’ll be at or near the front of the field on Sunday.

3. Matt Kenseth: The top driver most in need of a solid finish, and the only Joe Gibbs Racing driver without a victory this year, Kenseth has always been strong at Dover, where he’s posted 22 top 10 (including two wins) in 34 starts.

ALEX’S PICKS

InThisCorner-Alex1. Jimmie Johnson: It’s Dover and it’s Jimmie Johnson, need I say more?

2. Kevin Harvick: Harvick has held his own at the “Monster Mile” and Sunday will be no different as he makes his charge toward the front.

3. Kyle Larson: He’s a sleeper at Dover and after a great run in Kasnas that was cut short, he will be looking to rebound and capture his first win.

JOHN’S PICKS

InThisCorner-John1. Jimmie Johnson: When a driver has seven more wins (10) at a track than the active driver second on that list, you kinda have to go with the first driver, which happens to be Jimmie.

2. Martin Truex Jr.: Martin might not have the finishes to show for it (like last week’s race in Kansas), but he’s running extremely well lately and winning at his home track where he captured his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series win in 2007 should make up for some of those near-wins.

3. Chase ElliottI’m taking a flyer with this pick because Chase has never raced in a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series event at the Monster Mile, but in the other two national series he’s competed there five times with finishes of third, fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh.

GUESTS – 4; ALEX – 2; JOHN – 5

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