On Sunday, NASCAR fans saw something they had only seen once before this season — a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver adding his name to the series wins list for the first time.
In his 99th career start in NASCAR’s premier series, Kyle Larson became the first graduate of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity and NASCAR Next programs to win a race at this level.
On the final restart with 10 laps to go, Larson edged ahead of another driver looking for his first win in the series, Chase Elliott. As the race went back to green, Ryan Blaney, yet another driver looking for his first series win, bumped the rear bumper of Elliott’s No. 24 NAPA Auto Parts Chevrolet SS.
The contact allowed Larson, driving the No. 42 Target Chevrolet SS, to create separation between him and the rest of the field. Larson crossed the finish line 1.478 seconds in front of Elliott.
Although none of the pickers in Lionel Racing’s “In This Corner” competition were fortunate enough to select Kyle Larson for the Pure Michigan 400, Alex Pohlman did have the runner-up and third-place finishers on her team of three.
Runner-up Elliott and third-place finisher Brad Keselowski allowed Alex to easily take the win last weekend over John Farrell and celebrity guest picker Mark Martin. Her third driver Kasey Kahne finished 14th, giving her a combined finishing position of 19.
Elliott led the race for 31 laps, while Keselowski paced the field for 14 trips around the two-mile oval. Kahne ran in the top 10 for part of the race, but never made his way to the front.
The win gives Alex six points on the In This Corner season. John leads with 11 points, while the celebrity guest pickers are second with seven.
John came in second for the week with a combined 28 points. Like Alex, he also had two driver who finished in top 10. Unlike her, however, his drivers didn’t finish second or third.
Jimmie Johnson led 37 laps before finishing sixth in the No. 48 Lowe’s Chevrolet SS. Denny Hamlin had a ninth-place showing.
John’s third pick in his trio of drivers was Matt Kenseth, who led eight laps and finished 13th.
Mark Martin finished third. Just like Alex and John, two of Mark’s selections finished in the top 10. Kevin Harvick finished fourth after leading 33 laps, while Joey Logano led 24 laps and finished 10th.
Kyle Busch was Mark’s third pick; however, he didn’t fare as well as his other two drivers, finishing 19th.
Mark’s triumvirate of drivers combined for 34 points.
This weekend’s race, the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, kicks off at 6 p.m. ET on Sunday, September 4. The race will air on NBC and can be heard on MRN/SiriusXM.
If you’re reading “In This Corner” for the first time, 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 they think will win the upcoming race. (They’re experts only in their heads.)
Each week last season, Alex and John picked one driver they thought would win that weekend’s race. Alex based her picks on guts, while John made his picks relying on stats. It was an epic showdown of guts vs. stats. The weekly winner was determined by who chose the driver who finished better in the race.
Fore every weekly win, they received a point. In the end, Alex beat John 14-10. (The competition began with the May Dover race.)
This year, In This Corner is similar, but with some new twists added 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 driver, each oracle will pick the three they think have the best shot at ending up in Victory Lane.
Whoever selects the three drivers with the lowest combined 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 receive the point (depending on who the celebrity guest picker selects) because his drivers’ accumulated finishing position total (45) is lower that 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 all three. At the end of the season, the prognosticator with the most points will be crowned the victor.
Another NASCAR Hall of Fame legend joins In This Corner this weekend. He’s definitely no stranger to Darlington Raceway and one of the fiercest competitors in NASCAR history, Cale Yarborough.
William Caleb “Cale” Yarborough was born on March 27, 1939, near Timmonsville, S.C., as the oldest of three boys. He made his stock car debut in 1957 and quickly earned fans’ and drivers’ respect as a tough, no-nonsense competitor.
In a career that spanned 31 years, he scored 83 wins, placing him sixth on the all-time wins list. He was the first of only two drivers to win three consecutive championships in NASCAR’s premier series (1976-78).
1. Tony Stewart: I like his toughness.
2. Jimmie Johnson: Gotta feeling he’ll be up front.
3. Kevin Harvick: Come on, he’s driving my Busch paint scheme … one of my favorite schemes!
1. Greg Biffle: Greg is looking for his first win of the season and he’s driving the awesome Hooters paint scheme, which is sure to be a fan-favorite if it makes it to Victory Lane.
2. Jeff Gordon: Jeff is behind the wheel again this week for Dale Jr. and if he had the chance to win in the “Grey Ghost,” Jeff and Dale Jr. fans alike would be thrilled.
3. Ryan Blaney: After a stellar performance last weekend in Michigan, Ryan still has his eye on the prize of his first win and seeing it at Darlington would be one for the books!
1. Matt Kenseth: I really like his paint scheme and while I know this is a dumb reason to pick Matt, he does have one win at Darlington.
2. Kyle Busch: After finishing 19th and 39th in the last two races, he’s due for another top-10 finish. He has seven top 10s in 11 starts here. I’m hoping he can make it eight on Sunday.
3. Denny Hamlin: I realize that I went with an all-Joe Gibbs Racing trio of picks and yet I didn’t pick their teammate Carl Edwards, who won this event last year. Regardless, Denny has a great record here.
GUESTS — 7; ALEX — 6; JOHN — 11