In This Corner: GEICO 500 Preview (w/ Celebrity Guest Picker Thomas DeBoyace)

Richmond International Raceway hosted its first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in 1953.

It didn’t hold a series event in 1954, but returned every year from 1955 to 1958 with one premier series race. Then in 1959 it hosted two of the series’ events and it hasn’t looked back since.

In the first 119 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races at the 0.75-mile track, no driver had ever made a last-lap pass for the lead. That is until April 24, 2016, in the Toyota Owners 400 when Carl Edwards was able to pull off the feat for his second win in as many weeks.

The week prior to the Richmond race, the traveling caravan known as NASCAR was a couple hours west at Bristol Motor Speedway. There, Edwards led a race-high 276 of 500 laps to convincingly beat Dale Earnhardt Jr.

This past Sunday at Richmond, Edwards again led a race-high 151 of 400 laps. Three quarters of the way through the final lap, he trailed his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Busch. Coming out of Turn 4 on that final circuit he executed a perfect bump-and-run and took the win by 0.675 over Busch.

The win was the fourth consecutive win for Joe Gibbs Racing drivers, and fifth of 2016. Busch posted back-to-back wins at Martinsville and Texas. Denny Hamlin won the season-opening Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway.

Bobby Allison, last weekend’s celebrity guest picker for In This Corner, correctly identified Edwards as the winner, but unfortunately didn’t give the celebrity guest pickers the point for the weekend. That would go to John Farrell, but more on that in a little bit.

The combined finishing position for Bobby’s three picks was 22. As stated earlier, Edwards finished first, but Joey Logano and Earnhardt finished eighth and 13th, respectively. The combined 22 points is good for second place this week in In This Corner.

John took home the In This Corner point for last weekend’s race with 11 total points. In his stable of drivers he had the younger Busch brother, Jimmie Johnson and Hamlin, who finished second, third and sixth, respectively.

Although Alex improved on her 75 points from her Bristol outing, she still had 40, which was behind John and Bobby’s efforts. She had picked Kevin Harvick (fifth), Kurt Busch (10th) and AJ Allmendinger (25th).

On Sunday, NASCAR heads to Talladega Superspeedway where unpredictability is the norm and anyone can find their way to Victory Lane if they’re in the right place at the right time. Much like Sheldon Cooper and Leonard Hofstadter’s (from the “Big Bang Theory”) affinity for “Anything-Can-Happen Thursdays,” this Sunday will definitely be “Anything-Can-Happen Sunday” at Talladega. Make sure to tune in to FOX at 1 p.m. this Sunday.

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.

Thomas DeBoyace, who is known to many RCCA members, is our celebrity guest picker for this weekend’s GEICO 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. Thomas has been with our company for 20 years, the last two as the Director of eCommerce, but he has worked with the RCCA for the last nine.

Thomas claims he is a man of mystery and intrigue who once forced a grizzly bear to shave its own face after feeling threatened by Thomas’ facial hair. He once built a car with his own two hands using nothing but leaves, sticks and rocks (and a little bit of well-chewed Dentyne Ice), but was forced to tear it apart after competitors feared he would take over the automobile industry. He’s made sharks cry and alligators blush just by flexing his biceps. He even made it to the center of a Tootsie Roll pop without biting, but he won’t divulge how many licks it took … because that’s just how he rolls.

Thomas grew up in the Concord, N.C., area and is a lifelong NASCAR fan who says his “magical beard” helped him make his picks this weekend. Therefore, he’s sure he’ll win. John scoffs at the idea.

THOMAS’ PICKS

Thomas DeBoyace
1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: 
Ummm … because it’s Junior! Plus Talladega is the place where he provided us with my favorite Victory Lane moment ever, “It don’t mean $#!&, daddy won here 10 times.”

2. Martin Truex Jr.: Because he was robbed of a Daytona win.

3. Brad Keselowski: I think back to his first Cup win and that awesome finish.

ALEX’S PICKS

InThisCorner-Alex1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: It’s Talladega and Dale Jr. is a definite given at the restrictor-plate tracks.

2. Clint Bowyer: He has had some of the best runs at Talladega in the past couple of years and will be a contender on Sunday.

3. Kevin Harvick: He’s the “Closer;” need I say more?

JOHN’S PICKS

InThisCorner-John1. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Since Alex and Thomas were picking Junior, I tried to find any reason (no matter how small) at all to not pick him, but you can’t ignore stats and statistically he is the best active driver at Talladega.

2. Kurt Busch: With eight top-13 finishes in the first nine races of 2016 and 15 top-10 finishes at Talladega, but no wins, I think it’s about time Kurt’s luck at the 2.66-mile track turns around.

3. Matt KensethJoe Gibbs Racing drivers have won the last four races of 2016 and five in all, but Matt hasn’t been among the winners, which could change this weekend at Talladega where he won back in 2012. 

GUESTS – 2; ALEX – 2; JOHN – 5

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