Already two points down after the first two races of 2016, Alex Pohlman needed a strong showing in the Kobalt 400 at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

And that’s exactly what she got.

For the third week in a row, one of our In This Corner “expert” pickers correctly identified the winner of that weekend’s race. John Farrell had Denny Hamlin among one of his three favorites to win the season-opening Daytona and then Jimmie Johnson for the Atlanta race. Of course, both of those drivers went on to win those races.

So, this past weekend at Las Vegas it was Alex’s turn, and she didn’t disappoint. She included Brad Keselowski as one of her favorites to win the race … and that’s exactly what the Michigan native did.

After leading the race three times for a total of 24 laps, including the final six trips around the 1.5-mile oval, Keselowski beat Team Penske teammate Joey Logano to the checkered flag by 0.675 seconds. Keselowski survived a pit road speeding penalty on Lap 180 to capture his 18th win in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

Fortunately for Alex, she had also picked Logano for In This Corner’s first 1-2 combo of the season. Her third pick — Dale Earnhardt Jr. — didn’t do too bad either, finishing eighth. Her total finishing position totaled 11 for the weekend, which was good enough to take home the point for the weekend and close the gap on John.

Last week’s guest picker, Craig Baroncelli — the publisher of the popular free magazine, NASCAR Pole Position — finished a close second to Alex. On most any other weekend, Craig would’ve snatched the point with a combined finishing position of 14.

His three choices (Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick) all finished the race in the top seven. Johnson led a race-high 76 laps before falling back to third at the end of the race. Busch led 38 laps and was leading with seven laps to go before being passed by Keselowski. Harvick only led Lap 83, but still finished a respectable seventh.

John’s drivers, however, didn’t perform as well as Alex or Craig’s picks. Two of his selections — Matt Kenseth and Carl Edwards — were involved in a late-race accident that knocked the former out of the race. Kenseth finished 37th out of 39 drivers. Edwards was able to continue, but finished 18th. John did have Harvick among his stable of drivers, so at least he had that going for him.

In the end, John’s combined finishing position of 62 was no match for Alex or Craig last weekend.

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.

Our guest prognosticator for Phoenix’s Good Sam 500 is none other than famed NASCAR artist Sam Bass. Sam is the first Officially Licensed Artist of NASCAR and since 1987, has created race team graphics for corporate America’s leading sponsors, NASCAR team owners and drivers. He is mostly known for his fine-art original paintings and his design of track program covers, racing-themed ad campaigns, posters, apparel and custom shop guitars. His personal studio and motorsports art gallery are located in Concord, N.C.

SAM’S PICKS

photo 11. Kevin Harvick: It is VERY hard not to pick Kevin Harvick at Phoenix. With seven previous Sprint Cup wins, one XFINITY Series win and four Camping World Truck Series wins, he owns this track as a rule.

2. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: With three previous wins here, including the last time the Sprint Cup Series visited Phoenix, Dale Jr. should be a serious contender all day.

3. Carl Edwards: The Joe Gibbs Racing Toyotas are running well, and Carl has two previous Sprint Cup Series wins and four previous XFINITY Series wins in Phoenix. He should be good.

 

ALEX’S PICKS

InThisCorner-Alex1. Kevin Harvick: If NASCAR is in Phoenix, then the obvious pick is Kevin Harvick since he has been so dominating the past three years.

2. Brad Keselowski: Coming off his win at Las Vegas, this Penske driver will be looking to boost his points.

3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: Dale Jr. may be good at superspeedways, but the past couple of years at Phoenix have also been good to him and this weekend he will be looking to add a W to his career and a bid into the Chase.

JOHN’S PICKS

InThisCorner-John1. Kevin Harvick: Simply put, I’d be crazy not to pick the series’ all-time wins leader at the one-mile track.

2. Jimmie Johnson: Only one driver has more wins at Phoenix than Johnson (see above selection), but no other active driver has a higher driver rating (112.6), more top fives (15), top 10s (19), lead-lap finishes (22) or better finishing position (7.72) at the track than the six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion.

3. Kurt Busch: One Phoenix win + a perfect driving rating (150.0) at Phoenix + three straight top-10 finishes to begin the 2016 season = a strong performance this weekend in the Good Sam 500 for the older Busch brother.

GUESTS – 0; ALEX – 1; JOHN – 2