On Sunday, March 20, Jimmie Johnson did his best Superman impression during the Auto Club 400 at Auto Club Speedway.
For most of the race, Kevin Harvick had the car to beat, but when the race went into Overtime and restarted after the sixth and final caution flag on Lap 203 Johnson nailed the restart and shot to the front of the field in no time.
By the time he crossed the finish line the driver of the No. 48 Chevrolet SS was 0.772 seconds out in front of Harvick. The win made Johnson the first driver with multiple victories in 2016; he also won the Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The win also propelled Johnson up one spot on the all-time wins list, giving him 77 in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series — good for seventh all by himself. He was able to break his three-week-old tie with legendary driver Dale Earnhardt.
In the “In This Corner” challenge, guest celebrity prognosticator Mike Forde scored the second point in two weeks for the guests, bringing them into a tie with John Farrell. Alex Pohlman isn’t too far behind with one point.
Forde secured the point by selecting a solid group of drivers: Johnson, Harvick and Kyle Busch. In addition to the top-two finishers, Forde’s third driver finished 25th for a total of 28 points.
While the total combined finished position wasn’t as low as it had been the previous weeks, it was good enough for the point.
Alex finished second with a combined finishing position of 33. She also picked Johnson and Busch, but her third driver was Carl Edwards, the seventh-place finisher.
John, who hasn’t won the “In This Corner” challenge since the second week of the season, finished further back with a combined finishing position of 68. The three drivers he had in his stable for the Auto Club 400 were Busch, Matt Kenseth and Austin Dillon. Kenseth finished 19th, while Dillon finished 24th after starting on the pole.
This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series drivers face the “Paperclip” of Martinsville Speedway in the STP 500 — the first short-track test of the year.
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.
This weekend’s celebrity guest picker for Martinsville Speedway’s STP 500 is the incomparable Kelly Crandall. Crandall is a Central Penn College graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in Corporate Communications and the current Managing Editor of POPULAR SPEED. An NMPA winner, Crandall is a native of Spotswood, New Jersey.
2. Kevin Harvick: Always lurking around the top 10 in Martinsville, Harvick is due for another trip to Victory Lane at the short track.
3. Dale Earnhardt Jr.: YHe’s always run well at Martinsville and since getting that first grandfather clock in 2014, it won’t be long until he grabs another one.
2. Kurt Busch: Since winning at Martinsville in 2014 and with a strong start to the 2016 season, I think Kurt will be a dominating factor on Sunday.
3. AJ Allmendinger: People don’t always think AJ when they think short track racing because he is more of a road-course dominator, but this Sunday he will show his talent and hopefully will get him his first win of 2016!
1. Kyle Busch: Kyle will bounce back from his 25th-place finish two weeks ago at Auto Club and will continue his otherwise strong start to the 2016 season with a win at a short track at which he’s never won.
2. Joey Logano: Although he’s never won at Martinsville, he’s won three short-track races and it’s I think it’s been long enough since he last drove his No. 22 Ford Fusion into Victory Lane.
3. Jimmie Johnson: Sometimes it’s just not wise to go against six-time, especially at a track where he’s already won eight times and has a series-high 118.41 driver rating.
GUESTS – 2; ALEX – 1; JOHN – 2