Most everyone’s focus at Richmond International Raceway on Saturday night was on who would and wouldn’t make the 2016 Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup.
While that was top of mind for most people in attendance, it didn’t detract from the wild and crazy racing on track. In a race that saw 16 caution flags (15 of them for wrecks), Denny Hamlin and fellow Toyota driver Martin Truex Jr. dominated the night.
Although Truex led 193 of the event’s 407 laps, Hamlin paced the field for the last 86 trips around the 0.75-mile track to win his third race at Richmond and third of 2016. In all, he led 189 laps and clinched the third spot going into the 10-race Chase.
Truex finished third and heads into the postseason seeded sixth. Kyle Larson, Kurt Busch, Jeffrey Earnhardt, Regan Smith and Matt Kenseth all led at least one lap in the Federated Auto Parts 400.
The 16 drivers eligible to run for the title are (in order after being re-seeded) Kyle Busch, Brad Keselowski, Hamlin, Kevin Harvick, Carl Edwards, Truex, Kenseth, Jimmie Johnson, Joey Logano, Larson, Tony Stewart, Kurt Busch, Chris Buescher, Chase Elliott, Austin Dillon and Jamie McMurray.
As far as the In This Corner contest goes, Bud Moore was victorious on the weekend, bringing the celebrity guest pickers (eight) within four points of John Farrell’s lead (12). Alex Pohlman is two back of the celebrity guests with six weekend wins on the season.
With Moore’s trio of drivers all finishing in the top 10, John and Alex didn’t have much of a chance. If they were going to pull out the win from Moore, they’d also probably have to have all three of their drivers finish in the top 10 … and that just wasn’t the case on Saturday night.
Moore’s three picks were Keselowski, Harvick and Logano, who finished fourth, fifth and 10th, respectively. Their combined finishing position was a impressive 19 points. All three drivers spent most of the race in the top 10 with only occasional dips into the teens.
When John first saw that Hamlin had won the Richmond race, he was sure he had earned his 13th weekend point of the season. What John failed to account for was where his other two drivers (Johnson and Kenseth) finished.
He knew neither of them were in the top five, but as he scanned the ticker as it passed by at the top of the TV screen he knew with each passing name that the possibility of him winning was falling further and further through his fingertips.
Johnson finished a respectable 11th, but Kenseth wrecked in Turn 3 on Lap 337. Unfortunately, the incident ended his night prematurely and he finished 38th.
John finished third in In This Corner this week with 50 points.
Alex finished second with a collection of these three drivers: Kyle Busch, Jeff Gordon and Elliott. Busch finished the best of the three, coming home ninth. Gordon and Elliott finished 16th and 19th, respectively, to give Alex a combined finishing position of 44.
Sunday’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 400 at Chicagoland Speedway kicks off at 2:30 p.m. ET. It can be seen on NBCSN and 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 and John, 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.
For 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.
Go Fas Racing’s public relations and licensing director Tim Barile is this week’s celebrity guest picker. Tim joined Go Fas Racing in 2014 after previously working with Viva Motorsports. Tim grew up in the small Northern California suburb town of Rocklin, Calif., with a huge passion for racing, snowboarding and golf. In 2013, Tim made the move to North Carolina to study at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and pursue his dreams of working in NASCAR.
Prior to moving to North Carolina, Tim got his start in racing in 2005 working for legendary NASCAR K&N Pro Series West driver Bill McAnally as a mechanic and doing teardown. In 2012, Tim was able to visit Victory Lane at his home track of Sonoma Raceway with Naake-Klaurer Motorsports when David Gilliland won the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West event. When Tim isn’t hard at work, he loves to be outdoors, cooking and spending time with his family.
2. Kyle Larson: Not only because he is a fellow Nor-Cal native, but he hasn’t finished worse than third since winning at Michigan, and is pretty good at Chicagoland to boot.
3. Brad Keselowski: He won at Chicagoland in 2014, has two wins on 1.5-mile tracks this year and you can never count out a Penske Ford.
1. Kyle Larson: He’s on a hot streak and on his way to being a front runner in the Chase.
2. Matt Kenseth: Matt has his spot in the Chase, but would love to better his chances at a second title.
3. Kurt Busch: Looking to win his second title, Kurt is looking to make it a Busch brother’s back-to-back championships.
1. Jimmie Johnson: Jimmie has never won at Chicagoland (I know, shocker right?), but he’s a total beast when it comes to the postseason with 26 wins in the Chase since it began in 2004.
2. Kevin Harvick: When a driver consistently places in the top five week in and week out, despite only having two wins, it still makes sense to pick him. Kevin falls in this category.
3. Tony Stewart: Although his last win at Chicagoland came five seasons ago, Tony has three wins here and will be looking to put a stamp on what will be his final chance to win the title.
GUESTS — 8; ALEX — 6; JOHN — 12
Other “In This Corner” columns: