There has never been a whoopin’ by a Celebrity Guest Picker in “In This Corner” history quite like the one handed out by Chris Knight two weekends ago.
Knight earned the Celebrity Guest Pickers their fifth point of the season in the FireKeepers Casino 400 at Michigan International Speedway. He accomplished this feat by picking three drivers that finished in the top 10 in the race, including race winner Joey Logano and third-place finisher Kyle Larson. Logano dominated most of the race, leading 138 of 200 laps. The third driver was Kurt Busch, who finished 10th.
He had a combined finishing position of 14. His score was 34 and 35 points better than Alex Pohlman and John Farrell’s, respectively.
Alex finished second with 48 points. Her top finisher was Brad Keselowski, who placed fourth. She also had the fifth-place driver, Kevin Harvick. Most of her points came from one driver — Dale Earnhardt Jr. His No. 88 Axalta Chevrolet SS only lasted 61 laps before the North Carolina had to retire, landing in 39th.
None of the three drivers John selected finished in the top 10, but on the bright side none of them finished lower than 19th. Matt Kenseth was John’s best performer — turning in a 14th-place performance. Jimmie Johnson led four laps midway through the race, but fell back to 16th by the race’s end. John’s third driver, Greg Biffle, finished 19th, giving his a combined finishing position of 49.
This weekend, the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series heads west to Sonoma Raceway for its first road-course race of the season and its last California race of 2016. The Toyota/Save Mart 350 can be seen on FOX Sports 1 and heard on PRN/SiriusXM. The green flag waves shortly after 3 p.m. EST.
If this is your first time reading “In This Corner,” 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.
This week’s Celebrity Guest Picker is Jim Utter. Jim joined Motorsport.com in July 2015 after 18 years covering NASCAR for The Charlotte (N.C.) Observer. He is a multi-time National Motorsports Press Association and N.C. Associated Press award winner and serves as an occasional co-host of NASCAR programming on Sirius/XM NASCAR Radion and the Performance Racing Network.
1. Kyle Busch: Busch’s victory last season at Sonoma kick-started his return from devastating early-season leg and foot injuries, locked him in the Chase and launched his run to his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series championship. He’s a two-time winner at Sonoma and even though he doesn’t have a stellar record at the track, he has become one of the series’ best road racers of late.
2. AJ Allmendinger: Allmendinger and his JTG Daugherty team always have the road courses circled on the calendar for good reason. Allmendinger, with an open-wheel background, has become a solid threat at the road course in the Cup series and his victory at Watkins Glen 2014 gave he and his team their first berth in the Chase.
3. Kurt Busch: Kyle older brother has also been strong at Sonoma. He won the event in 2011, finished as a runner-up to his brother last season and finished fourth or higher in four of the last five races at the California track. Kurt, like Kyle, is already locked in this year’s Chase and can throw caution to the wind when it comes to gambling on a win.
1. AJ Allmendinger: You can’t go to a road course and not pick AJ. … Duh!!!
2. Kurt Busch: He’s no stranger to road-course racing, so watch KuBu be competitive up front this weekend.
3. Jimmie Johnson: Ol’ six-time is looking for an opportunity to get that seventh championship and another win will boost his chances.
1. Clint Bowyer: Clint’s had a couple hiccoughs this season, but he’s bound to turn it around sooner than later and he has the highest average finish at Sonoma among active drivers, as well as a win.
2. Tony Stewart: I’m hoping there is a parallel between Tony this season and Kyle Busch from last season in that both drivers missed races early on and Kyle began his winning streak at Sonoma. I’m hoping Stewart can duplicate this.
3. Kevin Harvick: When you hear the word “road-course ringer,” Kevin is probably not the first driver that comes to mind, but you can’t overlook the strong performances and solid finishes he’s had this season.
GUESTS — 5; ALEX — 4; JOHN — 6