|PHOTO: Dominic Aragon, The Racing Experts|
The finish, which came in LaJoie’s 36th series start, was his second of the season, his first since the Daytona 500, three races ago. In the LASTCAR Cup Series rankings, it’s the 14th for #72, the 739th for Chevrolet, and the 678th by reason of engine failure. Across the top three series, it’s the 29th for #72, the 1,581st for Chevrolet, and the 1,052nd by reason of engine failure.
This year, LaJoie is sharing TriStar Motorsports’ #72 Chevrolet with Cole Whitt, who drove the car full-time in 2017. Following LaJoie’s brief Daytona run, Whitt ran 28th at both Atlanta and Las Vegas, each time five laps down to race winner Kevin Harvick. The ISM Raceway would see the return of both LaJoie and sponsor Schluter Systems, which followed the driver from his tenure at BK Racing.
LaJoie began his Phoenix weekend 33rd in Friday’s opening practice session and kept that same spot in qualifying with a lap of 130.378mph (27.612 seconds). The car still struggled for speed in Saturday’s practice sessions, running 35th in the morning and 33rd in Happy Hour.
Starting last on Sunday was Jeffrey Earnhardt, whose sponsor VRX Simulators agreed earlier in the week to sponsor StarCom Racing’s #00 Chevrolet through the conclusion of the “West Coast Swing” next Sunday in Fontana. Earnhardt was the only driver to turn a lap in qualifying as he slapped the outside wall on his first circuit, forcing him to a backup. Joining him at the rear were Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., also sent to a backup after his own first-lap misadventure in Friday’s opening practice, and D.J. Kennington, back with Gaunt Brothers Racing for the first time since the Daytona 500, with a tire change on his #96 Northern Provincial Pipelines Toyota.
Jeffrey Earnhardt got a slow start at the green, and was already gapped by more than a second on the very first lap, 5.8 seconds back of the leader. By the fifth circuit, he was 13.2 seconds back, and on Lap 12, was running completely by himself. At the start of the 15th lap, Earnhardt moved high as race leader Kyle Larson moved past, putting him the first car one lap down. Larson caught LaJoie on Lap 24 – just in time for the #72 to erupt in smoke in front of him. LaJoie pulled to the inside, then made it into the garage, and several caution laps were needed to clean up the oil. He took last from Earnhardt on Lap 26, and the team rolled the car to another part of the garage a few minutes later. When LaJoie was six laps down, the car was pulled off RaceView, and listed officially out soon after.
Finishing 36th was Paul Menard, whose #21 Menards / Dutch Boy Ford broke coming off Turn 2 and backed hard into the outside wall. Jeffrey Earnhardt made it to 35th, finishing under power despite an extended stay in the garage area on Lap 234. 34th went to Atlanta last-placer Gray Gaulding, his #23 Earthwater Toyota eight laps down. Two laps in front of Gaulding in 33rd was Timmy Hill, making his season debut in Rick Ware Racing’s #51. The Ware team brought a red Chevrolet to the track, and on Saturday debuted new sponsorship from Custom Aircraft Cabinets, Inc.
*This marked the first last-place finish for car #72 in a Cup Series race at Phoenix since November 12, 2006, when Brandon Whitt’s only Cup start ended with rear end trouble 123 laps into the Checker Auto Parts 500 presented by Pennzoil.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
37) #72-Corey LaJoie / 23 laps / engine
36) #21-Paul Menard / 189 laps / crash
35) #00-Jeffrey Earnhardt / 292 laps / running
34) #23-Gray Gaulding / 304 laps / running
33) #51-Timmy Hill / 306 laps / running
2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) TriStar Motorsports (2)
2nd) BK Racing, Front Row Motorsports (1)
2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (2)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (1)
2018 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP