Sunday, April 11, 2021

CUP: Corey LaJoie’s strong 11th-place run fouled by wreck during late-race pit stop

PHOTO: @SpireMotorsport

Corey LaJoie
picked up the 8th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Saturday and Sunday’s Blu-Emu Maximum Pain Relief 500 at the Martinsville Speedway when his #7 Chevrolet was eliminated in an accident after 374 of 500 laps.

The finish, which came in LaJoie’s 137th series start, was his first of the year and first since November 4, 2018 at Texas, 82 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 42nd for the #7, the 612th from a crash, and the 802nd for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 50th for the #7, the 1,249th from a crash, and the 1,772nd for Chevrolet.

Since LaJoie was last featured in an article here, he’d competed in two full-time Cup seasons with Go FAS Racing. While his first career victory has continued to elude him, those two years also netted him his first three top-ten finishes – each on the superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega, with a best of 6th in the summer race in Florida in 2019. Two of his stand-out runs last year came at this same Martinsville track. In the summer race, driving a masked version of his famous “Face Car,” he kept Denny Hamlin a lap down, led 5 laps, and finished 18th. In the fall, driving a Halloween-themed Ford, he stayed out on old tires to lead 6 more laps, then dropped back to 25th.

With Go FAS scaling back to a part-time schedule after the loss of their Charter, LaJoie has moved on to the new second team fielded by Spire Motorsports. He would run the #7 full-time in 2021, joining the team’s original #77 descended from the shuttered Furniture Row Racing effort. In their first race together, LaJoie showed speed in qualifying, starting 16th in the Daytona 500 and finishing 9th. But in the six races after, he’d finished no better than 27th, capped by a wreck in the Bristol Dirt Race driving a paint scheme promoting the upcoming Truck Series event in Knoxville.

The Knoxville scheme was one of many eye-catching paint jobs he’s run so far in 2021. He promoted Kevin James’ NASCAR-themed sitcom “The Crew” on the Daytona Road Course, represented the NFL Alumni organization with a patriotic football-themed car at Atlanta, and for Martinsville would welcome returning Blockchain sponsorship from with a distinctive black-and-red scheme.

LaJoie started 34th, but along with Spire teammate Justin Haley in the #77 Diamond Creek Water Chevrolet incurred a tail-end penalty for multiple inspection failures. Also docked for that reason was last-place qualifier James Davison, who returned to the #15 Jacob Companies Chevrolet for the first time since Atlanta. Tyler Reddick, who was set to start 13th in the #8 Childress Vineyards Chevrolet, also ell back for an unapproved adjustment while 11th-place Daniel Suarez was also sent to the rear and his crew chief ejected for a weight found on his #99 Camping World Chevrolet during inspection.

After several pace laps and with rain in the area, the race started Saturday night with Justin Haley’s #77 the last car across the stripe. After two laps, he’d dropped to 37th the #51 Nurtec ODT Chevrolet of Cody Ware, who was 8.03 seconds back of the leader. By Lap 4, Ware set his sights on catching Davison until the 9th circuit, when Quin Houff slipped to 36th in his #00 Gardner Marsh Chevrolet. Ware passed Houff as he crossed the stripe to complete Lap 11, and Houff was then the first driver to be lapped around Lap 14. While dealing with a “brake shake,” Houff followed the tire tracks of then-leader Denny Hamlin, the crew telling him to study his braking.

On Lap 37, Ware was running on the low line to pass Davison when his #51 broke loose and bumped Davison into a spin, sending Davison’s #15 backing into the Turn 4 wall with the left-rear corner. It was during this first caution of the night that rain ultimately drew the red flag, pushing the resumption of the race to Sunday. At the time, Davison had taken over last place from Houff, having lost two laps after the tangle with Ware.

When the race restarted, Davison remained in last until Lap 68, when teammate J.J. Yeley in still another Rick Ware Racing entry lost multiple laps for unscheduled stops. Yeley’s #53 Fatboy Ice Cream Chevrolet remained in last until Lap 165, when B.J. McLeod became the first to pull behind the wall. McLeod cited suspension issues on his #78 Ford, specifically a failed left-front upper control arm. He remained in the garage area until Lap 179, when he returned to action in 37th place. During this time, Ryan Preece’s 19th-place run went south when his #37 Louisiana Hot Sauce Chevrolet came down pit road with an alternator issue. Preece returned to action with a new battery by Lap 182, placing him in 35th ahead of Yeley and McLeod. Still, the battery continued to wind down as the alternator failed to recharge it.

From there, all 37 starters remained on the track, and McLeod managed to not lose further laps to the leaders. During this time, LaJoie had worked his way to 11th place with 130 to go – easily his best run since the Daytona 500. After some television time on FS1, LaJoie came down pit road under the 13th caution of the day following a wreck involving Erik Jones, Ross Chastain, and Brad Keselowski. After LaJoie’s crew finished work, he pulled into traffic, only to collide with Tyler Reddick, who was pinned in the low lane by Chris Buecher’s #17 Fastenal Ford. The contact ripped the nose from LaJoie’s Chevrolet and ruptured the radiator, causing the #7 to billow clouds of steam. The crew attempted repairs and removed the nose, but ultimately pulled out of the race. The team was careful to save the damaged nose of LaJoie’s car, knowing they could likely save the brake fans attached to it. 

LaJoie didn’t have a chance to take last from McLeod before the afternoon’s biggest wreck unfolded on Lap 386. Triggered by Buescher and Kyle Busch off the second corner, the wreck collected ten other cars. Among them was LaJoie’s teammate Haley, who the team had been preparing to give their final unused set of sticker tires. Haley was eliminated in the wreck along with the lapped Preece, plus Alex Bowman, Brad Keselowski, Daniel Suarez, and Michael McDowell. Interestingly, the drivers ranked 36th to 31st were all exactly one lap apart, placing Bowman’s #48 Ally Chevrolet and Keselowski’s #2 Auto Trader Ford into the Bottom Five by a slim margin.

LaJoie – and the drivers involved in the big wreck – were all officially declared out by NASCAR on Lap 401. The #7 had taken over last place from McLeod on Lap 396. McLeod recovered to finish 29th with Yeley 25th, Houff 24th, and Davison 22nd in the final running order.

*This marked the first last-place finish for the #7 in a Cup Series race at Martinsville since October 28, 2018, when Hermie Sadler’s Virginia Lottery Chevrolet fell out with brake issues after 230 laps.
*The 374 laps completed by LaJoie ties the fourth-most completed by a Cup Series last-place finisher at Martinsville, equaling the mark set by Dave Blaney, whose #22 Caterpillar Toyota dropped out with a blown engine on March 30, 2008.

37) #7-Corey LaJoie / 374 laps / crash
36) #37-Ryan Preece / 382 laps / crash
35) #77-Justin Haley / 383 laps / crash
34) #48-Alex Bowman / 384 laps / crash
33) #2-Brad Keselowski / 385 laps / crash

1st) Motorsports Business Management (2)
2nd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Front Row Motorsports, Rick Ware Racing, Spire Motorsports, StarCom Racing, Stewart-Haas Racing (1)

1st) Chevrolet (4)
2nd) Ford, Toyota (2)


1 comment:

Joshua said...

This is funny stuff but also highlights the small teams and their sponsors. Thank you Brock.