Sunday, March 13, 2022

CUP: Corey LaJoie’s bizarre crash hands No. 7 its first Cup last-place finish at Phoenix since 1993

PHOTO: Dominic Aragon,

Corey LaJoie picked up the 9th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Ruoff Mortgage 500k at the Phoenix Raceway when his #7 Built Bar Chevrolet was eliminated in a single-car accident after 45 of 312 laps.

The finish, which happened in LaJoie’s 168th series start, was his first of the season and his first since April 10, 2021 at Martinsville, 32 races ago. In the Cup Series’ last-place rankings, it was the 43rd for the #7, the 627th from a crash, and the 820th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 51st for the #7, the 1,284th from a crash, and the 1,824th for Chevrolet.

Since he was last featured on this site, LaJoie has settled into his new ride at Spire Motorsports, and made steady progress. He finished 20th or better for five consecutive races from late May to early June, including Sonoma, where he threatened for a Top Ten before he was caught up in an incident in Turn 11. Another streak of three in a row came in August, including the Playoff cutoff race at Daytona, where he led a lap and contended for the win until a late-race crash.

Through the first three rounds of the 2022 season, LaJoie has adjusted well to the NextGen car, earning a 14th in the season-opening Daytona 500 with a 15th last week in Las Vegas. He looked to keep the momentum going in his 10th Phoenix start, but had his work cut out for him. In the nine previous starts, he’d finished no better than 26th and failed to finish three times.

Phoenix was the latest NASCAR event to see only the 36 Chartered entries fill the Cup garage, matching the 2019 event for the fewest starters in a Cup race at the track. Of that group, LaJoie ranked 31st, then improved slightly to 30th in qualifying with a lap of 128.361mph (28.046 seconds).

Starting 36th and last was Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., who missed qualifying due to an engine issue after practice, the crew pushing his #47 Fry’s / NOS Chevrolet to the garage area. He’d incur a redundant tail-end penalty for Sunday, joined by 7th-place Kyle Larson for a steering repair on his #5 Valvoline Chevrolet and 24th-place Harrison Burton for an ignition switch swap on his #21 Dex Imaging Ford.

When the race started, Burton, Stenhouse, and Larson had already moved up two spots with Larson trailing the group in 34th. Taking 35th, 3.333 seconds back of the lead, was B.J. McLeod in the #78 Premier Business Investments Ford ahead of new last-place runner Garrett Smithley in the #15 Jacob Companies Ford, 3.676 back of the lead. McLeod was originally slated to start 34th ahead of Smithley in 35th as the two slowest cars in qualifying. 

When the race started, Smithley held the last spot until Lap 4, when he passed he #78 on track. The two were three-tenths of a second apart, but the interval grew to 1.120 seconds off on Lap 10. By then, McLeod reported he was “a little free center off,” and the deficit grew faster. By Lap 18, McLeod was now 4.006 seconds behind Smithley’s Ford, and 28.28 seconds back of the leader. Two circuits later, the #78 was first to be lapped, followed by Smithley on Lap 23. The loose condition on McLeod’s car worsened, and the driver reported he was now free in the center and off the corner.

Under the competition caution, both McLeod and Smithley lost the Lucky Dog to Cody Ware, whose #51 Nurtec ODT Ford lost a lap just moments before the yellow. Over the radio, McLeod was asked if he was shifting yet. He said he wasn’t, and remarked that of the first dozen drivers to lap him, only Bubba Wallace was shifting. On pit road, McLeod also reported something was wrong in the back of his car, sensing that only one of the rear wheels was driving. Regardless, McLeod dropped Smithley to last on Lap 30 as the #15 had too many crew members over the wall during his pit stop. Smithley dropped McLeod back to last on the Lap 31 restart, and the #78 now reported he had brake shake.

LaJoie's car in the garage after the wreck.
PHOTO: @SpireMotorsport

LaJoie entered the last-place battle quite suddenly on Lap 46, when he bounced off the outside wall just past the starting line. The right-front tire then separated from his rim, dropping both the intact tire and shattered hub in the path of an approaching Cody Ware. Ware struck both pieces with the nose of his car as LaJoie pulled to the apron, dragging a ring of the rim beneath the hub. While the Rick Ware Racing crew managed to get Ware back on track without serious damage, LaJoie pulled directly behind the wall at the Turn 3 entrance, done for the day. LaJoie took last from McLeod around Lap 47, the crew reporting “everything on the right-front’s killed” as they put #7 on casters. NASCAR confirmed LaJoie was out on Lap 55.

McLeod and Smithley remained near each other for most of the race, ultimately finishing 33rd and 32nd, respectively. By coming home under power, each passed two retirees who joined LaJoie in the garage. Martin Truex, Jr., the race’s defending winner, suffered a hard crash in Turn 2 after an apparent blown right-front tire on his #19 Bass Pro Shops Toyota. Kyle Larson, who clinched the championship with a win at Phoenix just last November, dropped a cylinder while running 7th n the final laps, and ultimately went to the garage with a busted valve spring on his #5.

Taking his first career win in just his 40th Cup start was Chase Briscoe, bringing Stewart-Haas Racing to victory lane for just the second time since the 2021 season began. In so doing, he also gave the first NASCAR win for sponsor Mahindra Tractors, a company which a decade ago backed many underfunded efforts for R3 Motorsports in Cup and XFINITY. Briscoe prevailed after a tight race with Tyler Reddick and Ross Chastain, who are still seeking their own first win in a Cup points race.

Geoffrey Bodine's crash at Phoenix, 1993.
SCREENSHOT: TNN, TheRacingJungleIII on YouTube

*LaJoie has one previous last-place run in a Cup race at Phoenix, which occurred on March 11, 2018 after his #72 Schluter Systems Chevrolet fielded by TriStar Motorsports lost the engine after 23 laps.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #7 in a Cup race at Phoenix since October 31, 1993, when Geoffrey Bodine’s #7 The Family Channel Ford was eliminated in a Turn 1 crash after 13 laps of the Slick 50 500.

36) #7-Corey LaJoie / 45 laps / crash
35) #19-Martin Truex, Jr. / 219 laps / crash
34) #5-Kyle Larson / 239 laps / engine / led 2 laps
33) #78-B.J. McLeod / 304 laps / running
32) #15-Garrett Smithley / 305 laps / running

1st) Trackhouse Racing (2)
2nd) Joe Gibbs Racing, Spire Motorsports (1)

1st) Chevrolet (3)
2nd) Toyota (1)


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