A couple of seasons ago, there were many that snickered at the thought of Corey LaJoie being a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver. He was a former NASCAR K&N East Series winner, but he was toiling around driving for underfunded teams like BK Racing and TriStar Motorsports.
Now, in 2019, LaJoie is quickly making believers out of his biggest doubters as he continues to rack up decent finishes for Go Fas Racing.
On Sunday, in the Coca-Cola 600 LaJoie, 27, rolled from the starting grid in the undesirable 30th position. Track position is key at Charlotte Motor Speedway and in NASCAR’s longest, most grueling event mistakes must be avoided to come home with a good finish. So, a young driver starting near the rear of the field isn’t usually a recipe for success.
However, the North Carolina native isn’t your usual young driver.
In what turned out to be one of the most chaotic 600-milers in history (the race had an all-time Coca-Cola 600 record 16 cautions), LaJoie kept his cool like a cagey veteran.
While others raced like it was the final lap in the early portions of the opening Stage, LaJoie let the race come to him. At the end of the first Stage, LaJoie had worked up to the 28th position.
However, during a pit stop during the Stage break, LaJoie was busted for speeding on pit road.
LaJoie, who was only making his third start in the sport’s longest race, had opted to energize his body by eating snacks on pit road throughout the race, according to LaJoie it was him fumbling around with food in the car that led to the speeding penalty.
On the start of Stage 2, LaJoie buckled back down and again utilized a slow methodical racing method to work his way through the field. With a car that suffered from a tight handling condition for the majority of the race, LaJoie didn’t over extend past the boundaries of his car — which was definitely a smart decision as others like Erik Jones and Matt DiBenedetto saw their days end after their right front tires were abused and as a result they cut down and sent the drivers into the wall.
By the mid-way point in the race, LaJoie had worked his way nearly to the top-20, and as the third Stage concluded, LaJoie found himself a lap down in 22nd. However, the Stage break caution came out at the perfect time for the driver of the No. 32 Ford Mustang, as he was the first car a lap down. This put him back on the lead lap and back in contention for a good run.
As the race continued to unfold, LaJoie ascended through the field due to attrition.
“We just tried to be there at the end by keeping all the fenders on it,” LaJoie said. “Sometimes you get lucky. A lot of guys had a bad day. We capitalized. We were straight.”
In the closing laps, LaJoie was knocking on the door of a top-15, when a late caution set up a restart with drivers on varying strategies. David Ragan would assume the lead on no tires, Ryan Newman would line up on the outside of the front row with just two fresh tires, while LaJoie and the rest of the field would restart with four fresh tires.
When the green flag came back out, there were just five laps remaining and the action was frantic. Ragan and Newman were sent dropping like a rock through the field, and LaJoie made all of the right moves to knife through the running order. When he crossed the finish line, LaJoie had made it skillfully to the 12th position.
According to LaJoie, this finish is the equivalent of multiple wins for top-tier teams in the Cup Series.
“Twelfth is like three wins for us,” LaJoie said. “Anytime we finish 22nd, we are slapping hands and smiling. Twelfth is an anomaly, but we will take. I am pretty pumped. This is the best I’ve ever ran at a mile-and-a-half by far.”
The great finish marks LaJoie’s second top-12 finish in the past four races, and his 18.5 average finish over the last four events is the best four-race stretch of his 70-race Cup Series career. This is also the most consistent four-race stretch in Go Fas Racing’s seven seasons in the Cup Series.
Aside from an eighth-place finish in the 2017 Brickyard 400, this is probably the single-most impressive race in the organization’s history. It showcased that LaJoie, son of two-time NASCAR Xfinity Series Champion Randy LaJoie, belongs in the Cup Series long term, and it also proved that the No. 32 team is capable of great finish at tracks other than Daytona and Talladega.
LaJoie takes pride in the fact that it’s making waves in the garage area that the No. 32 is nabbing such great finishes.
“It goes to show the kind of cars Go Fas is putting on the racetrack,” LaJoie explained. “They believe in me as a driver. We are making a lot of guys on the other end of the garage pretty pissed when the 32 car drives around them.”
Toby is the Founder, Editor and go-to man for TobyChristie.com. He is also the co-host of The Final Lap Weekly Podcast. Additionally, Toby is a NMPA (National Motorsports Press Association) award winning writer, and has followed NASCAR as a fan since 1993.