By Cole Cusumano
Success is subjective, and while it may seem like Corey LaJoie is underperforming in 2022, the numbers tell a different story.
No one ever said it would be easy getting Spire Motorsports to the eventual promised lands, but LaJoie’s mounting frustrations are more than justified. Through 18 races, the driver of the No. 7 is setting personal records in more ways than one and making the putting up a Rocky Balboa-esque fight.
On one end of the spectrum, LaJoie sits 31st in the standings – the lowest he’s ranked since 2019 – which can largely be attributed to a barrage of mechanical issues that have forced five DNFs. For reference, he tallied six all of last season.
However, when he can remain on track, he puts on a more than admirable display. Counteracting time spent in the garage, LaJoie has already matched a single-season record four top-15s halfway through the year. Additionally, his eight top-20s are one shy of tying his season-best set last year.
“I feel like we’ve left almost 100 points on the table,” LaJoie told NEWS FROM THE PITS. “Unfortunately we’ve had a lot of mechanical issues over the first half of this year that we need to clean up. I feel like we should be a top-20 team each and every week whenever our stuff holds together and we execute a good race, but that’s also part of it: the highs and the lows and you gotta weather them.”
At just 30 years old, LaJoie makes a convincing case as one of the more intuitive drivers in the sport whenever he’s in front of a microphone. He praised the Next Gen car, saying it’s tightened the competitive gap, “considerably,” it doesn’t change the fact that smaller teams like Spire are at a disadvantage when it comes to information and employees.
Bigger teams like Hendrick Motorsports house two-to-300 employees and have the luxury of thoroughly inspecting and preparing parts in a timely manner, in addition to having access to resources to enhance driver performance. Whereas at Spire, they often bolt pieces on and hope for the best.
“It’s always going to be tougher on the smaller teams just because you never really get ahead,” LaJoie said “For us, my guys work to the bone each and every week. It’s definitely a lot of asking out of our help and I think we’ve got a really good group here. It’s all about perspective and doing the little things right.”
Although introspectively the lows seem to outweigh the highs, LaJoie has not only scored career-best finishes at six different venues this season, he also scored the first top-five of his career at Atlanta Motor Speedway – where the NASCAR Cup Series will be this weekend.
The 1.54-mile track received a facelift in the form of steeper banking, a tighter racing surface and took on characteristics of a superspeedway in its debut earlier this year. This provided another opportunity for smaller teams, like Spire, to shine.
“Seeing the ebbs and flows and where you want to position yourself later in the race to be there in contention certainly changes every race, but now you have one you can kind of look back on and see when to attack and when to kind of ride and miss the wrecks.”
LaJoie is entering the Quaker State 400 with aspirations to place four positions better than where he finished earlier in the year. His approach will remain the same: drive a smart and analytical 260 laps.
“Some guys, like myself, want to be fairly conservative for the beginning part of the race and let guys get aggressive and make mistakes. I think nowadays, guys understand the draft better and just know where to place their car at the right time. You have to be looking for track position earlier now than ever, because you can’t slide in these (cars) six or seven laps to go and find yourself in a place to win.”