Race Weekend Central

4 Burning Questions: Is This Corey LaJoie’s Breakout Year?

Will Corey LaJoie Make the Playoffs in 2023?

Did you also notice that No. 7 car hovering near the top 10 for almost all of Sunday (Feb. 26) at Auto Club Speedway?

It’s only been two races in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series season, but already Corey LaJoie has shown he and Spire Motorsports have made some improvements during their offseason.

For 136 of the 200 laps run on Sunday, LaJoie ran within the top 15 in the running order. In stage two, he even earned an extra point when he finished 10th. Indeed, the team was on track to match the same amount of top 10s it had in 2022: one. In the end, LaJoie finished 14th.

But that’s not that impressive, right? Maybe not, except for when you sprinkle in the fact that the No. 7 was involved in an incident with Tyler Reddick that saw him backward on the frontstretch on lap 82.

For most teams, any kind of incident that puts you at the back of the field is a setback that is hard to overcome, especially when it’s the result of a crash that gave you some minor damage.

However, the Spire team stayed vigilant, returned for the stage two point and still hung around drivers like Martin Truex Jr. and Joey Logano on the edge of the top 10 for the rest of the race. It wasn’t the result of a high attrition rate that got them there, either. LaJoie drove back into contention on speed alone before the end of stage two.

Their second decent race in a row puts the No. 7 in 13th in Cup points. That’s already a vast improvement over last year, when LaJoie wasn’t even in the top 20 by the third week.

It is only the second race of the year, sure, but with Auto Club being the first true test of team performance for the year, the obvious speed LaJoie had on Sunday surely will put a pep in his team’s step moving forward.

And he certainly noticed.

How long will the Kyle Busch and RCR honeymoon phase last?

See also
2-Headed Monster: Is Kyle Busch Still Viewed as NASCAR's Villain?

After his Auto Club victory, it’s clear that after undergoing statistically the worst full-time season of his Cup career since 2005 last year, Kyle Busch has gotten his groove back thanks to Richard Childress Racing.

But how long will it last?

Is this the dawn of a resurgence to Busch’s dominant winning ways? Or was Auto Club a fluke?

At Auto Club one year ago, we saw Kyle Larson, who was fresh off a commanding championship season that saw him win 10 races, claim victory early in 2022. Naturally, the racing world looked at the Californian champion and braced itself for another Larson lockdown of a season.

It never arrived. The No. 5 won only three races last year and missed the playoff Round of 8. We all believed this talented driver named Kyle was about to tear up the Cup Series again because he had won early on at Auto Club.

Sounds kind of familiar, doesn’t it?

But before you pump the brakes, let’s look at what Busch does have going for him. For one, RCR is on the upswing more so than any other team in Cup. Reddick scored three victories in 2022 for RCR. That’s the most the storied organization has earned in any year since 2013, and it was with that very same No. 8 team.

Additionally, Busch is 38 years old. That’s statistically near prime age for most drivers, and with a brand new team that appears to legitimately value him more than others in his past, he is likely in a much better mental state than he was one year ago when he was negotiating contracts.

That said, it’s still early on in 2023, and we could just as easily start seeing a downward trend in Busch’s stats starting this weekend at his home track of Las Vegas Motor Speedway. However, there is something to be said about connecting a Cup championship to winning at Auto Club.

After all, Busch was the last to win both in 2019.

Can NASCAR and F1 ever team up for a Las Vegas doubleheader?

Think about it. The two most popular racing series in the United States coming together in Vegas for one big weekend of racing on the Vegas strip? That would be a national spectacle.

But it will probably never happen.

With Formula 1 having a third race in the United States later this year when it races in the streets of the desert oasis, and with NASCAR’s recent interest in street courses, the thought of the two coming together has surely crossed some folks’ minds, right?

After all, the Brickyard weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway that sees a doubleheader between the open wheel world of the NTT IndyCar Series and the stock car circuit of NASCAR has been successful. In other words, it’s not like two competing racing entities haven’t teamed up to put on a great show before.

But as much as many would like to see it, F1 is not IndyCar.

It’s more expensive. Like, way more expensive.

Based on ticket sales websites, the lowest starting price for a ticket to the Las Vegas Grand Prix is $1,513. That’s general admission seating.

The lowest starting price seating for this weekend’s Pennzoil 400 Cup race is in the second-story grandstands just before the pit road entrance, where one should be able to see the whole speedway. It’s $54.

That’s a bit of a difference in pricing.

Of course there are fans who go to F1 races to actually see the race because they are legitimate race fans, and with American Logan Sargeant on the grid in 2023, there will certainly be a good American turnout to watch the rookie come lights-out time. If you like ā€” and can afford ā€” sipping on champagne and eating shrimp cocktail while watching your favorite F1 teams and drivers in person, more power to you.

But there is no doubt that F1 races attract a certain amount of people for its glitz-and-glamor appeal. NASCAR doesn’t fully have that attraction. Or at least it doesn’t right now.

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When will Tyler Reddick recover from awful first two races?

Four points.

That’s how many Reddick has earned so far after two races in 2023.

One year ago, Reddick was driving with the same team that went to victory lane on Sunday. After leading a race-high 90 laps in 2022, his No. 45 team was looking for him to continue where he left off one year ago. It needed it, too. At Daytona International Speedway, the 23XI Racing team was out by lap 117 and finished 39th.

With no qualifying, Reddick started in the back on Sunday (Feb. 26) and had to march his way to the front. After being involved in his incident with LaJoie on lap 82, Reddick restarted in the middle of the pack after the ensuing caution.

It only got worse.

After being caught up in a big crash for the second week in a row, Reddick had to retire from the race and was credited with a 34th-place finish.

Almost the opposite of LaJoie, Reddick is off to a horrendous start to 2023 with his new Toyota-powered team compared to one year ago. In owner points, the No. 45 is 40th. That’s below Conor Daly and The Money Team Racing, who weren’t even in California. In 2022, he was 21st at this point.

Like LaJoie, however, there’s little reason to gauge how the rest of the season will go for the No. 45 after a couple bad luck races. Surely, Reddick will find his groove again and return to his natural top 10-running form.

But how long will it take? Two races of bad luck can be recovered from to make the playoffs. However, wait too long to start performing, and you’ve got a deep hole to fill to make the top 16.

And after two races, Reddick has one heck of a hole already.

About the author

Dalton Hopkins began writing for Frontstretch in April 2021. Currently, he is the lead writer for the weekly Thinkin' Out Loud column and one of our lead reporters. Beforehand, he wrote for IMSA shortly after graduating from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in 2019. Simultaneously, he also serves as a First Lieutenant in the US Army.

Follow Dalton on Twitter @PitLaneLT

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