HAMPTON, Ga. – Corey LaJoie climbed out of his car with a smile on his face as he looked at fellow NASCAR Cup Series competitor Joey Logano celebrating on the Atlanta Motor Speedway frontstretch on Sunday, March 19.
For the Spire Motorsports driver, it wasn’t a win. In fact, it was only his second career top-five Cup Series result, and it had come at the same circuit where he had earned his first one year ago.
Yet despite being so close to a first win, with how happy he was, it might as well have been a victory.
“There’s a moral victory because you get your pee-pee smashed 35 weekends out of the year,” LaJoie said after his fourth-place result. “You know, here’s an opportunity where you can win and, when you can run fourth, that’s why there’s so many good things wrapped up in that.”
With one lap to go, the No. 7 Chevrolet was in a prime position to make a run on the leaders.
He was pushing childhood friend and fellow racer Logano on the bottom lane as they entered turn 1. Logano, who was carrying a lot of momentum after LaJoie’s push, darted to the outside lane in an attempt to get around race leader Brad Keselowski. On the backstretch, it worked. Logano cleared the No. 6 Ford and took the lead. LaJoie who stayed on the bottom, could only watch helplessly as he lost ground.
“I just didn’t have enough help down the back to formulate a good run through [turn] 3,” LaJoie said, recounting the final lap. “Luckily, I didn’t get turned right into the fence coming to the checkered.”
He finished fourth, but while many other drivers would hate only coming so close to a win, LaJoie isn’t taking the result for granted.
“I don’t know why [drivers have] this mindset of ‘second sucks, man,'” he said. “I don’t know what the podium was from Formula 1, but I’m sure the guy in second was popping champagne bottles and having a blast.”
While Max Verstappen likely wasn’t too upset that he finished second earlier on Sunday in Saudi Arabia, he certainly wasn’t having as much enjoyment as LaJoie.
For good reason, too. The No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet has had a decent start to the 2023 season and with the 31-year-old earning his career-best Cup Series finish, blanketed itself a little further in the playoff field in 14th.
“It’s freaking hard,” LaJoie said. “Five races in, a team like ours gets buried. It’s just like the week-after-week preparation. We’re just trying to get, a lot of times, just the cars done in the truck to go, whereas some of your teams are two or three weeks out and just massaging on it.
“I’m hopeful that in the meat and potatoes of the season, the dog days of summer, we can keep running and keep the level of preparation we’re bringing to the racetrack.”
Even if they don’t stay consistent, Spire Motorsports is already vastly improving over the last year.
After five races in the 2022 season, the No. 7 wasn’t even in the top 20 in points, much less than the 14th-place spot they find themselves in now.
It’s not lost on the rest of the field either. Not even on race winner Logano.
“It’s a great day for them,” Logano said of LaJoie’s finish. “I don’t think many of us are surprised by it. Toward the end, I was like, ‘Oh, there he is. Where has he been all day?’ Corey just kind of popped up there at the end.”
“They’ve obviously given him a really good-handling racecar that can go fast and allow him to make some good moves on the racetrack.”
Whether or not Spire Motorsports will be able to maintain their consistent runs remains to be seen. However, after a decent start to the 2023 season, they’re using the momentum they carry to point their way into what could possibly be an upset playoff berth.
And hey, maybe that first win for LaJoie isn’t as far off as we may think.
“We’re going to go to Talladega [Superspeedway], and we’re going to go back to Atlanta, and we’re going to have another shot at Daytona [International Speedway] to pull off a win versus 35 goliaths and try to steal a spot in the playoffs,” he said.
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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