Top Dog: Corey LaJoie
Frontstretch‘s own Michael Massie documented the rapid rise of Spire Motorsports off the track in this past week’s “Fire on Fridays.”
The article effectively explores recent business ventures that are setting up the small, two-car team up for a bright future.
After gaining a valuable sponsorship investment from Gainbridge in July, the team purchased a third charter just two weeks ago that will add Zane Smith into the fold as he begins a transition to Trackhouse Racing Team.
And just after we thought the team had rested on the shell-shocking moves, they pulled another rabbit out of the hat by purchasing Kyle Busch Motorsports, a move that gives them the shop, KBM’s NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series assets and Rowdy Manufacturing.
Though the transactions added a lot more luster to Spire, there was still work to be done on the track. In the YellawWood 500 at Talladega Superspeedway (Oct. 1), Corey LaJoie carried the torch of momentum with a top five.
LaJoie has proven to be a consistent threat on superspeedways, as you will typically see his No. 7 toward the front at several moments throughout those races. This attempt was relatively quiet, as LaJoie was conservative at times throughout the day.
Stage finishes of 11th and 23rd vindicated how the 32-year-old flew under the radar, but as Roger Penske told race winner Ryan Blaney prior to the race, “Be there at the end.”
With as many cars as were able to stay glued together throughout the event, the character of the race from a wreck standpoint may have seemed uneventful on paper. It was anything but that, however.
Several moments of the race saw 20-plus strong run three-wide lap after lap, and even four-wide at times. There were also three multi-car accidents, providing the same need for survival typical of Talladega.
LaJoie was able to stay clean and put himself up front for the final 10 laps. The inability of a third lane to develop and the hesitancy of some frontrunners to dart out of line never allowed LaJoie to make a run at the win. The No. 7 was tucked in third in line on the outside for the closing circuits, pushing the back of Riley Herbst.
As the field approached the start/finish line, LaJoie spun Herbst, igniting a multi-car crash across the stripe. But as the checkered flag flew, it was LaJoie who grabbed a fifth-place result, later boosted to fourth due to Kevin Harvick‘s disqualification.
LaJoie’s popular “stacking pennies” slogan continues to stack tall in 2023, as he earned multiple top fives in a season for the first time. It also pads a career-high three top 10s, all of which have come on superspeedways.
As Spire sets itself up for the future, the veteran LaJoie continues to sharpen himself as the driver to lead the charge for the organization.
The superspeedway prowess of Justin Haley was on display once again, as he left Talladega with a sixth-place result. Haley was a contender throughout the race, earning four stage points in the opening stag and running inside the top five at one point. Haley joined his Kaulig Racing teammates in dropping out of line toward the end of stage two, making sure he was still in the hunt for the final stage.
On lap 162, Haley was mired back in traffic when the second multi-car accident occurred in the tri-oval straight ahead of him. However, the No. 31 driver calmly maneuvered out of harm’s way, dodging a spinning Brad Keselowski to clear the accident. From there, he continued to work his way forward and entered the final lap just outside the top 10. When the crash happened coming to the finish, Haley committed to the middle, only receiving some pinball-like bumps to grab his sixth top of 2023 in his final superspeedway start with Kaulig. That total matches his top 10 tally from 2021 and 2022 combined.
As we have seen several times this year, the top finishing underdog may not have necessarily been the most impressive. That was the case this time, with those honors going to Herbst, who finished ninth.
Making just his fourth career Cup start, Herbst qualified in the top 10 for the second consecutive time. Herbst made some early moves in his Front Row Motorsports machine to get to the front, but quickly faded back with a visibly unsettled car. Despite this, the 24-year-old made his way back to the front by the end of the race.
When the final caution of the day flew on lap 172, Herbst was inside the top five. The sprint to the finish put him in an untested and vulnerable spot, as he was tasked with pushing Blaney, who was on the front row. Despite a slow start that eventually allowed Harvick to jump up top, the two recovered their momentum to stay in the battle. Surrounded by veterans on NASCAR’s largest oval, the rookie could have easily caved. Lap after lap, he did not.
The luck ran out coming to the start/finish line as Herbst was spun, taking a top five out of his grasp. However, he was still able to slide across inside the top 10, grabbing his second such result in four starts. For a driver who has faced much criticism under the microscope in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, another impressive performance begs the question: Is Herbst suited for the Next Gen car? Time will tell.
Two spots behind Herbst in 11th was another part-time rookie, Chandler Smith. The 21-year-old was making just his third Cup start in the No. 13 for Kaulig.
No off-week vacation this time for the Xfinity regular, who pulled double duty between the Truck and Cup race. After playing it safe for the first half of the race, there was no hesitance in the final stage from Smith, who kept his car in the thick of the pack. In the closing laps, Smith quietly put himself in the mix, running just outside the top 10 coming to the stripe. He was involved in the accident, but not before he grabbed a career-best Cup result.
Much has been written about Carson Hocevar‘s impressive streak of four straight top 20s to begin his Cup career. Smith deserves some love too, as his three Cup starts have produced finishes of 17th, 15th and 11th. Not bad for a driver looking like a future superstar.
Rounding out the top 12 was Todd Gilliland, giving him three consecutive runs of 13th or better at Talladega. Gilliland likely falls on the “love” end of the love-hate relationship between drivers and Talladega, as he ran up front at several points in the event, including a time where FRM ran 1-2-3. Gilliland and Michael McDowell hooked up at times, resembling the successful pairing of Gilliland’s father David and David Ragan on drafting tracks. The 12th-place run continues to build more optimism for the 23-year-old when he returns next season.
What They’re Saying
Erik Jones (27th): “Just not a good day for the No. 43 Allegiant Chevy team. We just weren’t up front and where we needed to be, and it just didn’t work out there at the end. We’ll regroup and get ready for the Charlotte ROVAL.”
Hocevar (35th after lap 162 crash):
Small Team Scheme of the Race
There were many great options this week as several teams debuted new schemes. Stewart-Haas Racing’s Shake & Bake schemes from Talladega Nights stole the show, with Wonder Bread sponsoring Ryan Preece (a.k.a. Ricky Bobby). But the battle for the lead at one point turned into a battle of the breads between Preece and Ricky Stenhouse Jr.‘s Sara Lee Artesano bakery bread scheme. With a bread texture look to the base, the No. 47 gave the Wonder scheme a run for its money.
About the author
Luken Glover arrived on the Frontstretch scene in 2020. He has been an avid NASCAR fan for the majority of his life, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who used to help former team owner Junie Donlavey in his garage. Glover covers news for the site and took over "The Underdog House" column in 2021. In addition to being a college junior, his hobbies include volunteering at church, playing basketball and tennis, racing go-karts, and helping at his high school alma mater.
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