Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: It’s Time to Talk About Corey LaJoie

Do you remember when we all thought Spire Motorsports was going to just buy NASCAR last season when it went on a shopping spree and subsequent major expansion?

Well so far, Spire’s new era has gone really well in both the NASCAR Cup Series and Craftsman Truck Series. The team has new equipment, a new charter, one new Cup Series team and three new full-time Truck Series teams (four if you count Nick Sanchez, as his team, Rev Racing, is housed in Spire’s shop).

On top of that, of the five single-driver teams in 2024 (the No. 7 Truck Series team is split between several different drivers), four of them have new drivers. The only full-time returnee to the team from 2023 was Corey LaJoie.

Some of the highlights in the Truck Series include the first career wins of Sanchez and Rajah Caruth, as well as rookie phenom Connor Zilisch nearly adding his name to the list with a banner weekend at Circuit of the Americas. Not to mention, Kyle Busch has won two races in four starts in the No. 7 – with one more start to go at Darlington Raceway. Meanwhile, Chase Purdy, while still trying to find speed, has showed measured improvement in other areas.

See also
The Underdog House: Carson Hocevar Earns a Lone Star Top 10 in Texas

On the Cup side, Carson Hocevar has had a solid start to his rookie campaign, earning his first career Cup Series top 10 in the most recent race at Texas Motor Speedway. Zane Smith, driving the brand new No. 71 in partnership with Trackhouse Racing (with whom Smith is actually under contract), has had some growing pains adjusting to the Next Gen. Though he has dropped down to the Truck Series a few times in 2024 with McAnally-Hilgemann Racing to show he’s still capable of wheeling a race vehicle.

So what about LaJoie?

Aside from a fourth-place finish at the Daytona 500, it’s been a season from hell.

But is it really?

After running the entire 2023 Cup Series season without a single DNF, a crash at Phoenix Raceway ended LaJoie’s day early. It’s his only DNF of the season.

That makes the results look worse.

At Las Vegas Motor Speedway, LaJoie finished a dismal 32nd after a late wreck, though he managed four stage points to help soften the blow. Then came the Phoenix DNF. The following race at Bristol Motor Speedway, where he started and finished midpack after the tire wear, perhaps scrambled the finishing order a little more than intended.

COTA started out great for the No. 7 as LaJoie qualified fifth, but he nearly caused an accident on the opening lap and faded to a disappointing 24th. Then came Richmond, perhaps the most demoralizing race of the season.

LaJoie qualified 21st, but slipped all the way back to 36th. Dead last. Where he would finish. Remember, Phoenix is his only DNF of the season.

LaJoie finished last … on pure speed.

Yikes.

LaJoie then qualified and finished 32nd at Martinsville Speedway in another disappointing race before gaining an okay 22nd-place finish at Texas, where he was outrun by both his teammates before Smith encountered some late-race issues.

This is coming after 2023, where LaJoie finished 25th in points despite finishing every race. His 2023 season was highlighted by the race at World Wide Technology Raceway, where he drove the No. 9 in place of a suspended Chase Elliott, but only managed to finish 21st in the ride. His replacement for the race, Hocevar, worked his way into the top 15 early in the race before a brake failure ended his day.

LaJoie was outrun by his own car in a car that should be miles better.

Before 2023, LaJoie didn’t have a points finish above 29th, and to this day he doesn’t have a top 10 on a non-drafting track in six full-time seasons and two part-time seasons in 2017 and 2018.

At what point does the discussion open about LaJoie’s ability in the Cup Series?

LaJoie is a fan favorite, and rightfully so, because of his personality and humor. He won over more fans during rain delays where he would throw a football into the stands and play catch with the fans.

But it might be time to concede that LaJoie might benefit from dropping down to the Truck Series to work on his race craft a little bit.

His old teammate Ty Dillon, coincidentally, did that this season. Dillon, left without a ride for 2024 after being replaced by Hocevar, joined Rackley WAR for the season in hopes to work on his driving ability after his Cup Series career went cold.

So far, Dillon is still adjusting to the Truck Series again after not competing full-time in the season for over a decade, but his results are seemingly better than his recent Cup Series endeavors. Not to mention, Dillon has a part-time deal with Kaulig Racing to still run some Cup races this season, and he just managed a 16th-place finish at Texas, so it’s safe to say the move is paying off for the younger Dillon brother.

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Matt DiBenedetto Talks NASCAR Return, Vision of Viking Motorsports

Dillon replaced Matt DiBenedetto, who took the same route. After his ride at Wood Brothers Racing was filled before 2022, DiBenedetto also joined Rackley and won his first career NASCAR race at Talladega Superspeedway in 2022. He drove for the team for nearly two seasons, and he’s now in the midst of a somewhat-full-time endeavor with Viking Motorsports and RSS Racing.

Perhaps the most recent success story of dropping down to reprove himself is that of John Hunter Nemechek. Nemechek left Front Row Motorsports after the 2020 season and joined Kyle Busch Motorsports’ Truck Series team, winning seven races over the next two seasons and serving as a championship threat both seasons.

In 2023, he was promoted to Joe Gibbs Racing’s Xfinity Series program and won seven races, and arguably should have been the champion, earning him a promotion back to the Cup Series with Legacy Motor Club.

LaJoie could greatly benefit from a season or two in the Truck Series. Before he went full-time Cup racing in 2019, he only had one – yes, one – full-time NASCAR season in his entire career, and that was all the way down in the K&N Pro Series East (now ARCA Menards Series East), where he finished second in points, way back in 2012.

Maybe LaJoie could use some lower series experience to aid his Cup prowess. He has made three Truck starts with Spire, and ran well in all of them but late-race chicanery dropped him to less-than-stellar results.

His team has a three-truck operation as is – he could easily slot into one of those rides. Spire could make him the full-time driver of the No. 7 in 2025, or if Purdy fails to produce results capable of keeping his No. 77, he could be ousted in favor of LaJoie. He has options available to him if he wants them.

See also
Tracking the Trucks: Rowdy Emerges with Six-Shooters at Texas

But it’s something that he needs to consider, because Hocevar is beating him in the points as a rookie, and if it weren’t for LaJoie’s fourth-place Daytona 500 finish, he would likely be much further down in the points, close to Smith. As the veteran of the group, it isn’t a good look if the two rookies are in position to be beating him in points.

LaJoie is capable of holding his own in NASCAR, and yes, he largely has driven for underfunded teams like BK Racing and Go Fas Racing (both of which are now defunct), but his resume leading up to his Cup ride needs some work.

Perhaps a season or two in the Truck Series can bring LaJoie more confidence and capability in the Cup Series.

Truckin’ Tidbits

  • Stefan Parsons‘ No. 75 was found with two missing lug nuts following the race at Texas. His crew chief Chris Carrier was fined $5,000 and has been suspended one race for the infraction.
  • Repco Supercars Championship driver Cam Waters has officially confirmed he will race again at Kansas Speedway, driving ThorSport Racing’s No. 66. Despite FOX Sports 1 reporting he’d run Kansas during its broadcast of his debut at Martinsville, neither Waters nor ThorSport confirmed the report after Waters crashed out at Martinsville. The No. 66 is split between Waters, Rookie of the Year contender Conner Jones, and eventually, Luke Fenhaus.
  • A fun stat: Busch’s win at Texas ties him with Todd Bodine for the most Truck Series wins at Texas, with both winning six apiece.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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gbvette

Dropping back to Xfinity might benefit him, but I’d question any advantage to spending more time in trucks. I was friends with Erik Jones late father and I remember they were visiting NASCAR teams right after his first Snowball Derby win that one team owner (I think it was Hendrick) told Dave to make sure Erik got out of trucks as quick as possible because there was very little he could learn there that he could bring to Cup. The thinking was trucks were so much different in design and driving style, that they just didn’t compare all that well to driving an Xfinity or Cup car. If that’s true then it has to be a much bigger difference now with the Next Gen car.

The bigger question is does LaJoie have what it takes to be a Cup driver….his father didn’t.

sdelfin

That’s probably less true now with regard to the trucks and the Xfinity and Cup cars. I recall reading Hocevar describe how the Trucks and Cup cars are now more similar since the Cup cars switched to the current car. He talked about how he was able to jump into the Cup car easier than others because it suited his preferred driving style. He also said the Xfinity cars are much different and there’s very little carryover to Cup. I think there’s probably still a benefit to going through the Xfinity series as far as learning how to race against better drivers and cars, but the driving styles are vastly different now between the cars.

Shayne

He’ll probably cause a Big One on Sunday. So much unwarranted àttention is given to this poser by the media.

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