Career-best finish for Corey LaJoie like a win for Spire Motorsports

2 Comments

HAMPTON, Ga. — Kurt Busch came by to congratulate Corey LaJoie after Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. So did Chase Briscoe.

While William Byron did burnouts on the frontstretch after winning, LaJoie relished his career-best fifth-place finish.

“I think by all measures, we should consider this a win,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. 

The son of two-time Xfinity champion Randy LaJoie, Corey’s talent has not been questioned. It’s just that the opportunities didn’t come his way. Once a touted prospect, the 30-year-old LaJoie saw lack of sponsorship interrupt his career as others continued to race and win. 

He came back focused on Cup, but LaJoie has raced for underfunded teams. His first Daytona 500 in 2017 was with BK Racing and he was told that if he didn’t make the race, the organization likely would have to shut down the No. 83 team.

He made the race and continued to plug along in the series. With a new car that is intended to close the gap between big teams and small teams, LaJoie and Spire Motorsports have made progress this season. 

He crossed the finish line sixth at Atlanta but gained a spot when NASCAR penalized Christopher Bell, who came across the line second, for going below the out-of-bounds line on the last lap to make a pass. NASCAR dropped Bell to 23rd, the last car on the lead lap.

LaJoie’s fifth-place finish finish Sunday was Spire Motorsports’ best result since Justin Haley won the rain-shortened July Daytona race in 2019. LaJoie has scored three top-15 finishes in five races — a feat he had not accomplished over his previous 168 Cup starts. 

He also did it without crew chief Ryan Sparks, serving the first of a four-race suspension after a wheel came off the team’s car at Phoenix Raceway. 

“We’ve been smart, I feel like, all year long,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. “Barring last week with the wheel falling off, I think that we had been an 18th- to 22nd-place car, and we have been taking advantage of other people’s mistakes. As long as we continue to keep our mistakes to a minimal, who knows where we’re going to end up. We’re controlling the things we can control right now.”

Even with the new car, he’s had to race smart. He ran the same car at Auto Club Speedway, Las Vegas and Phoenix in consecutive weekends. He still managed a top-15 finish at Las Vegas.

LaJoie overcame an incident Sunday that had him sliding through the infield grass at Atlanta to his first Cup top-five result.

“You’re never going to win one of these things by riding the entire day,” he said. “You have to engage and get track position and hold it up for pretty much the first stage. A fifth for us, financially, points, we’re looking at points already. I hit the fence at (Auto Club) and gave probably 10 points (away) up there just from a mistake I did. I was glad I was able to make up those 10 points (Sunday).”

The result is that LaJoie is 24th in the driver standings. He’s four points behind Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and eight points ahead of Denny Hamlin, who is 26th in the standings. 

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————

The tire issues for Ross Chastain, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Tyler Reddick as they ran at or near the front was perplexing for those involved and for Goodyear. 

Stenhouse wondered if running out front was a factor for all three Chevrolet drivers. 

“I don’t know if the speed difference of the way you load into the corner with more air on your race car” was a factor, he said. “The guys in the back don’t have as much load being behind somebody. I don’t know if overloading the tire just killed it. We didn’t see a whole lot of tire wear in practice, so it’s not like you’re wearing it out I believe.”

Rudy Fugle, crew chief for winner William Byron, said there could be something to Stenhouse’s thought.

“The speed and having to run pretty much wide open to lead compared to 70% throttle for a full lap to be second or third is definitely putting a lot more stress on the tires, so it’s kind of managing ourselves there,” Fugle said. 

“I was trying to coach William into doing some lifts and just if we could lift a little bit and slow the pace down a little bit and not get passed, then we could save the tires. Definitely at a repave you are always worried about tires. You got hard tires because you have so much load, but eventually you put enough heat in them, and they blow out. Definitely on our mind.”

Atlanta Cup race
Tyler Reddick was among those to have a tire issue and spin while running toward the front in Sunday’s Cup race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images)

Greg Stucker, Goodyear’s director of race tire sales, said Sunday that the company was examining the issues with those three cars.

“Most heavily loaded position on a stock car is right front, so it’s a little bit unique that we’re seeing right rears,” he said. “Varying number of laps. Mostly longer runs. We didn’t see any indication of anything in practice when we had guys with 50-plus laps on tires. It’s a little bit of a surprise. 

“The one thing we do know is it is all the same make. Whether that’s a factor or not, it seems to be more than a coincidence. What’s consistent about setups. That’s just what we’re going to try to figure out.”

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————

With the success of Sunday’s race, which featured a track-record 46 lead changes, the question becomes if Texas Motor Speedway is the next in the Speedway Motorsports family of tracks to be changed to create speedway racing at that track to reignite fan interest.

Marcus Smith, president and chief executive officer of Speedway Motorsports, liked what he saw at Atlanta but isn’t ready to make changes to Texas based off Sunday’s race.

“I had ideas of what it could be,” Smith said of the Cup race after Atlanta Motor Speedway was repaved and had the banking increased in the corners.

“I wasn’t really sure of what we were going to get, but I think NASCAR and the teams have done such a phenomenal job with the Next Gen car. It matched up perfectly with the Next Gen Atlanta track, but we’ve had fantastic racing this year from the LA Coliseum, every race since. I think, as race fans, we’re all blessed to be able to enjoy a really fun ride to start the season out.”

As for what about Texas?

“I’m really excited to get to Texas Motor Speedway and see how this new Next Gen car races there,” Smith said. “When you look at the racing we had at Fontana and Las Vegas Motor Speedway this year, it was by far and away the best racing I’ve seen at those tracks. Different things work in different ways with this new car.”

———————————————————————————————————————————————————————

A total of 31 cars were involved in incidents in Sunday’s superspeedway-style race at Atlanta. 

To compare, 26 cars were involved in incidents in this year’s Daytona 500.

Dr. Diandra: Is Talladega really the biggest, fastest, fiercest track?

0 Comments

Talladega Superspeedway has a reputation as one of the wildest tracks on the NASCAR circuit.

Is it hype? Or do the numbers prove the point?

The biggest

Talladega is the longest oval track in the NASCAR circuit. At 2.66 miles (14,045 feet), one Talladega lap is the length of about 468 football fields. Talladega is longer than Mauna Kea is tall.

If we measure lengths in terms of Talladega:

  • The distance from Charlotte to Nashville (the location of the NASCAR awards ceremony) is 339 Talladegas.
  • If you flew direct from Los Angeles to New York City, you would cover 2500 Talladegas.
  • Martinsville is just 0.20 Talladegas.

Talladega also holds the record for banking in current Cup Series tracks with 33 degrees. Talladega’s banking is so high that the outside lane of the 48-foot wide racing surface is 26.1 feet higher than the inside lane. That difference is about the height of a two-story house.

Talladega is a tri-oval. Think of it as three straight lines connected by three curves.

A graphic showing the tri-oval shape and how it got its name

 

While tri-oval describes the track shape, it is also used to refer to the frontstretch — the most triangular part of the track.

And Talladega’s frontstretch is formidable. The 4,300-foot segment is banked at 16.5 degrees. Talladega’s frontstretch has more banking than all three of Pocono’s turns.

The backstretch, known as the Alabama Gang Superstretch, isn’t too shabby, either. It’s 1,000 feet longer than Daytona’s backstretch. If you were to unroll Richmond, its entire 0.75-mile length would just cover Talladega’s backstretch.

Talladega’s infield is so large that it could hold the L.A. Coliseum, Martinsville, Bristol, Dover, Richmond and the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

A graphic showing that it's possible to pack five smaller tracks, plus the NASCAR Hall of Fame into Talladega's infield

The Fastest

Bill France Sr. originally envisioned Talladega as Indianapolis Motor Speedway with higher banking. At a time when raw speed was the big attraction, higher banking would allow Talladega to wrest away the closed-track speed record from Indy.

In 1970, just six months after Talladega hosted its first race, Buddy Baker became the first driver to break the 200 mph mark on a closed course.

Baker’s breakthrough happened at a testing session. It wasn’t until 1982 that Benny Parsons became the first Cup Series driver to qualify over 200 mph. Just four years later, all but one of the 42 drivers starting the spring race qualified over 200 mph.

In May 1987, Bill Elliott set the all-time Cup Series qualifying record at 212.809 mph. That record will likely never be broken. During the race, Bobby Allison got airborne and crashed into the catchfence. NASCAR subsequently mandated restrictor plates (and now tapered spacers) to keep speeds down and cars on the ground.

Restricting airflow to the engine makes drafting even more important. That, in turn, leads to large packs of cars racing within inches of each other. That’s why four of the top-10 closest finishes in the Cup Series happened at Talladega.

In the spring 2011 race, Jimmie Johnson beat Clint Bowyer by just two-thousandths (0.002) of a second. That ties the famous 2003 Ricky Craven/Kurt Busch Darlington finish for the smallest margin of victory in Cup Series history.

Of all Talladega races run after NASCAR introduced electronic scoring in May 1993, 44 ended under a green flag. Of those races:

  • Seven (15.9%) were won by less than 25 thousandths of a second.
  • Fifteen (34.1%) were won by less than one-tenth of a second.
  • Thirty-nine (88.6%) were won by less than two-tenths of a second.
  • The largest margin of victory was 0.388 seconds.

The Fiercest

Pack racing leads to more contact. Out of 35 Talladega races run under the current green-white-checkered rule, 14 (40%) ended under caution. Rain caused one of those yellow/checkered finishes. The rest were due to accidents.

In 64 races since 1990, Talladega has seen 228 caution-causing spins or accidents, which involved 1,120 cars.

Almost half (49.2%) of these incidents involved only one or two cars. A one- or two-car accident is no less problematic for the drivers involved than a larger crash. But the more cars involved in accidents, the more likely a driver is to be knocked out of the race.

  • 3.5% of all accidents since 1990 involved 20 or more cars.
  • 5.7% of accidents collected 15 or more cars.
  • 16.7% were 10-car or larger crashes.
  • 38.2% involved five or more cars.

While probable, the Big One is by no means inevitable.

Neither are accidents in general. Three races since 1990 finished with no cautions, but all three of these races took place before 2003. The lowest number of cautions in a Talladega race since 2003 is three. That happened at the fall races in 2013 and 2015.

The average number of caution-causing accidents and spins in a Talladega race is 3.5.

  • Seven races (10.9%) had a single caution-causing accident or spin.
  • 14 out of 64 races (21.9%) had four caution-causing accidents or spins
  • 13 of 64 races (20.3%) had three caution-causing incidents.

Races with four or fewer accidents make up 71.9% of all Talladega races — which means that races with five or more accidents only account for 28.1%.

The numbers definitely uphold Talladega’s reputation. Although the track itself remains the same, the racing varies. Tune in to NBC (2 p.m. ET) to see whether this fall’s bout is accident-filled or accident-free.

Talladega Xfinity results: AJ Allmendinger edges Sam Mayer

0 Comments

AJ Allmendinger, who had had several close calls in Xfinity Series superspeedway races, finally broke through to Victory Lane Saturday, edging Sam Mayer to win at Talladega Superspeedway.

Allmendinger’s margin of victory was .015 of a second. Mayer finished second by a few feet.

Following in the top five were Landon Cassill (Allmendinger’s Kaulig Racing teammate and his drafting partner at the end), Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson, who had won four straight Xfinity races entering Saturday, was 10th. Austin Hill dominated the race but finished 14th.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

AJ Allmendinger wins Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway

0 Comments

Veteran driver AJ Allmendinger slipped past youngster Sam Mayer in the final seconds and won Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series playoff race at Talladega Superspeedway.

As drivers in the lead pack scrambled for position approaching the finish line, Allmendinger moved to the outside and, getting a push from Kaulig Racing teammate Landon Cassill, edged Mayer by a few feet. The win ended frustration for Allmendinger on superspeedways.

Following Allmendinger, 40, at the finish were Mayer (who is 19 years old), Cassill, Ryan Sieg and Josh Berry.

Noah Gragson and Allmendinger have qualified for the next playoff round. The other six drivers above the cutline are Ty Gibbs, Austin Hill, Josh Berry, Justin Allgaier, Mayer and Sieg. Below the cutline are Daniel Hemric, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst and Jeremy Clements.

MORE: Talladega Xfinity results

MORE: Talladega Xfinity driver points

“This is Talladega,” a wildly happy Allmendinger told NBC Sports. “Yes, I hate superspeedway racing, but it’s awesome to win in front of the Talladega crowd.”

Austin Hill dominated the race but dropped out of the lead to 14th place  in the closing five laps as drivers moved up and down the track in search of the best drafting line.

The first half of the race featured two and sometimes three drafting lines with a lot of movement and blocking near the front. In the final stage, the leaders ran lap after lap in single file, with Hill, Allmendinger and Gragson in the top three.

MORE: Safety key topic as drivers meet at Talladega

Hill led 60 laps and won the first two stages but finished 14th.

Gragson was in pursuit of a fifth straight Xfinity Series win. He finished 10th.

Remarkably for a Talladega race, the entire 38-car field finished. The race was the 1,300th in Xfinity history, marking only the third time the entire field had been running at the finish. The other two races were at Michigan in 1998 and Langley Speedway in Virginia in 1988.

Stage 1 winner: Austin Hill

Stage 2 winner: Austin Hill

Who had a good race: AJ Allmendinger got the “can’t win on superspeedways” monkey off his back with a great final lap. … Sam Mayer made all the right moves but was passed in the madness of the final run down the trioval. … Landon Cassill finished a strong third and gave Allmendinger, his teammate, the winning push.

Who had a bad race: The race had to be disappointing for Austin Hill, who ran the show for most of the afternoon, winning two stages and leading 60 laps, more than twice as many as any other driver. While blocking to try to maintain the lead late in the race, he fell to 14th. … Playoff driver Jeremy Clements finished a sour 20th and is 47 points below the cutline.

Next: The Xfinity Series’ next playoff race is scheduled Oct. 8 at 3 p.m. (ET) on the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval. The race will be broadcast by NBC.

Safety key topic in meeting for drivers at Talladega

0 Comments

TALLADEGA, Ala. — Cup drivers met Friday with Jeff Burton, director of the Drivers Advisory Council, and discussed safety issues ahead of this weekend’s playoff race, which will be without two drivers due to concussion-like symptoms from crashes.

Alex Bowman and Kurt Busch will not race Sunday at Talladega Superspeedway. 

Busch suffered his head injury in a crash at Pocono in July. Bowman’s injury followed his crash last weekend at Texas Motor Speedway. Both were injured in accidents where the rear of the car hit the SAFER barrier first.

Two drivers injured in less than three months — and the series racing at a track where crashes are likely — raises tension in the Cup garage. 

Denny Hamlin blasted NASCAR on Saturday, saying it was “bad leadership” for not addressing safety concerns drivers had with the car. Hamlin also said that the Next Gen vehicle needs to be redesigned.

Burton, who also is an analyst for NBC Sports, said in an exclusive interview that Friday’s meeting was lengthy because there were several topics to discuss. Burton didn’t go into details on all the topics.

Safety was a key element of that meeting. Burton, whose role with the Drivers Advisory Council is to coordinate the group and communicate with NASCAR, discussed the cooperation level with NASCAR.

“We feel like we have cooperation with NASCAR,” he said. “We know the commitments from NASCAR. They’ve made real commitments to us. We want to see those commitments through. I believe that we will in regards to changes to the car. 

“We want to see that come to conclusion as soon as possible. They have made commitments to us and are showing us what is happening, communicating with us in regard to timing, and we want to see it come to conclusion, as they do. 

“Unfortunately, we weren’t able to get some changes done before last weekend. It just takes a long time to test stuff.”

NASCAR has a crash test scheduled next week on a new rear clip and rear bumper. Even if the test goes well, there’s not enough time for any such changes this season with five races left.

The frustration from drivers — and voiced by Hamlin and Kevin Harvick — has been that NASCAR was informed about issues with a stiffer car for more than a year. Some questions were raised after William Byron crashed in a test in March 2020 at Auto Club Speedway.

“William Byron busted his ass at (Auto Club) Speedway and that should have raised a red flag right off the bat,” Harvick said Saturday.

Hamlin said more drivers needed to speak up about concerns with the car.

“I know a lot of young guys are just happy to be here, but they ain’t going to be happy when their brains are scrambled for the rest of their lives,” Hamlin said.

Byron is looking for changes to be made.

“I want to have a long career, and I don’t want to have a series of concussions that make me either have to step way from the car or have to think about long-term things,” he said.

Chase Elliott also shared his frustrations Saturday.

“You come off a week like we had in Texas and somebody getting injured and then you come into here, where odds are we’re probably all going to hit something at some point (Sunday) and probably not lightly at that,” Elliot said.

So what do drivers do?

“Do you just not show up?” Elliott said. “Do you just not run? I don’t think that’s feasible to ask. There’s always an inherent risk in what we do and it’s always been that way. 

“My frustration is … I just hate that we put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. It’s just disappointing that we’ve put ourselves here and we had a choice. We did this to ourselves as an industry. 

“That should have just never been the case. We should not have put ourselves in the box that we’re in right now. So my disappointment lies in that that we had years and time and opportunity to make this thing right before we put it on track and we didn’t, and now we’re having to fix it. 

“I just hate that we did that. I think we’re smarter than that. I think there’s just a lot of men and women that work in this garage that know better and we shouldn’t have been here.”

Burton told NBC Sports that drivers did not discuss in Friday’s meeting running single-file in Sunday’s race as a form of protest.

“It wouldn’t be surprising for me to see single-file (racing Sunday) because of what happened at Texas and what could happen next week (at the Charlotte Roval),” Burton said. “Drivers need a period of calmness. 

“There was not a discussion, a collaborated effort or any sort of thing of how you race (Sunday). That conversation did not come up in that meeting.”

Harvick said Saturday that he’ll continue to be vocal about safety issues.

“I’ll do whatever I have to do to make sure these guys are in a good spot,” Harvick said. “Whatever I have to do.”

Harvick later said: “I don’t think any of us want to be in this position. We have to have the safety we deserve to go out and put on a great show and be comfortable with that. 

“Obviously, we all have taken the risks of being race car drivers, but there’s no reason we should be in a worse position than we were last year.”

Harvick said it was a matter of trust.

“The reality of the situation is much different than what they’re looking at,” Harvick said of NASCAR officials. “I think that the trust level is obviously not where it needs to be from getting it fixed. I think they’re going to have to earn the trust level back of reacting quick enough to do the things that it takes. The drivers’ opinion, especially when it comes to safety side of things, has to be more important than the data or more important than the cost. Safety can’t be a budget item.”

Corey LaJoie, who is a member of the Drivers Advisory Council board, said that while challenges remain with the car, he sees the effort being made by NASCAR.

“Nothing happens quick in this deal when you have 38 teams and you have seven cars per team,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. “It has to be a well-thought-out process to implement the changes.

“It’s easy to get up in arms and prickly when we have guys like Alex and Kurt out. You don’t ever want that to happen. Every conversation I’m having is what we, as the Driver Council, is trying to communicate to NASCAR and NASCAR making proactive changes and moving timelines up aggressively to try to implement these changes.”