Ross Chastain will get a fifth opportunity to compete for Kaulig Racing in the Xfinity Series this year after the team announced Wednesday he’ll drive its No. 10 Chevrolet in the Oct. 19 playoff race at Kansas Speedway.
When Chastain’s deal with Kaulig Racing and sponsor Nutrien Ag Solutions was initially announced in January, it was only for three races: the season-opener at Daytona, Chicagoland Speedway (June 29) and the playoff race at Texas Motor Speedway (Nov. 2).
Since then he’s also competed for Kaulig Racing in the April race at Talladega.
The addition of the Kansas race means Chastain will be in No. 10 for consecutive playoff races. Chastain continues to drive for JD Motorsports in the Xfinity races he’s not with Kaulig Racing.
“I couldn’t be prouder and more honored with my partnership with Nutrien Ag Solutions,” Chastain said in a media release. “The support Brent (Dewars), Matt (Kaulig) and team have given me is incredible. I’m so grateful and humbled to have the opportunity to drive the Nutrien Ag Solutions colors for a fifth race and have the chance at getting them to Victory Lane.”
Randy LaJoie is a man on a mission. He wants to keep race car drivers – particularly those in grassroots racing – as safe as possible.
For more than 20 years, the two-time Busch Series champion (1996-97) has dedicated his post-racing life to keeping drivers safe, with special emphasis on sportsman and amateur racers who oftentimes race with inferior safety equipment … if any at all.
Because of the cost involved, many grassroots tracks and local series don’t require some of the same equipment found in the higher levels of stock car racing, particularly in NASCAR.
That’s where LaJoie comes in.
Since forming his business, The Joie of Seating, in 1998, as well as forming a non-profit foundation, The Safer Racer Tour, in 2007, LaJoie has become one of the most prolific advocates of safety, particularly with the type of race car seats he builds and sells.
“Since I put the helmet on the shelf, I’ve been concentrating on keeping short track America safe,” LaJoie told NBC Sports. “I go to race tracks, talk at the driver meetings, show videos. I’ll also inspect cars, look in the driver’s cockpit and besides that, trade shows, race tracks.
“By the end of this year, I’ll have visited 175 race tracks since 2006. We’ve been educating the short track world on seat safety.”
Since he began racing in his native Connecticut (he now resides in North Carolina) nearly 40 years ago, LaJoie has seen how important safety is in the dangerous world of racing. He’s seen a number of close friends, including the late Dale Earnhardt, killed in racing incidents.
One would think that safety, particularly given Earnhardt’s death in the 2001 Daytona 500, would be on the forefront of every racer’s mind.
In the grassroots world, when it comes to deciding what to spend their limited funds on, drivers spend their money on tires, car parts, new race cars – but not safety equipment
“The safety business is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” LaJoie said. “Sometimes it just amazes me when I go out to these race tracks and talk to these people.
“It’s both very humbling but it’s also very aggravating. You can be told ‘no’ umpteen different ways and it’s simply amazing that some people say, ‘Oh, you just want to sell a seat.’ Yes, I do want to sell a seat, but I also tell them I don’t want to read about them in the obituaries. No race track wants to lose anybody. If the information is there, let’s just use it.”
To illustrate his dedication to safety, LaJoie estimates he’s invested more than $350,000 into his business. But to him, it’s money well spent.
“I’m very lucky I have the best aluminum seat in the marketplace and I’ve educated the aluminum seat builders,” he said.
He adds with a laugh, “Years ago, I used to call myself a crash-test dummy. But now, with today’s technology, my son (Cup driver Corey LaJoie) uses them and they say it’s rude if you call him a crash test dummy, so I call him a ‘data acquisition technologist.’”
But safety is no laughing matter to LaJoie. He admits he can be a pain to drivers and sanctioning bodies at times, but that’s because he doesn’t want to see any more drivers killed or suffer traumatic permanent injury from the sport they love.
“Safety has been on a back burner and I think I pushed it to the front of some people’s minds and some sanctioning bodies to have them look at it, because I’ve been a stickler for it,” LaJoie said.
The reason LaJoie has been a stickler is simple. Within 18 months, from May 2000 through October 2001, NASCAR lost five well-known drivers, guys LaJoie either was good friends with or had competed against in his career.
That list included Adam Petty (May 12, 2000), Kenny Irwin (July 7, 2000), Tony Roper (October 14, 2000), Dale Earnhardt (February 18, 2001) and Blaise Alexander (October 4, 2001 in an ARCA crash).
“I looked at them and I wrecked just like that and how come I’m still here and they’re not?” LaJoie said.
While there have not been any additional deaths in NASCAR’s three top series since Earnhardt was killed, there have been several fatalities in the grassroots racing ranks.
“I felt it was my call to duty to the short track world to give them all of the information I can on safety,” LaJoie said.
“A life’s a life and it doesn’t matter if they race on Sunday, Saturday or Friday night. These guys need to be taken care. With as much knowledge as we’ve learned in the last 15-plus years in terms of safety, these guys are still 15-plus years behind on short tracks.”
LaJoie’s mission has been quantified countless times over the 20-plus years he’s been in business.
“When you get a phone call from a mom or dad and they say, ‘My kid just flipped all the way down the backstretch last night and he’s okay, thank you,’ that’s like my new victory lane,” LaJoie said.
Safety is also important to LaJoie for a more personal reason: his sonCorey, is a full-time driver in the Cup Series (their other son, Casey, works as an announcer for MAV-TV and also as social media director at Kaulig Racing).
“Any time when there’s 40 guys on a Sunday in Cup racing, and your son is one of them, I’m so damn proud of him,” Randy said of Corey. “I’m glad he’s gotten the chance.”
LaJoie, 57, is also very proud of the seats he produces, not just for their design and ability to keep drivers safe behind the wheel, particularly when they’re involved in crashes, but also for their durability. His seats are all certified by the SFI Foundation Inc., the leading overseer of safety in motorsports.
“Some of my seats from 15 years ago are still in use,” LaJoie said, adding proudly, “that’s why my seats are better than everyone else’s. I built them the right way. I haven’t junked many of them.”
The foundation LaJoie established in 2007, the Safer Racer Tour, is a further extension of his dedication to safety in grassroots racing. That’s why he visits so many short tracks and tries to talk sense into drivers who have a “it’ll never happen to me” mindset.
“I’d say 99.7 percent of short track drivers don’t pay attention to safety,” LaJoie said. “But short track America still is much safer today mainly because of Dale Sr.
“Do you know how many lives that man saved? It’s sad that we lost him, but the industry needed to lose a hero so they could save other heroes.”
Justin Haley will likely never forget his NASCAR Cup debut, which comes in Sunday’s GEICO 500.
First, it will come at NASCAR’s largest race track, Talladega Superspeedway. And second, Haley will turn 20 years old that day, sitting behind the wheel of the No. 77 Fraternal Order of Eagles Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Spire Motorsports.
“This is a dream come true,” Haley said in a media release. “I couldn’t be prouder than to make my Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debut with Spire Motorsports and the Fraternal Order of Eagles (F.O.E.).
“The F.O.E. has supported my career since the beginning and it feels like our program will come full circle when I make my debut on NASCAR’s biggest stage this weekend at Talladega. I’m incredibly grateful to both Spire Motorsports and the F.O.E. for this opportunity. I’m excited to get on track and see what we can do.”
The Indiana native is racing full-time in the Xfinity Series this season for Kaulig Racing. He has earned top 10 finishes in six of the first eight races and is 11th in the Xfinity standings. He will also drive in Saturday’s Xfinity race at the 2.66-mile superspeedway.
Sunday’s Cup debut will mark Haley’s third career race in a car on a superspeedway.
Haley almost won his second career Xfinity start, last July at Daytona International Speedway. It appeared he won the race, but NASCAR ruled he illegally advanced his position by crossing the double yellow line at the bottom of the track late in the race, nullifying the win and leaving him with an 18th-place finish.
Haley has two prior starts at Talladega in a truck, including a fourth-place finish there during last year’s playoffs. He also has one prior start at Daytona in a truck, where he finished second in the 2018 season-opening race.
He would go on to finish third in the 2018 Truck Series standings, earning three wins, nine top-five and 18 top 10 finishes for GMS Racing.
That plan is being executed “slowly on purpose,” according to team president Chris Rice, but it is being built with the intention of the Xfinity Series team fielding two full-time cars in 2020.
That plan, which involves fielding the No. 10 Chevrolet in select races this year, is being helped by multiple drivers, including Elliott Sadler.
Sadler competed in last Friday’s race at Richmond Raceway, the first of two scheduled starts this year, and finished 12th.
Rice, who appeared on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Morning Drive” on Wednesday, explained how Sadler came to be involved with the team a year after his retirement from full-time racing and how a second car is helping rookie Justin Haley.
“I’m very good friends with Elliott,” said Rice. “Lived with Elliott. We still talk on a daily basis.”
Sadler came to Rice in the weeks before he announced his retirement from full-time racing last year. He let Rice know he had a sponsor, Nutrien Ag Solutions, that “I’ve got to do something else with it.”
“It’s a perfect fit for Ross Chastain,” Rice said. “Elliott is giving back like what was given to him with Dale Jarrett with Ross Chastain. He’s doing kind of the same thing. … So it just worked out perfectly.”
Chastain competed for Kaulig in the season-opener at Daytona, leading 23 laps and finishing 13th.
While Chastain competes mainly for JD Motorsports in Xfinity, he will make his second of four starts with Kaulig Racing next weekend at Talladega. He’ll return to the No. 10 at Chicagoland Speedway (June 29) and Texas Motor Speedway (Nov. 2).
But the No. 10 effort doesn’t stop with Chastain or Sadler, who makes his second start at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (Sept. 14). Austin Dillon will make a second start in the car at Charlotte (May 25).
Everything done with the No. 10 is done with the intention of helping Haley, who Rice said has a two-year deal with Kaulig to drive the No. 11 Chevrolet. Through eight races with crew chief Nick Harrison, the rookie has six top 10s and a best finish of seventh twice.
Kaulig fields its cars with technical assistance from Richard Childress Racing. Kaulig is based in RCR’s Welcome, North Carolina campus.
“I think it’s a challenge for anybody when you don’t go each and every week and you’re kind of sporadic,” Rice said. “We have built our program slowly on purpose.
“We want to be ready when we go to the race track. We want that car to be helpful to the 11 car. We don’t want it to take away from the 11 car. That’s what we do. … It’s not two teams. It’s one team building two cars and that’s the way we work on them in the shop. Everybody works on everything. We have enough equipment to do it, we have enough stuff to do it, we have enough people, so it’s not that difficult. Just racing each and every week helps you to get into the swing of things.”
Rice, who was crew chief on the No. 11 for its first three years in the series, said the team puts an emphasis on people when putting together its No. 10 operation.
“Can you get the quality people and the people that you need to be able to mix in with the group that you already have?” Rice said. “Because if you get a bunch of people that do not get along, then it doesn’t work right. That’s in any business. I think it all revolves around people. I think about Stewart-Haas (Racing) and Hendrick (Motorsports) and those guys when they built those programs from one-car teams all the way up.”
This article has been corrected to state that Austin Dillon will compete in the May race in Charlotte, not the playoff race.
Landon Cassill will drive for JD Motorsports in the April 27 Xfinity race at Talladega Superspeedway, the team announced Tuesday.
The race is a Dash 4 Cash event. Drivers earning Cup points cannot compete in those events. Cassill confirmed to NBC Sports that he has switched what series he’ll earn points from Cup to Xfinity to be eligible to compete.
Cassill will drive the No. 4 car at Talladega for Ross Chastain, who will be in the No. 10 car for Kaulig Racing that weekend. Chastain will return to the No. 4 car at Dover, the week after Talladega.
Cassill drove full time for JD Motorsports from 2013-15 and in three races for the team last season. The Talladega race marks his first Xfinity superspeedway race since July 2015 at Daytona.
“We are ecstatic to have Landon back in the seat for Talladega”, said team owner Johnny Davis in a statement. “He has always been considered one of the best drivers we had ever had in our cars in the time that he has spent driving for us, and I’m excited to see what we can accomplish with his wealth of experience on the Superspeedways.”