AVONDALE, Ariz. — With two rookies running the No.’s 23 and 83 for BK Racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, the team knew 2017 would be a learning season for drivers Gray Gaulding and Corey LaJoie.
Entering this year, both racers only had two previous Cup starts and never competed full time in any of NASCAR’s three national series. But team owner Ron Devine gave them the opportunity run in stock car racing’s premier level and let them experience the career of a full-time NASCAR driver.
“Ron is a good supporter, and he knows we have a lot to learn,” Gaulding told POPULAR SPEED. “I know I’m here to work as hard as I can and show Ron I deserve to be in this car. I want to go out every week and give him the best finish possible.”
Gaulding said running at 1.5-mile tracks for the first time was “the most fun I’ve ever had behind the wheel,” particularly in Atlanta, which has an aged surface and tire fall-off is always a factor.
“That race was so fun because the tires get old and everyone is sideways,” he added. “In Vegas, we had a decent run. I felt like we could have finished in the 20s, which is a good run for our team, but I got two speeding penalties on pit road, which killed us under green. … It just comes with time and experience.”
LaJoie had a rocky start to the season. His No. 83 Toyota is unchartered, unlike Gaulding’s No. 23, so he had to race his way into the Daytona 500 in the Duel race.
He qualified for the “Great American Race,” and rolled off 31st, but made contact with the tri-oval’s outside wall on Lap 31 as he tried to slow down to pit road speed.
There was damage to the right front of LaJoie’s car, but he salvaged a 24th-place result in his first 500. Nevertheless, he was happy to make the show as 42 cars attempted Daytona with 40 spots available.
“It was a pretty big moment regardless, whether you were locked in or not, “LaJoie told POPULAR SPEED. “The Daytona 500 was pretty intense. I didn’t go there for a week to not make that thing.
“Obviously, the first three races weren’t quite how we envisioned them to go, but Daytona was cool because we made it.”
Looking ahead, LaJoie will run select events in the JGL Racing No. 24 Toyota in the XFINITY Series, including at Auto Club Speedway next week. He’s scheduled for 14 Cup races this year, and it there could be more if sponsorship is found.
Gaulding’s goal for his rookie season is to finish top 30 in the points standings. After competing in two of the first three Cup events this year, he sits 38th in the standings, two spots behind LaJoie.
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