Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

LaJoie Growing With TriStar

JOILET, IL — For the most Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series teams they usually only have one person occupying the role of driver for the entire season. However, TriStar Motorsports has  two drivers filling the position with Cole Whitt and Corey LaJoie.

The opportunity allows the two young drivers to grow, while the organization, who moved back up the ranks last year after suspending operations in 1997 and focusing on an XFINITY Series program from 2010 through 2017, continues to find their footing in the sport’s top level.

“Over the offseason, we just figured out which races Cole (Whitt) was going to be in and which races I was going to be in, and where his strong suits were versus mine and put the schedule together,” LaJoie told POPULAR SPEED. “He wanted the majority of his races at the beginning of the year, and I’m happy with doing mine at the end of the year so, it all worked out. Sometimes we go when we’re not racing and give support and offer a bird’s eye view from what we can see from the driver’s seat on top of the truck. It’s definitely unique, sharing a Cup car when you don’t see guys mixing it up very often, it’s cool to overlay. It helps me; it helps him, we can overlay our information and make sure we are consistent.”

2018 started off on a sour note for TriStar, failing to finish two of the first four races due to blown motors. However, as the year has progressed, they have been able to complete all of the laps with  better results.

“Beginning of the year, when we were popping motors, we thought we had some decent cars and results to show but, now we’ve addressed that issue and now, every time we finish we usually have pretty solid days,” LaJoie said. “It’s just been me getting used to the guys and the team, and them getting used to me, and going back and forth with Cole (Whitt), it’s been a learning experience for their part as well as mine. But for the most part it’s been fun, and hopefully, during the second half of the season we can put together strong results too.”

Looking ahead at the schedule, LaJoie has kept his goals at a realistic level as he prepares to take control over most of the driving duties.

“Our goal is to beat the guys that we are on the same playing field as, like the 15 and sometimes the 32,” LaJoie said. “We feel like we can get up there and beat those guys. That’s the goal every week; the biggest thing is being consistent. Maximize the things in our control; sometimes there is mistakes that we make in our situation that are hard to overcome so, we just try to make the least amount of mistakes we can and maximize everything we have.”

LaJoie will continue to pilot the No. 72 this weekend at Daytona International Speedway; meanwhile Whitt’s next race will be at Watkins Glen International.

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

LaJoie, Whitt to Split Cup Series Ride

After a solid first year in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, TriStar Motorsports will once again field the No. 72 Chevrolet throughout the season. However, it comes with a twist.

Rather than running a single driver in each event – as they did in 2017 with Cole Whitt, it will become a shared seat for the new season. Whitt returns, set to share the schedule with Corey LaJoie. LaJoie will run the majority of the schedule, including the Daytona 500.

“We are taking a different approach with our competitive platform for 2018 by utilizing two drivers”, said Bryan Smith, owner of TriStar Motorsports. “It is an opportunity we feel is the best direction for this season and accommodates the goals of both drivers as well as the team. We are more than pleased with Cole’s efforts in 2017 and are extremely glad to have him back this season. He has been an integral part of our return to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series and we appreciate his contributions to our team. We are equally as pleased to add Corey to our driver roster. His attitude, desire and ability are a welcomed addition and we feel he will be a great fit. We feel both drivers embody the core elements of who we are as a team and are confident each will contribute to the betterment of our program.”

A third generation racer, LaJoie has made a name for himself, winning six times in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, with an additional three ARCA Racing Series Presented by Menards victories. The 2012 NASCAR Next Alumni ran 10 XFINITY events in 2016 with two top-10’s, before moving up to Cup in 2017. He scored a season-best 11th at the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway.

“It’s such a great opportunity to work with TriStar Motorsports,” said Corey LaJoie. “I hope to use the learning experiences from my 2017 Rookie Season and work hard for some great finishes this year. It’s my goal to continue building a successful team with Bryan, while honoring the legacy his dad, Mark left behind.”

The move comes following a request from Whitt to “decrease his racing commitments” and a request for “a limited schedule,” per the team’s press release. He has been competing in NASCAR for seven years, with 2017 marking his first full Cup campaign. As a rookie, Whitt picked up three top-20 finishes, with a season-best 12th place at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“I want to thank TriStar and the Smith family for allowing me to do something I feel is the right decision for me and my family,” said Whitt. “I am excited and a little nervous to say that I will be racing a limited schedule this year. I am looking forward to taking the next step in my life and trying to spend most of my time with my family. Stepping back from racing is a hard choice but I strongly believe this is the right path. TriStar has been an amazing blessing to me and my family and I look forward to what the future holds for both of us.”

TriStar Motorsports also confirmed they have leased a charter from Front Row Motorsports, and Frankie Kerr will remain on the pit box as crew chief.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Kenseth, Logano Among Those Crashed Out with Tire Issues

With the temperature at 95 degrees in the desert, the fans and drivers weren’t the only ones victim of the heat. Brake temperature was high as well, resulting in some melted beads and blown tires for drivers.

The problems first surfaced on Lap 97 as Corey LaJoie made contact with the wall in turn one. LaJoie was already running deep in the running order as a result of contact with the wall on Lap 28 virtue of contact from Reed Sorenson.

The second incident happened on Lap 191 when Matt Kenseth blew a tire, resulting in substantial contact with the outside wall. He had been running just outside of the top-10 at the time.

“We just blew a front tire,” he said. “We kind of struggled with our Tide PODS Camry most of the day. We got a little bit better that run, but we weren’t handling the way we needed to for sure and just ended up failing a front tire.”

The issues continued throughout the race as with 108 laps to go, David Ragan cut a left rear tire, going around and taking Gray Gaulding to the wall with him. Ragan’s tire wasn’t as a result of excessive heat, though.

Trevor Bayne is the one that is kind of to blame,” Ragan said. “He tried to wreck Danica (Patrick) three of four consecutive laps. He was driving over his head and all over the race track. I was kind of a result of their shenanigans. They were bouncing off each other, and I tried to go low and actually made contact with Matt DiBenedetto and had a tire rub and was going to come in that lap. Just cut our tire.

“I am proud of our Jacob Companies Ford Fusion team. They worked hard, and we had a decent car today. We struggled some on Friday and Saturday but we made some good gains, and you will have that. We have a lot of racing left this year.”

The caution then flew for a seventh time at Lap 256 as a result of Cole Whitt hitting the wall in turn two due to a flat right front tire.

Joey Logano suffered the fifth tire issue of the day, blowing a tire with six laps to go and hitting the turn one wall. After leading early in the event, he had worked his way back to the top-10 following a pit road penalty in the second stage.

“The brakes are fine; we just blew a right front,” he said. “Probably just overheated the bead. I am sure that is what it was. There is not much you can do when the right front blows out. We had a good car in the beginning of the race and then just fell off and got a pit road speeding penalty, and it was hard to get back up there. We were getting closer but out long run speed was off. We have to figure out how to get faster here on the long run.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Daytona, The “Land of Opportunity,” Lives Up To Its Epithet Again

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Daytona International Speedway has always been called the “land of opportunity” for NASCAR’s underdogs, and the 59th annual Daytona 500 was not any different.

A.J. Allmendinger finished third, Aric Almirola finished fourth, and Paul Menard finished fifth. What do all three drivers have in common? They’re all Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series veterans with one career win.

Also in the top 10 was Michael Waltrip, who announced that Sunday’s race would be his final career start, and 2011 Daytona 500 winner Trevor Bayne, who finished eighth and 10th, respectively.

“Typically a car that’s beat up isn’t going to do that,” Bayne told POPULAR SPEED about finishing 10th. “It’s cool to get a top 10 out of a wrecked racecar.

“We didn’t get many of the results we thought we would this week. We thought we had a car that can qualify on the front row and we thought he had a shot win the Duel. We weren’t bad, but the goal was to win.”

Menard said the event was one the wildest races he’s ever been in and noted how his Richard Childress Racing No. 27 team overcame the obstacle of going to a backup car to finish in the top five.

“On Friday during practice, I actually thought it was a little better than our primary car,” Menard said. “There’s a lot of new faces on my team, and Matt Borland is a new crew chief, and we came out of the gates swinging.”

Almirola led two laps as he and TriStar Motorsports’ Cole Whitt led the field to green with less than 50 laps remaining. Both their leads were short-lived, but captured the attention many fans, particularly those who would have wanted to see the No. 43 return to the winner’s circle for the first time since July 2014.

“We had a solid car all day,” Almirola said. “It wasn’t the car we needed to contend for the win. I’m just so proud of everyone at Richard Petty Motorsports. I’m so proud of Ford Motor Company for going to Victory Lane.”

Whitt ran out of fuel as the race concluded and wound up 18th, but he led three laps as well.

“We had a little bit of damage, but mostly, we stayed out of trouble,” Whitt told POPULAR SPEED. “It was a good day. We were running in front of the 15 [Waltrip] when we ran out of fuel coming to the white flag off of Turn 4, but all in all, we had fun.”

With this being Waltrip’s final 500, he felt “fortunate” to end his career on a high note.

“I had so many times I was in the middle of a crash and just missed it,” he said. “I’m thankful that I survived and I’m thankful for being able to run up front, and I’m happy about the finish.

“I’m ready for it to be my last [start] so it’s going to be a good one to remember it by.”

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Whitt, TriStar See Success In Duel

A year ago in the Can-Am Duels, Cole Whitt entered the race needing a strong performance to make the Daytona 500. Unfortunately for the California-native, his night came to an end after getting caught up in an accident trying to gain positions, effectively ending his hopes of making “The Great American Race.”

You could say Whitt got his redemption this year.

Unlike last season, he entered the race with a guaranteed spot virtue of a charter, but that wouldn’t stop him from having a good run. Battling hard all night, he came home with a 10th place finish to start the season on a high note.

After qualifying 34th this past Sunday, the 25-year-old rolled off 18th in the first Duel and stayed at the tail of the lead pack early on, trying to find a way through the pack. As the race neared its close, Whitt kept himself out of trouble and worked his way into the top-15. After restarting 12th with eight laps to go, he used the final laps to maneuver his way into top-10.

Thanks to his 10th place finish, Whitt will start 19th on Sunday. In addition to that, he also earns one point thanks to new rule changes to the Duel races.

The night also serves as a huge boost to his team, TriStar Motorsports, who are returning to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, after not fielding an entry in NASCAR’s top-tier series since 2013. It’s safe to say Thursday night will be used a step in the right direction, as the No. 72 team continues to grow and, it will be interesting to see if they can turn it into more success in the 500.

Mitchell Breuer is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL MITCHELL AT mitchell.breuer@popularspeed.com

TWITTER: @MitchellB66

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

Whitt and TriStar Team up for Full Cup Series Season

TriStar Motorsports will compete in NASCAR’s premier series for the first time since 2013 and Cole Whitt will be its full-time driver in the No. 72 for the upcoming season.

Whitt ran the final two races of the 2016 XFINITY Series campaign with the team driving the No. 14 Toyota. His last start in the Cup Series was in Premium Motorsports’ No. 55 at Kansas Speedway in October, where he finished 33rd.

“I’m looking forward to being back in the seat at TriStar Motorsports for the Monster Energy Cup Series for 2017,” Whitt said in a press release. “We are glad to have Florida Lottery back with us for the season opener at Daytona and are fortunate to continue and expand our relationship with Rinnai, RTIC Coolers, and Carolina Skiff throughout the year.”

The 25-year-old California native competed in 26 Cup races last year — all in an Open car without one of NASCAR’s 36 team Charters. Motorsport.com reported on Thursday afternoon that TriStar will acquire a Charter from Front Row Motorsports to guarantee Whitt into every event in the 36-race schedule.

“We are taking a different approach and expanding our competitive platform for 2017,” said Mark Smith, TriStar’s owner. “It is an opportunity we feel is the best direction for this season, and we are pleased to have Cole and his partners involved in those efforts.”

The organization has predominantly used Toyotas in NASCAR’s top two divisions since 2012. For 2017, the team will be using Toyota again with J.J. Yeley on the XFINITY side, but the No. 72’s paint scheme rendering has a Ford body. It’d be unusual for a team to use two different manufacturers at the same time in one season.

Frank Kerr will be the No. 72’s crew chief as Whitt enters his fourth full season of Cup competition.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
XFINITY

JONES ON WHITT: “It Was Pretty Disrespectful”

After putting himself in a position to challenge Daniel Saurez for the championship in the late stages, Erik Jones saw the chance erase away from him when he got stuck behind Cole Whitt on the final restart, finishing ninth.

“It’s unfortunate,” Jones said. “We did a really nice job making our stuff better, getting to where it needed to be to have a shot. It just didn’t work out.”

After starting near the front of the field, Jones faded throughout the early stages, struggling with a tight racecar as he slid back to the bottom half of the top-10. He also found himself with a slight hole in the right front of his No. 20 GameStop Toyota Camry after getting into the back of fellow Championship contender Elliott Sadler on the start.

“I mean, didn’t start out the way we wanted to,” he said. “Didn’t have the car we needed to at the beginning of the day and really through the mid part of the race. Didn’t get where we needed to be until about lap 150 or so, and the sun started to go down, track cooled down, and our stuff kind of came around to us. After that, I felt like we had a pretty good car.”

However, his race began to turn around as the team installed a patch at Lap 125, followed by taking four tires on Lap 137 while some of the leaders elected for fuel only. Jones was able to gain ground as the laps wore down, passing fellow Championship contender Justin Allgaier for the lead with 44 laps to go. Unfortunately, a slow pit stop due to a hangup on the right front under the caution two laps later for debris resulted in Jones dropping back two spots to third.

Jones wasn’t set to give up, though, keeping close with Suarez and Allgaier, passing Allgaier for second with 20 laps to go. He was then able to chase down Suarez and looked poised to possibly complete the pass for the lead when the caution flew with 10 laps to go for Ray Black Jr. spinning.

“Right there at the end the sun went down, and the track cooled down, and the car came around a little bit, and we were able to run the 19 (Daniel Suarez) down, and if the caution didn’t come out, I think we had a pretty good shot at getting around him there,” Jones said.

Jones elected to take four tires, coming off pit road third behind Suarez who also got four. Sadler led the race off pit road after taking two, while Whitt elected to stay out from the 15th spot on old tires.

The restart came with three laps to go, with Whitt not going, backing up the outside line and Jones as Sadler and Suarez were easily able to skate away. Jones fell back through the field, ultimately finishing ninth.

Jones stated after the race he wanted the chance to talk to Whitt and his team to see why they chose to restart at the front of the field.

“Well, I think there’s a lot of ways you can look at it, but at the end of the day, I don’t know,” he said. “I guess he just wanted to stack up the top line. I don’t know; maybe he’s never started first before. I don’t know. It’s just kind of insane really. I’ve never seen anything like it. He didn’t even attempt to go. He didn’t spin his tires. He just sat there and stacked the top line up.

“It was pretty disrespectful, really, and I strongly hope that somebody is able to talk to him about that. I’d really hate to see something like that happen again. It’s a pretty unfortunate thing to happen. You know, you’ve got four guys running for the championship, and they’re all up front racing for it, and then you’ve got one guy that’s been running 18th all day that just stacks everybody up. It’s just kind of unfortunate.”

Whitt, who finished 18th, apologized for what happened, stating he spun the tires and didn’t mean to mess up the race for the contenders.

“We didn’t expect everybody to come in like that, and next thing I knew I was like this is going to be handful,’’ Whitt told NBC Sports. “I thought if I was on the outside, I would have the most room for them to go underneath me if anything happened and I couldn’t get going.

“With (Jones) hitting me, I couldn’t get going. It was just making me spin the tires worse. If you could redo it, you would change the way you did it. It was not like we were out there to screw anybody over. I hate that it worked out that way. I was just following what I was told to do and that was just stay out because we were out of tires. It’s not like you meant to do it. I think the one thing you can say at least we were out there to run good. I only had two weeks to work with this team and come out here and do all right. We were tying to run good for our team.’’

Jones heard the apology, however, remained dumbfounded upon Whitt’s actions as he stated Whitt didn’t even start to go as they reached the end of the restart zone.

“I mean, you can’t pass before the start-finish line. It would have been one thing if he would have got up and started rolling, but you can’t go anywhere before the start-finish line,” he said. “You know, it’s really frustrating. I don’t mean to bag on the guy so much, but it’s like, hey, we’re up here racing for the championship, and maybe we don’t even win it if he pits and lets us move up, but at least we would have had a fair shot at it. I feel like we kind of got robbed of at least our chance to race for it. Yeah, it’s just unfortunate. It just wasn’t a great situation altogether.”

The end of the race actions seemed to add to the frustration Jones was already experiencing in how he felt competitors battled him all race long.

“I didn’t honestly see a lot of respect out of some of the guys that weren’t racing for the championship,” he said. “I had a lot of guys that were running me really hard for no reason when we were back in the pack. It was probably a product of we haven’t seen this Chase format in the XFINITY Series yet, so some of these guys don’t exactly know how to race around us, the guys that were in the Final Four, but it is what it is.”

While he didn’t get the result he intended today, the frustration will subside after awhile. Jones knows his future looks bright, as he will move up to the Sprint Cup Series next year with Funiture Row Racing as a teammate to Martin Truex Jr.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER:@ladybug388

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Ricky Benton Racing Making Return to Truck Series with Whitt

Ricky Benton Racing Enterprises will be returning to NASCAR Camping World Truck Series (NCWTS) this weekend with Cole Whitt behind the wheel of the No. 92 Ford this week at Martinsville.

RBR started the season with Parker Kligerman behind the wheel of their Ford, running 11 of the first 18 races; Kligerman posted three top-10s, including a season-best finish of third at Daytona. The team was hopeful to run more events, however a constant struggle to find funding resulting in a shortened schedule.

Though it’s been more than four years since Whitt’s last truck start, RBR is confident their new driver will do well in its BTS Tire and Wheel Distributors/Valvoline Ford F-150.

“Cole is a driver who has had success in this series and we feel can run well for us at Martinsville,” said team owner Ricky Benton. “We have had some success here (at Martinsville) and are bringing a good short-track truck. I know we can have a good run.”

Whitt has only had two truck starts at the half-mile, both from 2011; in one of those races, he had a best starting position of second and a best finish of sixth.

“I enjoy Martinsville because it’s grassroots short-track racing,” Whitt said. “I think my driving style fits the 1.5 mile tracks a little better, but I know the RBR team highlights both Martinsville races on the schedule at the start of the season and I want to give them a good run.”

Whitt has been busy already this year, attempting to run the full Sprint Cup Series schedule for Premium Motorsports. He has qualified for 26 of the 32 races, with a best finish of 11th at Daytona International Speedway in February.

Despite the long absence from the series and the inaugural NCWTS chase is already halfway through, Whitt says his plan of attack this weekend in the Texas Roadhouse 200 is to drive the way he always does.

“I haven’t been in a truck in a few years but once I get my footing I’m sure we will be fine,” he said.

Vivian Meza is a POPULAR SPEED Development Journalist

EMAIL VIVIAN AT vivian.meza@popularspeed.com

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.