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NASCAR Cup Series

Top 5 Throwback Paint Schemes Heading Into Darlington

Following Denny Hamlin‘s bittersweet triumph over Matt DiBenedetto in the exhilarating Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race at Bristol Motor Speedway, the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series action comes to a screeching halt and at the perfect time.

For drivers like Jimmie Johnson and Clint Bowyer who sit just below the points cutoff for the playoffs, this is the final week without racing for the remainder of the season. With only two races remaining before the Playoffs, these athletes will need every bit of rest and strength as they are thrust into a twelve-week marathon.

According to NBC Sports, the 2019 Bristol night race saw a seven-percent increase from last season in viewership on NBCSN, making it the most successfully televised Saturday Cup Series race on cable in over two years. While the off-week may seem like a cooler for the sport, it can be seen as quite the opposite. When the action resumes for the Cup Series, NASCAR and race fans will be thrown right back into a weekend of intensity and tradition.

After a weekend of excitement and a week of anticipation, the Cup Series ratings should continue to improve as the premier series heads to South Carolina for the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. Considered one of the sports crowned jewels, the 1.366 mile speedway has always been a highly anticipated weekend. However, since 2015 this has become more than another race weekend; it’s become a celebration and tribute to NASCAR and the legends who paved the way for the sport’s future.

Throwback weekend at ‘The Lady in Black’ is an event where drivers and teams pay homage to drivers from NASCAR’s past. The most popular display of appreciation has come in the form of paint scheme replication. However, we’ve seen everything from hairstyles, fire suits and facial hair being  imitated to near-perfection during the three year span of this tradition.

Here are our Top-5 throwback paint schemes being driven for the Bojangles’ Southern 500:

Photo Courtesy of Darlington Raceway

Brad Keselowski

Ever since the throwback theme began in 2015, Brad Keselowski has consistently had one of the best dressed cars in the garage area for the Southern 500 and this year is no exception. The reigning champion of Darlington is set to run the No. 2 Miller Ford Mustang, a paint scheme made famous by Rusty Wallace who drove the car during his 1996 season.

The No. 2 Mustang features a black base with burnt-yellow numbers and the same color outlining the trim on the car. A subtle red and blue flame design drifts down the side of the car, giving it a very bold look. The design stays true to Wallace’s 1996 Thunderbird, while also staying current with the today’s times.

If the 2012 Cup Series Champion wants to best Wallace’s run with this paint scheme at Darlington, he won’t have to do too much. Wallace started 28th in the Mountain Dew Southern 500 and after getting involved in a wreck on Lap 47, he lost an engine on Lap 102, earning him a 38th place finish.

Keselowski has a great shot at replicating the magic made from last year’s Southern 500. The Michigan-native ranks sixth among active drivers with an average finish of eighth over the last two seasons.

Photo Courtesy of Roush Fenway Racing

Ryan Newman

When you hear mention of the No.6 car, it’s hard not to think of Mark Martin and all the great looking cars he’s driven in his 31-year long career. Ryan Newman will be piloting the same design as Martin’s 1993 Valvoline car. You may remember this paint scheme hitting the track back in 2015 when Dale Earnhardt Jr. ran it during the inaugural throwback event at Darlington.

Newman and his No. 6 team did a great job in resurrecting this paint scheme with a twist. Martin’s iconic Valvoline Ford Thunderbird featured vibrant reds, blues and whites which corresponded to the sponsor logo. Similarly, Newman’s Oscar Mayer Ford Mustang will feature the same design as Martin, but with Oscar Mayer’s colors of yellow, orange and red. This is a very simple, yet vibrant and clean looking paint scheme.

Martin started fourth in the 1993 Southern 500 and would eventually go on to lead 178 Laps en route to Jack Roush’s first Southern 500 win. With only 14 points keeping Newman safe from Playoff elimination, he is looking forward to a strong run at the 1.366 mile track.

“Darlington is my favorite track on the circuit and the Southern 500 is one of the best events on our schedule,” Newman said in an interview with NASCAR.com. “I can’t wait to come back here and see if we can put this No. 6 back in Victory Lane.”

Photo Courtesy of Stewart-Haas Racing

Clint Bowyer

What year is it again? No, you’re not going crazy and that is not Tony Stewart‘s car pictured above. Three of Stewart-Haas Racing’s drivers will dawn the paint schemes of their boss throughout his illustrious career. The car that specifically caught our eye was Clint Bowyer’s No. 14 Rush Truck Centers Ford Mustang, which pays tribute to Stewart’s 2011 Championship winning Office Depot Paint scheme.

This infamous red and black paint scheme will be remembered for the time it was driven in 2011 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, where Stewart won the race and the Cup Series Championship against Carl Edwards in one of the greatest battles of all time. When Stewart ran the Office Depot car in the Showtime Southern 500 in 2011, he led six laps and ended up finishing seventh.

The driver of the No. 14 will need some his boss’ magic when running his paint scheme on Labor Day weekend. Darlington is statistically Bowyer’s worst track and he has only finished inside the Top-10 one time (back in 2007). The driver from Emporia, Kansas is only two points out of a Playoff spot with two races remaining, but he’ll need to muster up a better finish than the 22.77-place average he’s accumulated in the last 13 races at Darlington.

William Byron

William Byron and the No. 24 team are throwing it back to 1990 when Tom Cruise’s hit-racing movie Days of Thunder premiered. Cruise plays the character of Cole Trickle, a young hot-shot NASCAR driver who quickly makes a name for himself with aggressive racing styles and ease. Although it may not be the most accurate portrayal of NASCAR, the film has become a classic amongst the NASCAR community.

Cruise’s racing hit received love in the first running of the throwback weekend at Darlington when Kyle Larson drove the Mello Yellow sponsored car from the film. Kurt Busch actually ran the same car that Byron is running, but this was back in 2013 in the formerly known NASCAR Nationwide Series.

This vibrant neon yellow and lime green car is nearly impossible to miss on the track. The No. 24 will even stay true to the City Chevrolet sponsor featured on Trickle’s car in the film, as Rick Hendrick owns a dealership of the same name. This is one of the Top-5 throwback paint schemes obviously for the look, but also the irony of it all. Not to mention, the announcement video was pretty spot on.

Byron is a young hot-shot driver who is quickly making a name for himself. He may not have flash the heated tempers like Trickle did, but in his sophomore season, the 21-year old driver is poised to be one of NASCAR’s brightest stars. Byron is 73 points in the good for the Playoff, so unless he wrecks out of both upcoming races and drivers of the bubble do well, a Playoff berth seems likely for the young Hendrick Motorsports driver.

Photo Courtesy of Go FAS Racing

Corey LaJoie

Rounding out our Top-5 throwback paint schemes is Corey LaJoie and his tribute to 1999 Cup Series Champion, Dale Jarrett. This is a bit of an odd one because the paint scheme being honored is Jarrett’s Nestle Crunch car, which was run in the then-called Busch Grand National Series.

This is such a special paint scheme and you know that because it gained so much love and attention even being driven in one of NASCAR’s lower divisions. LaJoie’s car stays true, perfectly to the 1999 Champion’s paint scheme as if you did a quick glance you would think the sponsor on the car is Crunch and not Keen Parts!

Jarrett not only drove this car to victory lane once, but twice! He is also hailed as one of the sport’s best drivers at Darlington Raceway, being ranked 10th overall with three wins, 11 Top-5’s, 13 Top-10’s, three poles in 36 races.

“The car looks great and I’ve always been a fan of Dale, so to carry this scheme around Darlington is awesome,” LaJoie said to NASCAR.com. “I think we did a great job keeping the scheme as close to the original as possible while incorporating the KeenParts.com logos into it. I can’t thank Tom and TJ Keen enough for allowing us to run this design – it’s one of my favorite schemes. I might even have to shave myself a mustache, so I don’t do the car a disservice.”

Tune into the Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on September 1 at 6 p.m. Eastern Time to see the sport’s best athletes paying homage to legends who’ve come before them.

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

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

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NASCAR Cup Series

New Rules Package a Test for Many Teams, Including Go FAS Racing

As Speedweeks ended Sunday after the conclusion of the 61st running DAYTONA 500, Atlanta Motor Speedway is the next challenge. This means the 2019 rules package will finally be spectated on the track for its first regular season race. Although we will not see the complete package until Las Vegas Motor Speedway in a few weeks, the 1.54-mile oval will still be a test for many teams.

NASCAR announced during the offseason that it would be introducing a new package for the 2019 season and will be used in 17 of the 36 races on the schedule. The new regulations are designed to bolster competition with enhanced aerodynamic and engine configurations with the hopes of improving the racing on the track.

We already witnessed at the Las Vegas test late last month that the cars will be racing a lot closer in tracks that traditionally did not display that. Although testing at Las Vegas was helpful, there is a lot more that NASCAR and the race teams will be learning throughout the season.

The new rules may cause teams to focus on building race cars that can ultimately grab momentum from a car ahead instead of the days where engineers focused on being fast in single car runs because they would rarely run in packs at 1.5-mile ovals. But is this going to be an advantage for smaller teams? 

“I think its going to have the field run closer together,” Corey LaJoie told POPULAR SPEED. “I don’t think you’re going to see the small teams just drive to the front like some people think. The cream is always going to rise to the top. The guys with the most resources, the wind tunnel time, and the best equipment are always going to be upfront, that’s just the way NASCAR works.

“I think it’s going to give you an allusion of better racing because there is going to be more cars on the lead lap and are closer together on the race track. I think the running order is going to be pretty similar to what we see now.”

The driver of the No. 32 Go Fas Racing Ford Mustang will be running in this Sunday’s Folds of Honor Quik Trip 500. As he comes off an 18th place finish at Daytona, Old Spice announced it will sponsor the No. 32 car once again this upcoming weekend.

Although LaJoie wants to win races, the Concord, North Carolina driver is being realistic about his thoughts on the new rules package. Go Fas Racing is on running on limited resources and is still a few weeks away before they get going 100%.

“We’re just going to really settle in and see how this package works, whether where we stack up speed wise every week,” LaJoie said. “It’s hard saying not knowing where we are going to be body wise and that sort of stuff. We are pretty limited on cars, so we need to be conservative on what situation we put ourselves in and I don’t think we’re really going to be racing legitimately until probably Martinsville and we’re just going to try and get through and make sure the cars aren’t torn up and then start racing once we have a good inventory of cars built up.”

So much is in question when it comes to this upcoming weekend. Whether it is the weather or how the outcome of group qualifying will be is a mystery.

Atlanta has sort of some of a similar feel that the DAYTONA 500 had last weekend. Many were concerned that the bottom lane would be nearly dead for the Great American Race, but in fact, it turned out to be one of the most entertaining superspeedway events in the last decade.

As TV ratings boomed compared to last year’s race, will we have the same or similar outcome this weekend at Atlanta? We’ll just have to wait and see.

EMAIL BRANDON AT: brandon.rivero@popularspeed.com

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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.

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NASCAR Cup Series

ASHLEY ASKS….. Corey LaJoie

Continuing in his father’s footsteps, Corey LaJoie has made his mark in the ranks of NASCAR as he gets set to embark on his third season of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competition. He will enter the year with a new team, though, as he made the move over to Go Fas Racing for 2019. 

The North Carolina native recently shared his thoughts entering the year, and more with POPULAR SPEED.

POPULAR SPEED: What are your thoughts going into the season?

COREY LAJOIE: This is definitely the most excited I’ve ever been in January because I’ve never really had a job this early in the off-season like I have here at Go Fas (Racing). I’m really able to focus on being able to work out and being fit and mentally ready  before Daytona versus hitting the pavement and trying to find a ride.

PS: What are your goals and expectations?

COREY: I think it’s all kind of an unknown about this package so we’re going to see how that shakes out for the first couple of weeks; probably get through the west coast swing and then take another evaluation.

I think that everybody is on-board with being pretty realistic. If we don’t have any mistakes or failures, we should able to race with the Front Row (Motorsports) cars, and with the 43 (Darrell Wallace), and with a couple of guys that have a bit of a bigger budget if we get our cars handling well. For some weekends, depending on how many cars wreck, that could be 20th, or if nobody wrecks, that could be 28th. But we’re still going to try to do the best we can with what we have and see how it shakes out.

PS: What track are you most looking forward to?

COREY: It’s hard to look past Daytona because I’m so excited to get down there and get racing. I think since they went away from the ride height, it’s taken away from it. Beforehand, teams could only do a certain amount of things to get the car down out of the air; but now there’s a million different things to do, so now the bigger teams with the wind tunnel time can find the best platform to run their cars. So the chances of a smaller team getting up there and stealing a win are smaller, but there’s still always a chance to get up into the mix and shake something out.

But beyond that, I’m pretty vocal about liking short tracks – the Bristols and Martinsvilles where you can get your elbows up and bump and grind; those are the places that I like to go.

PS: What is one track that you wish that was on the schedule that currently isn’t?

COREY: There’s a bunch. I know they’re trying to revive Nashville. That’s an awesome track with an awesome community around it that feels NASCAR belongs in Nashville. But you can also throw in tracks like Iowa being a great Cup race, or Kern County out in Bakersfield would be a great Cup race. There’s a lot of shorter tracks where I feel we can go and branch out.

There’s also international markets like going back to Canada, or South America; I feel like we can keep building this. I feel the right people in the building in Daytona are pulling us in the right direction.

PS: Looking back on last season, what are your reflections?

COREY: I wasn’t really pleased with the results. We didn’t have as many good runs as I thought we would’ve. We had some engine failures and a combination of cars being older and parts breaking. Even when we got a good finish, we would find the chassis had cracks or whatever. 

It was a tough year, but I enjoyed the people that I worked with and we just tried to do the best that we could, but you’re swimming in a deep pond in the Cup Series. When you don’t have a lot of sponsorship or engineering support, you can get buried pretty quick.

PS: Even with the year not going as planned, what’s something that you learned last year that you feel will help moving forward?

COREY: I learned something different every week, but the two teams I’ve been with, I’ve also learned something different each year it seems as a whole. But definitely being more patient as a driver and learning to save your equipment at times where you’re not going to have the best day going for you.

Go Fas is still on a pretty tight budget as well, but they have some newer equipment and really good people who can make the most of it. So there’s going to be some days where we’re in conserve mode and trying to establish the best finish we can, but there’s also going to be weeks where we’re set on kill and be able to get up in the mix and get a good day out of it. Hopefully there’s more of the latter through the year.

I think it will be good. I’ve been to all of these tracks except for Sonoma yet, so that’s going to be interesting to go to another road course for the first time; so I’ll have to do some practice on that. But beyond that, I feel like I’ve been to every track on the circuit now. So I’ll get used to this package here and see how that shakes out race-wise, and then hopefully the second time we’re back around if the package is the same, we’ll have some good notes and try to get better.

PS: If you were in charge of NASCAR for one day, what is one change you would make to improve the sport?

COREY: That’s way above my pay grade so I don’t want to tell those guys what they need to do, but there’s also a lot of things that don’t allow you to make very quick changes in this sport. I think they’re obviously seeing the results of that over the past couple of years.

So if I was in charge of the sport – I don’t know as I don’t want to be a Monday morning quarterback. Lesa France, and Jim France, they all know what they’re doing. They all know that they want to see this sport go in the best direction; I think they’re doing pretty well.

PS: We’ve seen a lot of talk recently about drivers wanting to try different series and cars. Is there anything on your wish list?

COREY: I’d love to run some more asphalt super late races, even dirt stuff. I’m familiar with the super late model stuff; I was all too cheap on the car to get all the things that I needed. I went down to the Snowball Derby a couple times and was always just a little bit off because I was too cheap to buy that extra set of tires or shocks to try on it. So I’m glad I’m a better driver than I am an owner.

There’s some short track bucket list races that I want to win. I want to win the Snowball Derby as I’ve been down there a couple years but hadn’t been able to win; I had some good runs, though. The Winchester 400 is a cool track; I’ve always wanted to try out and run IRP. But right now, I’m really focused on trying to keep this Cup career going as long as I can.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Corey LaJoie Gets New Crew Chief

Hoping to turn things around, BK Racing has welcomed Randy Cox back to the organization to crew chief for Corey LaJoie, beginning this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.

“I’m very happy to be back with BK Racing for 2017,” said Cox. “I’ve known Corey and the LaJoie family for a long time. He’s a hardworking and hard-racing guy, and I’m eager to see what we can build together.”

Cox previously spent time with BK Racing in 2014, calling the shots for Cole Whitt. The pair scored three top-20 finishes together. His career began in 2004 in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, leading Jamie McMurray to victory lane. He then moved up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2007.

“Randy has been around the garage his entire life, and he’s a racer like me, so we speak the same language,” said LaJoie. “I’m glad that BK Racing is giving him the reins to this No. 83 team.”

Since posting a 24th-place finish in the Daytona 500, LaJoie has failed to finish inside the top-25 in the five races since.

“I have worked with Randy before, and I believe his abilities to make race strategy calls will be important and successful with the new stage format,” said Ron Devine, Owner of BK Racing. “We are excited to reconnect Randy, BK Racing, and the No. 83 team. Randy and Corey will join forces to provide BK Racing with increased on-track performance.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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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.

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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

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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.

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NASCAR Cup Series

BK Racing Rookies Embrace Opportunity as Cup Drivers

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.

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

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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

JGL Racing, JD Motorsports Carry Momentum into Atlanta

In a series filled with Cup-affiliated teams and big dollars behind them, a pair of small NASCAR XFINITY Series teams has been able to break through to the top third of the chart.

Being able to survive the wrecks at Daytona International Speedway, combined with drafting their way to the front, JGL Racing and JD Motorsports came away from the season opener with top-10 finishes. Though both teams easily have the ability to carry the momentum forward as they both showed promise in 2016.

For JGL Racing, last weekend marked Scott Lagasse Jr. got some damage in the Lap 29 wreck but got the free pass at Lap 78 and come back to finish sixth. It tied the best finish the team has been able to score since J.J. Yeley finished fourth at Talladega in April 2014.

“I can’t thank everyone enough at JGL Racing for this opportunity – they are a great group to work with and provided me with a terrific No. 24 Toyota,” Lagasse said. “Of course none of this would be possible without the great support of our partners Alert Today Florida and the Florida Lottery. I had a blast, and we had a good weekend sharing the message of pedestrian and cyclist safety and promoting Florida Lottery’s support of education like mine with the Bright Futures Scholars program. Hopefully, I will get the opportunity to work with everyone at JGL Racing again.”

This weekend, Lagasse will not be behind the wheel of the No. 24, but rather Corey LaJoie as part of the team’s Young Gun Program. While it marks a whole different challenge this weekend in running an intermediate, it could very well produce back-to-back top-10s for the team as LaJoie ran 10 races with them last year, scoring a pair of back-to-back top-10 finishes at Bristol and Dover.

“It’s just a combination that they’re bringing better cars to the track each week, and I’m getting more in-tune with how to drive the XFINITY cars and giving them good feedback,” LaJoie told POPULAR SPEED last October. “It’s just a combination of everything that we’ve done so far, and obviously there’s been a little bit of luck.”

Meanwhile, JD Motorsports placed two cars in the top-10 as Garrett Smithley finished eighth with Harrison Rhodes in 10th. Both drivers were involved in separate wrecks but sustained minimal damage which allowed them to continue and contend late in the event. Ultimately, it marks a milestone for the team as they were only able to score a single top-10 finish in 2016.

Despite not being known as top-10 finishers, they have the ability to keep the positive trend going. Smithley scored three top-15s last year including a 15th at a fellow intermediate track Charlotte Motor Speedway, as part of the team’s total of 14 top-10 finishes across three drivers.

“I hope we can keep it rolling from the great Daytona start,” Georgia native Smithley said. “Atlanta is one of our fastest tracks, and it’s pretty much home for me. I’m sure the JD Motorsports guys will have a great car for us there.”

While many people watch the XFINITY Series and see the Cup team development drivers shine, these two teams are proving right here that under the right circumstances there’s room for them to shine as well.

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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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 Not on Sorenson’s Christmas Card List

After making his return to the top-10 in XFINITY Series competition, last season Corey LaJoie said, “Everybody is starting to realize that Corey LaJoie can drive again.”

After tonight’s Can-Am Duel, more people saw proof of that as he qualified for the Daytona 500, but it came at a cost – he won’t be on Reed Sorenson‘s Christmas List anytime soon.

Battling middle of the pack to be the “open” car that transferred from the first Can-Am Duel to the Daytona 500, Sorenson had made his way in front of LaJoie. Though with 12 laps to go through the tri-oval, LaJoie made contact with the back bumper of Sorenson, causing Sorenson to get sideways, tag Paul Menard, and then make substantial contact with the inside wall.

“It certainly wasn’t on purpose,” LaJoie said. “I was just trying to fill a hole. He didn’t think I should be there.”

While the contact may not have been on purpose, the driver of the No. 83 Dustless Blasting Toyota didn’t seem to be apologetic much in his post-race comments.

“I just had to beat him. I didn’t want to be sipping Margaritas on the beach on Sunday. I wanted to be out there racing,” he said. “If that was my mom, I’d probably spin her out to make the Daytona 500, too. That’s just frank. I’m not going on Reed’s Christmas card list this year, but that’s all right.”

Sorenson was done for the race, noting post-race he thought he was in the right spot before the contact.

“I think we were in a good position to make this race with what the guys were doing with the car – it was driving great,” he said. “It looks like he just turned us like I thought. I guess he did what he thought he needed to do to make the race. Hope he’s proud of it. It’s unfortunate that we are going to miss the Daytona 500.”

Following the incident, LaJoie was able to continue, lagging at the back of the pack, finishing 18th to qualify for the Daytona 500.

“If I would have tore my car up, we definitely wouldn’t have made the race,” he said. “I just kind of lagged back. It eats at your competitive side watching everybody else dice it up, but I’ll save that for Sunday.”

While he may not have made the field as he originally planned, the former member of the NASCAR Next Program will be one of the 40 drivers to take the green flag on Sunday afternoon. The opportunity to race is a huge payoff after the work put in by LaJoie to get the ride.

As soon as he knew there was a seat open at BK Racing, he started politicking to get it.

“I know I can do it in the right opportunity,” he said. “I politicked very hard. I didn’t feel like I was making a whole lot of headway with it. I texted Jimmie Johnson. I said, ‘Hey, I feel like if the seven-time champ comes two weeks removed from the seventh championship makes a text, it could carry some weight.’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah, no problem.’

“So he called him up, talked for about an hour. Two days later the call came to me. Hey, this is the call you’ve been waiting for. Let’s go.”

Right now, the deal for LaJoie is part-time for this season, but a good run on Sunday could go a long way on adding some races as LaJoie says, “BK is working hard to try to sell sponsorship to fill more races.”

EMAIL ASHLEY AT ashley.mccubbin@popularspeed.com

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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.