Coming off his fourth-place finish at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Corey LaJoie joined Racing America’s “The Bullring” to discuss the top-five finish and his strong start to the 2023 season with Spire Motorsports.
LaJoie scored a career-best fourth-place finish in Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400, improving on last year’s fifth-place run in the spring event at Atlanta. From his experience, they’ve benefitted from having strong-handling race cars at the revamped speedway.
“It’s kind of like Talladega and Richmond had a baby. That’s what Atlanta is now,” said LaJoie. “You’ve got to have some handling, but your car’s got to be fast. I think some teams are still kidding themselves by bringing a full-blown Talladega-style trim setup there. We hedged our bet towards the handling side, and we’ve been able to maneuver and be there at the end.”
Another big difference in Corey’s eyes between Atlanta and the more traditional superspeedways of Daytona and Talladega is how the end of the race plays out.
“The last four or five laps, you’re in the box of where the hay’s in the barn at that point in time. You’ve got to be in the top three or four to have a shot at the win.”
Because of that, LaJoie feels like the decision that kept him from having a shot at the win came with nearly 20 laps to go.
“There was a time with about 18 to go, I was sixth in the top lane and we got clear to the bottom lane. I had a half-second to look down there and say ‘I should take that, I should do it,’ and then I didn’t do it, it got covered and the bottom surged to the front.
“I was kicking myself for missing that block, but all in all, it was a good day for us.”
LaJoie now sits 14th in the NASCAR Cup Series points standings. LaJoie credits part of the team’s improved performance with a change in mindset in 2023, focusing on limiting mistakes and making the most of every opportunity.
“Now I realize you can’t take a 30th place car in the Cup Series and run 20th with it which is impossible. There are so many good guys that are running their car as hard as they can, too. You’d be naïve to think you are able to put your car on your back and run it 10 or 12 spots better than what your car is capable of doing.”
“The biggest thing we’ve been trying to execute this year is having mistake-free races. We had a lot of mechanical failures last year, we had a couple of driver mistakes. I think we had three driver DNFs last year and 18 DNFs. If we can keep that to a minimum and run all the laps, I think we can sustain somewhere in that top 20 in points, which would be huge for our team."
The biggest thing we've been trying to execute this year is having mistake-free races.
Of course, LaJoie still has those remaining races at Atlanta, Daytona and Talladega circled on his calendar, where he hopes to improve on Sunday's fourth-place finish and contend for a win to punch his ticket into the playoffs.
"We go back to Atlanta in July, we go to Talladega in a couple of weeks, and Daytona is the regular season finale. We have a couple more opportunities to throw our Hail Mary and try to get into the playoffs.”
Fans can click here to watch the entirety of Wednesday's episode of The Bullring.
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