By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Atlanta Motor Speedway has become a NASCAR Cup Series venue Corey LaJoie can shine on a regular basis.
Since the 1.5-mile circuit became a superspeedway last year, the Spire Motorsports driver has become a frequent contender for strong results. More so, being in the hunt for the win when it mattered most.
Although LaJoie’s No. 7 Celsius Chevrolet Camaro didn’t lead a single lap compared to 19 laps last summer when he was two laps away from victory, he improved his career-best Cup result of fifth last March by a single position.
Therefore, Sunday’s Ambetter Health 400 continued his best season start of his career as he left Atlanta 14th in points.
Jokingly, LaJoie posted a video on social media before the race that his chances of capturing the elusive Cup win increased for one reason. The reason was that he didn’t have to deal with Chase Elliott, who remains out due to a fractured tibia.
Last July, it was Elliott who blocked LaJoie’s run for the win which created a multi-car accident on the final lap, relegating LaJoie to a heartbreaking 22nd place finish.
A year later, such moment is banter chat between LaJoie and Elliott.
Once the 260-lap contest progressed, the race became a Ford fest with Joey Logano dominating much of the afternoon. LaJoie would make his move coming to the white flag as he was running in sixth, sandwiched between Logano and Tyler Reddick.
LaJoie would duck below Logano on the bottom and began working together in order to dethrone leader Brad Keselowski. Once Keselowski blocked Logano, the latter moved up a lane while LaJoie stayed on the bottom and drafted with Keselowski.
However, a huge draft by Christopher Bell propelled Logano out front on the backstretch, sealing the deal for the two-time Cup Series champion. All LaJoie can do was see another Atlanta win slip away as he eked out Reddick for fourth.
“I hope (Logano) gives me a shout-out for pushing him,” said LaJoie after the race. “I gave him a good shot there at the end. I was probably fourth or fifth in the top lane there. I had an opportunity to get down and as soon as I didn’t take it, I was like – man that was the race.
“That was probably with 18 or 20 to go. That’s why these guys make millions of dollars. They’re pretty good and know where to put their car. Fourth-place is a solid day for the No. 7 Celsius Chevy team.”
During the post-race conference, Logano praised LaJoie for giving him a tremendous push that formulated his path to victory. He added more on how he’s progressed as a competitor over the years, especially in Atlanta.
“It’s a great day for him. Shoot, he almost won the race here last time. I don’t think any of us are surprised by it. When the race was coming towards the end, Oh, there he is. Where has he been all day? Corey just kind of popped up there,” said Logano.
“Obviously (Spire) given him a really good race car, good-handling race car, that can go fast and be able to allow him to make some moves on the racetrack.
“He made some good moves there towards the end. Obviously he got himself a good spot. He had the run. If he went underneath me, he’s probably not winning the race, right? His best chance was to give me the shot there.
“It worked out well. Another kid that raced out there with me when we were kids, right? Now we’re working together out there on the racetrack. Pretty cool.”
Already after three races under the new configuration and surface, the track is showing tremendous wear and bumps. Something LaJoie noted where Atlanta may end up becoming a handling-based superspeedway, similar to Daytona International Speedway.
“I think as this track gets a little more wear and abrasiveness to it, it’s going to be like old Daytona,” said LaJoie. “Where you’re bumping and sliding around, and your car has to be fast. I felt like the track lost 10 to 15 percent of grip from last year, so handling was a big thing.
“You could really drive or push if you wanted to, or you could be sideways. Our Chevy drove great. We were able to pick the right lanes at the right time, just a little short.”
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