Corey LaJoie in good spirits after Atlanta: ‘Still have a lot of work to do, but today was a good day’

Sean Gardner
Getty Images

HAMPTON, Ga. – It’s never good to go airborne with all four wheels off the ground through the infield during a NASCAR race. But that didn’t seem to bother Corey LaJoie in Sunday’s Cup Series event at the repaved and reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway.

When Tyler Reddick blew a right rear tire on lap 146, it triggered the race’s “Big One.” Twelve cars received some sort of damage, including LaJoie.

RELATED: LaJoie secures first career top-five finish

“The Fraternal Order of Eagles that was on our car this week, that was pretty real life because it felt like I was flying there when I went through the grass,” LaJoie said after the race. “But luckily, these Next Gen cars are pretty rugged and it held up. I was worried about the diffuser, but it was intact and we were able to have a good day.”

LaJoie spent much of the 500-mile race laid back, hoping to avoid potential chaos in front. Typically, that’s the game plan for Spire Motorsports in superspeedway racing at Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway. The No. 7 Chevrolet finished Stage 1 in 26th, moving up to 23rd by the end of Stage 2.

But in the final dash to the end, LaJoie methodically made his way up the scoring pylon, missing crash after crash. Being one of nine drivers to pit with less than 25 laps remaining on a caution for Todd Gilliland and Cody Ware wrecking, the No. 7 car went on offense.

When the white flag dropped, LaJoie was running 13th. He picked off two spots in Turn 1 when Bubba Wallace, Ryan Blaney and Chase Briscoe got into the wall and Wallace, Chris Buescher and Justin Haley crashed coming to the checkered flag. Plus, Christopher Bell got penalized for making a pass below the white line, moving the No. 7 car up to fifth.

RELATED: Field shuffles in the closing laps

“It looked like they were wrecking Daytona, Days of Thunder coming to the checkered,” LaJoie added. “These things on the last lap, you commit to not lifting and, luckily, we were in the right spot at the right time.”

The fifth-place run is LaJoie’s best effort at the Cup level, and his first top-five result in 193 national series starts. Previously, his best finish was sixth in a rain-shortened race at Daytona, two years ago.

Starting off the 2022 season, LaJoie has three top-15 finishes in the opening five races of the season. That’s a big momentum boost, as the No. 7 team had just three such finishes during the duration of the 2021 season.

“I think if you would have told me that we would start the year with three out of five top 15s, I would have probably laughed at you,” LaJoie said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but today was a good day.”

When LaJoie was told NASCAR scored him fifth, he was ecstatic. Cha-ching. “It pays way better for fifth than it does for sixth.”

Through five races this season, LaJoie sits 24th in the championship standings, ahead of names like Denny Hamlin and Christopher Bell.