LaJoie Aims to Achieve “Lofty Goals” in 2024 Beginning with Atlanta

By Cole Cusumano, Staff Writer

Whenever the NASCAR Cup Series heads to the recently reconfigured Atlanta Motor Speedway, Corey LaJoie’s name is always in the conversation for drivers who are expected to contend for the win.

Last March, LaJoie scored a career-best fourth-place finish at the 1.54-mile track, which he was able to replicate for a third time to kick off the 2024 season in the Daytona 500. 

“Every time you can run good – no matter what week it is – you feel good,” LaJoie said. “But to start the season at the Daytona 500 with that run is really cool, especially with the expectations we’ve set as a race team. 

“We’re starting to adjust our perspective. We’re getting a little less excited for a top-five … because we know we’re capable of doing that.”

Going into the second race of the season, LaJoie enters the weekend in a unique situation. 

For the first time in his Cup career, the third-generation racer for Spire Motorsports sits 10th in the standings with a legitimate chance to capitalize on the benefits associated with beginning the year at two drafting-style tracks.

While it would be easy for most to get caught up in the successes of executing a career-day in the sport’s biggest event of the season, it’s all business for LaJoie going into the Ambetter Health 400 at Atlanta.

“For me, every time the plane touches down on the tarmac, whether you’ve had a great week or a bad week, you leave it there.” LaJoie said. “Then you look forward to the next week and you’ve got 35 more of them. 

“That’s the blessing and the curse of this, right? You don’t get to live the good ones very long and they don’t come very often. And you don’t have to live the bad ones very long either, because in six more days you have a chance to recover. 

“We’re going to one of our favorite tracks in Atlanta. We’ve been in contention multiple times and I think this weekend’s going to be no different.”

Following a repave and reconfiguration completed for the 2022 season, the track many refer to as “new Atlanta” now inhibits many of the same properties as superspeedways such as Daytona International Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway.

Whereas most drivers shudder at the thought of trying to survive back-to-back high-risk events to start their 2024 campaign, LaJoie relishes any opportunity he’s able to showcase his prowess at drafting tracks, which many consider a form of art in the racing world.

Since Atlanta’s reconfiguration, LaJoie has scored top-five finishes in two-of-four starts, including the aforementioned career-best fourth-place finish last year. 

This isn’t even taking into account the 21st-place outing in 2022, where LaJoie led 19 laps and appeared to be well on his way to his maiden Cup win, until eventual race winner Chase Elliott took him out of contention in the closing laps with an aggressive bump-and-run.

After qualifying 32nd for the Ambetter Health 400, LaJoie will have his work cut out for him in seeking that elusive first win, but he knows he and his No. 7 team are more than capable of getting the job done – especially coming off a career-day in Daytona.

“Man, it feels like you’re racing at Daytona, just on fast forward,” LaJoie said. “It’s like you’re listening to a podcast on 1.5-speed,” LaJoie said. “The runs happen faster, you’re carrying more g’s throughout the corners because you’re into the radius of the corners tighter. 

“You just have to be so sharp and so intentional with blocks and runs. Obviously, car handling is certainly more of a factor than it is in Daytona, because the track’s bumpy and it’s got a lot of grip. But if you’re a little bit off and some guys hit it, then you won’t even be able to be in contention.

“We put a lot of thought into what we’re going to take this week and hopefully we hit it on the nose. We’ll see, but (there’s) always a little bit extra confidence going to places where you’ve had some success.”

For LaJoie, his first three years at Spire were about establishing a baseline to build around. The 32-year-old was vocal about the state of the lesser-funded Chevrolet team when joining forces back in 2021 and knew it would take time to improve the program.

Since teaming up, the pairing went from scoring one top-10, to their first top-five, then putting up a career-year all-around for both LaJoie and the organization in 2023. 

On top of scoring a single-season record three top-10s, including a pair of fourth-place finishes, LaJoie became just the 15th driver in Cup Series history to complete all 36 races – a more-than-admirable accomplishment after having to settle for six DNFs in his first season with Spire and eight the year after.

In successfully completing every event last season, LaJoie not only set career marks in top-10s, but laps led (66), average finish (20.8) and placed the highest he’s ever had in the points standings (25th).

“We’ve improved in every measurable statistical category from every year. We really just took care of the low-hanging fruit from two years ago (the first year of the next gen car) where we got a lot of DNFs and the cars weren’t driving great and they weren’t reliable.

“Now we’re going to put a bit more focus on bringing pace to the racetrack and then capitalizing on the days where we have a good pace. I’ve got a lot of tools available that I haven’t had before in my career, and I think the fans are going to start seeing it.” 

As for taking the next step as a driver and team, that begins with another strong run in Atlanta.

Coming off a collectively sound and successful season all-around from LaJoie and the team, now emphasis shifts to drastically improving performance, which can be measured by the “lofty goals” in place for 2024.

At the top of that list: making the playoffs and winning a race – both feats which LaJoie and Spire have proven can be met this weekend at Atlanta.

Spire already scored one victory this weekend with Kyle Busch winning the NASCAR CRAFTSMAN Truck Series race. Now LaJoie has a legitimate chance to bring the organization its fifth national series win.

“I think that if we didn’t make the playoffs, as the No. 7 team, we’d be a little bit disappointed,” LaJoie said. “I feel like everybody internally feels like we’re capable of making that next step to be on that fringe of the points from that 17th to 21st range. 

“We also feel like we’re capable of winning a race on any given Sunday. You have to set lofty goals and try to achieve them. I think hanging a couple win banners – or at least one win banner – and making the playoffs would be a large success for our team this year.”

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