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Corey LaJoie out of Michigan Cup race for COVID-19 protocols; replaced by Josh Berry

Josh Berry will drive in Sunday’s Cup race at Michigan International Speedway for Spire Motorsports after COVID-19 protocols sidelined Corey LaJoie from the No. 7 Chevrolet.

During a Thursday afternoon appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, LaJoie said he was in a mandatory seven-day quarantine for contact tracing after a positive COVID-19 test for someone who was in studio for the Monday afternoon taping of LaJoie’s podcast, “Stacking Pennies.”

Under NASCAR policy, an unvaccinated person who has a close contact with someone testing positive for COVID-19 must undergo a mandatory seven-day quarantine. With no symptoms and a negative test on Day 5, they can return. (Or after a 10-day quarantine with no test and no symptoms.)

For a vaccinated person, there is no mandatory quarantine, but a close contact would require a negative test within three to five days to clear a return to the garage.

So in a case such as LaJoie’s with exposure to a close contact Monday, a vaccinated person would be cleared for a return to the garage at Michigan with a negative test Thursday, Friday or Saturday (the three- to five-day window after the close contact).

“Regardless of if I have symptoms or a negative test, it’s an automatic seven-day quarantine, which is frustrating,” said LaJoie, who didn’t disclose (and wasn’t asked) whether he had been vaccinated. “It sucks, and it stinks. ... I was in unfortunate circumstances, and I don’t get to do my job this weekend. I wish I had the opportunity to prove I’m not carrying or not transmitting or whatever.

“I don’t even get the opportunity to do that for what we’re working with, so that’s what really has me irritated because I want to be behind the wheel of that 7 car regardless. On the other hand, I know NASCAR has to do what they have to do, and they don’t show bias.”

Berry will make his second start for Spire after making his Cup debut in the May 16 race at Dover International Speedway, finishing 30th in the No. 77 Chevrolet. Berry was a late substitution at Dover for Justin Haley, who also was sidelined by COVID-19 protocols.

It already has been a busy week for the Hendersonville, Tennessee, native, who was announced Wednesday morning as a replacement for Michael Annett in Saturday’s Xfinity race at Michigan. Annett, who drives the No. 1 Chevy for JR Motorsports, will miss his fourth race this season while recovering from leg surgery.

Before then, Berry is also scheduled to compete in Friday’s Camping World Truck Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway for Rackley W.A.R.

Berry, who has driven Late Models for JRM the past decade, was named Tuesday as a full-time Xfinity driver with the team for the 2022 season. Running a partial schedule for JRM and Jordan Anderson this year, Berry has four top fives and nine top 10s in 16 starts, including his first career victory in Xfinity (April 11 at Martinsville Speedway).

He won the 2020 NASCAR Weekly Series national championship before earning his part-time shot at the Xfinity Series. He made seven Xfinity starts from 2014-17.

“I’m just a local short track racer, so saying this is a dream come true seems like an understatement,” Berry said. “I’m so grateful to Dale, Kelley, L.W. [Miller] and everyone at JR Motorsports. They have always believed in me. This is the opportunity of a lifetime, and I’m ready and focused on 2022.”

Corey LaJoie, who tweeted about COVID-19 protocols keeping him out of Michigan, has one top 10 in 24 starts this season and is ranked 29th in points. He had started 97 consecutive races in Cup dating back to the 2018 season finale. He has been a full-time driver since the 2019 season.

LaJoie joins Haley, Austin Dillon and Jimmie Johnson among the drivers to be sidelined from a Cup race because of COVID-19 since last season.

NASCAR president Steve Phelps said in April that while drivers were being asked to promote vaccination, NASCAR wouldn’t mandate vaccinations for its competitors.

NASCAR announced several adjustments Tuesday to COVID-19 protocols for Michigan amid the spread of the Delta variant. Among the new restrictions, guests no longer are permitted inside team haulers or garage stalls, and access to the grid is being limited only to NASCAR-licensed individuals.

During his SiriusXM appearance, LaJoie said “I do think people could probably learn from this particular circumstance and be a little more cautious.”