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Friday 5: Corey LaJoie’s personal reset included hair cut

Dale Jarrett and Dustin Long explain why they have their eyes on Stewart-Haas drivers not named Kevin Harvick, as well as Hendrick Motorsports' William Byron, Spire's Corey LaJoie, and JTG Daugherty's Ricky Stenhouse Jr.

The long curly hair made Corey LaJoie stand out, but the 31-year-old driver decided in January that it was time for a change. He wanted to attract attention for what he did in a Cup car instead of how he looked outside it.

As part of a personal reset, LaJoie’s hair was cut shortly before the start of this season.

“The flo is no mo,” he said.

Cutting his hair was a symbolic change for a driver who has had to rely on other ways of gaining attention at times than what happens on the track.

Much work remains, but starting this season with a 16th-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a 14th-place result at Auto Club Speedway — his best at that track — shows the progress LaJoie and his Spire Motorsports team have made heading into Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Viewed as one of the sport’s potential stars more than a decade ago — LaJoie was selected to the NASCAR Next Class twice, joining Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson, Ryan Blaney and Daniel Suarez in the 2012 Class — lack of funding stymied LaJoie’s progress.

He didn’t run any races in 2015 in Cup, Xfinity or Trucks. Instead, he served as a crew chief for a team in what is now the ARCA West Series. He talked to Chad Knaus that year about a role that could lead him to being a crew chief in Xfinity or Cup someday before LaJoie decided to resume his driving career.

Five years later, LaJoie gave car owner Rick Hendrick a hand-written letter seeking to be considered to fill Jimmie Johnson’s ride after he retired that season. Hendrick called the letter “heartfelt” and said he had never received anything like that from a driver before.

While it didn’t get LaJoie the ride, he continued to find other ways to stay relevant when the only reasons he was on TV during a race was “because either I crashed or I was in the way of the leaders,” he said. LaJoie started a podcast and also began co-hosting duties on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio shows.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, LaJoie grew his hair and kept the long, flowing mane until a few weeks ago. He had his hair cut at the same time he was staying off social media for a month.

The goal was to “get rid of that outside noise … and hit the reset,” LaJoie said. “Focus on the things that matter. Focus on trying to get better behind the wheel. Be more of a leader at the shop. One of the easiest things to change was get a haircut, so I did that and kind of got that ball rolling.”

LaJoie knows a haircut doesn’t impact a car’s performance — although he jokes that with less hair he’s got the low drag package — but it’s an approach and attitude that can make a difference at a smaller team as it competes against the sport’s biggest teams. He says additional help from Chevrolet this season has helped.

The West Coast swing of races at Auto Club, Las Vegas and Phoenix in consecutive weekends can be daunting for small teams such as Spire Motorsports, which has 37 employees in its Cup shop. It’s important to get through the Daytona 500 without a wrecked car and then carry through the three races in the West. Be collected in wrecks or have other issues and it can make it hard to climb back.

That’s what makes the first two results of the season so important for LaJoie and his team.

“My stats are getting better every year,” said LaJoie, who had a career-best average finish of 24.3 and scored his first career top-five Cup finish last season. “The group around me is continuing to get better every year.”

While LaJoie has made 202 Cup starts, he’s often faced long odds to finish in the top half of the field. That’s starting to change.

He has four top-15 finishes in the last 10 races, dating back at to last season. He has six top-20 finishes during that same time. LaJoie had an average finish of 19.6 over the final five playoff races last year (his average finish in the first five playoff races last year was 24.2).

LaJoie was not bequeathed a top-15 finish at the Fontana, California, track last weekend due to a multitude of incidents that eliminated his competition. He earned his finish. LaJoie ranked 11th in average running position for the race and scored a stage point — only the fourth time in the last 47 points races he scored a stage point.

“I think we have shown glimpses of what we’re capable of,” LaJoie said. “It’s hard to be consistent with that because everybody else is good, they’re all pros, they all get paid a lot of money to make race cars to go fast, but I think that I’m as capable as a lot of the guys out there to be able to do that. I think our team is capable of running in the top 20, when we execute, pretty regularly.”

2. How long will Kyle Busch hold Cup record?

What stands out about Kyle Busch’s record of 19 consecutive Cup seasons with at least a win is that he did it at age 37, meaning he’s won in Cup for more than half his life.

The question is how long will he hold the mark. It’s possible that rival Joey Logano could take it from Busch before Busch turns 50. Busch’s record is one of a few Cup career marks within reach of active drivers — unlike Richard Petty’s 200 career series wins.

Busch’s victory last weekend at Auto Club Speedway broke the tie he had with Petty for most consecutive seasons with a win.

“There’s not very many records that you can beat that Richard Petty has, and certainly that was one that I set early on a long, long time ago that I always wanted to achieve and get,” Busch said. “So I’m just so thankful for the opportunity to set that bar and would love to continue to keep raising it.”

The active driver next in line behind Busch is Logano, who has had at least one Cup victory in 11 consecutive seasons. He is tied for 14th on the list with Dale Jarrett (1993-2003), Kevin Harvick (2010-2020) and Brad Keselowski (2011-2021).

Should Busch not win another Cup race after this season — highly unlikely — it would take Logano until the 2031 season to break the mark. Logano would turn 41 that year. Busch would be 46 that year.

Even if Busch wins races for a couple more Cup seasons, Logano still would be young enough to have a good chance of topping Busch’s total.

If not Logano, who could be next to challenge Busch’s mark?

Chase Elliott has won at least one race for five consecutive seasons. It would take him until 2037 to reach 20 consecutive years with a win. Elliott would turn 42 after that season.

Denny Hamlin has won at least one race in four consecutive seasons, but he’s 42 years old. Hamlin would have to race until 2038 to break Busch’s mark and would turn 58 just after the season.

Alex Bowman also has won at least one race four years in a row. He turns 30 in April. He would be 45 years old in 2038 when he could break Busch’s current mark.

Then there are others further behind.

  • Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr. would have to win in each of the next 19 seasons to top Busch’s current mark. That would be in 2042 and Stenhouse would turn 55 that season.
  • Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell, Bubba Wallace would need to win each year through 2040 to top Busch’s record. Larson would be 48, Wallace 47 and Bell 45 (he’d turn 46 after the season) that year.
  • Trackhouse Racing teammates Ross Chastain and Daniel Suarez each would need to win every year through 2041 to top Busch’s record. Suarez would turn 49 before the season and Chastain would turn 49 after the season.
  • Ty Gibbs, the Cup rookie who is taking over Busch’s spot at Joe Gibbs Racing this season, could top Busch’s mark in 2042 if he won a race in every season beginning this year. Gibbs, who is 20 years old, would turn 40 that season.

Another career mark that could eventually be passed by an active driver is consecutive starts.

Kevin Harvick made his 750th consecutive start last weekend at Auto Club Speedway and ranks third on the all-time list in that category.

Harvick will not climb any higher since this is his final Cup season. Jeff Gordon holds the record at 797 consecutive starts. Ricky Rudd is next at 788 consecutive starts.

The next highest active driver behind Harvick on that list is Martin Truex Jr., who has made 614 consecutive starts. Assuming Cup will continue to have 36 points races a season beyond this year, Truex won’t pass Gordon’s mark until early in the 2028 season. Truex would be 47 at the time.

After Truex is Logano. He’s made 506 consecutive starts. Again, assuming Cup remains at 36 points races a season, Logano would not top Gordon’s mark until early in the 2031 season when Logano would be 40 years old.

What about some others?

  • Brad Keselowski is at 474 consecutive starts. The 39-year-old would not top Gordon’s mark until the 2032 season opener around Keselowski’s 48th birthday (Feb. 12).
  • Hamlin (321 consecutive starts) would become the record holder during the 2036 season. He would be 55 at the time.
  • Elliott (254 starts in a row) would need to go into the 2038 season to top Gordon’s mark. Elliott would be 42 at the time.
  • William Byron (182 consecutive starts) could surpass Gordon in 2040. Byron would be 42 at the time.
  • Cup rookie Noah Gragson (two consecutive starts) would top Gordon’s streak early in the 2045 season, a few months before turning 47 years old.

3. RCR’s rise

Kyle Busch’s win last weekend marked the fifth win for Richard Childress Racing in the last 21 races.

RCR has more wins in that stretch than it had in the 306 previous races. It won only four times over that period.

Tyler Reddick, now with 23XI Racing, won three times for RCR last year. Austin Dillon won the Daytona regular-season finale and then there’s Busch’s victory.

Here’s a look at the teams with the most Cup wins in the last 21 races:

5 — Richard Childress Racing

5 — Hendrick Motorsports

3 — Joe Gibbs Racing

2 — Stewart-Haas Racing

2 — Team Penske

4. Honoring his brother

Max Gutiérrez is scheduled to compete in tonight’s Craftsman Truck Series race at Las Vegas after missing the season opener in Daytona to mourn his brother’s passing.

He and his younger brother Fico were in an automobile crash in late January in Mexico City. Fico died.

“This race is totally dedicated to my brother, Fico, who I’m sure will be with me all the time,” Max Gutiérrez said in the AM Racing team’s release.

Max Gutiérrez will be making his fifth series start tonight. In his third career series start, he started 36th and finished eighth at Nashville last year and Fico was there for him that day.

“Racing is the best medicine for me and Fico was one of the first to congratulate me after our success at Nashville,” Max Gutiérrez said in the team’s release. “I will cherish that moment forever.”

To honor his brother, the team’s No. 22 truck will have Fico’s logo on the hood.

5. Deal done

The completed sale of Phase 1 of 433 acres that was owned by Auto Club Speedway was done Wednesday. Dallas-based Hillwood Investment Properties and CBRE Investment Management purchased the land. Phase 1 included 364.2 acres. The remaining 68 acres is scheduled to close on or before Dec. 31, 2026. Transaction price is $559 million.

Auto Club Speedway sold the land as part of NASCAR’s plans to reconfigure the 2-mile track into a short track. Last weekend’s race was the final event for the track in its current configuration. A timeline for the work making the speedway into a short track has not been revealed by NASCAR. Dave Allen, track president, said last month that Auto Club would not host a NASCAR race weekend in 2024 and that the track’s status for the 2025 schedule was uncertain at this time.

The deal leaves Auto Club Speedway with about 90 acres. As part of the deal, the buyers must allow parking use rights for 106 acres of parking for the short track.