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It‘s fair to be both optimistic and realistic.
Corey LaJoie is well aware of his circumstances with Spire Motorsports in the NASCAR Cup Series. It‘s not the richest team in the NASCAR Cup Series garage, but it can be competitive. The No. 7 Chevrolet finished ninth in the season-opening Daytona 500 last Sunday at Daytona International Speedway — one of the 22 cars still running at the end of the 40-car race.
“I get Daytona is Daytona,” LaJoie said Thursday on a Zoom teleconference. “With certain circumstances, you can pop off a fast lap like we did there. But you don‘t luck into two top-10 finishes in the 500 just because you‘re out there riding around.”
DAYTONA ROAD COURSE: Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on FOX
LaJoie placed eighth in the crown-jewel event last season. He also has a sixth-place finish at Daytona in the 2019 summer race. Daytona is home to three of his four career top 10s. The fourth came at its sister track, Talladega Superspeedway — seventh, also in 2019.
Superspeedways do tend to open the door for non-frontrunners to make their move, as the racing is more unpredictable and the playing field is rather even. BetMGM had last weekend‘s winner, Michael McDowell, at 66-1 odds entering 2021‘s first event. The victory marked McDowell‘s first in 14 years and 358 starts.
Nothing is really impossible. The right car at the right track can make for a happy surprise. At the same time, being successful among those in the same financial ballpark alone is an internal victory. And LaJoie is in a new ride this year, so he’s having to learn where he stacks up against his competition now compared to previous seasons.
“I‘m ready to get to Phoenix and Vegas — some intermediates — to just see where we stack up speed wise and figure out those group of four, five cars we can race consistently and how to beat them,” LaJoie said. “I‘m looking at cars like even RCR and JTG, I feel like we can compete against those guys each and every week. Wherever that stacks up in points — should be somewhere between 19th and 22nd — I feel like that‘s where we should be running and getting better.”
He‘ll have to wait two weeks for the series‘ first time on an intermediate track. The 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway is slated for Feb. 28.
First, the No. 7 team will have to take on the Daytona Road Course, a 14-turn, 3.61-mile layout that includes portions of the World Center of Racing‘s oval and infield. The O‘Reilly Auto Parts 253 is Sunday at 3 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
“I forget where it was, whether it was the first media Zoom here before the 500, when people asked if they can take Spire seriously, I was like, ‘Check back here in six months and we‘ll see if they‘re taking us seriously,‘” LaJoie said. “I would say people should start taking us serious.”