DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Corey LaJoie bumped his way into the Daytona 500.
During the first of two Duel qualifying races Thursday night at Daytona International Speedway, LaJoie was competing with Reed Sorenson for one of the final spots in Sunday’s race and found himself trailing Sorenson on the outside line as Lap 49 (of the 60-lap race) began.
As Sorenson’s car slowed up just a bit exiting the tri-oval, LaJoie’s didn’t. The two made contact, and Sorenson went sliding into Paul Menard and an inside retaining wall.
The impact crushed the front of Sorenson’s car. And his Daytona 500 hopes.
“I really do feel bad about Reed,” LaJoie said. “I just tried to fill a hole and it was getting down to it and I probably did have position on him, but man when I’m trying to get into the Daytona 500, if my mom was in that spot I’d probably wreck her too.”
The Duels are NASCAR’s unique way to set the starting field for the Daytona 500. Most of the field is already guaranteed a spot, but two were still up for grabs Thursday.
LaJoie and Sorenson were the only two of the 21 drivers in the first Duel without a guaranteed starting spot in Sunday’s race. And while Sorenson’s post-wreck disgust with LaJoie is certainly justified, you also can’t blame LaJoie for not getting out of the gas if he had the opportunity.
Had he slowed, he could have fallen to the back of the pack with just over 10 laps to go. Or, worst case, someone behind him may not have had an opportunity to slow down and could have sent LaJoie to the fate that Sorenson’s car saw.
“Obviously wrecking Reed wasn’t how I drew it up,” LaJoie said. “It certainly wasn’t on purpose. I was just trying to fill a hole. He didn’t think I should be there.”
Sorenson still had a shot to make the field, depending on how the second Duel played out, but Canadian D.J. Kennington grabbed the other available spot, pushing Sorenson to the sideline.
The race was a massive learning experience for LaJoie, the son of former Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie. Since practice before Thursday nights Duels was rained out, the race was the first time LaJoie had drafted with multiple cars at Daytona or Talladega in the Cup Series.
“I was learning every lap,” the 25-year-old driver said. “I was doing the best I could up until the end when they started getting dicey and I knew I was locked in. I just kind of rode and made sure they didn’t wad us up.
“I’m sure the Daytona 500 is going to be another practice session for me. It’s all new to me. I didn’t even know where to go for the drivers meeting or nothing. I’m learning this just like somebody the first time I’ve been around here since I was a rugrat.”
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