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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Corey LaJoie is not the type of guy that would mutter the phrase “close, but no cigar” with any satisfaction. The saying “all in” would probably be more to his liking. So when it comes to finishing second, the exasperation is written all over his face.
“Second is kind of disappointing, you want to be in Victory Lane,” LaJoie said after finishing as the runner-up at Greenville Pickens earlier this year.
“I’ve had a couple seconds, haven’t been able to break that barrier into Victory Lane yet, but if we keep running like that they’ll go our way, I’m sure of it,” he said at the time.
LaJoie has finished second three times in his NASCAR K&N Pro Series East career, including last year at Bowman Gray Stadium, site of this week’s NASCAR Hall of Fame 150. While his career in the series consists of just 23 races, the 20-year-old LaJoie has strove to reach Victory Lane since Day 1. He’s led laps at speedways, he’s paced the field at short tracks, but the tight quarter-mile in Winston-Salem, N.C., might just be the venue for LaJoie’s long-awaited triumph.
In NASCAR’s touring series return to historic Bowman Gray in 2011, LaJoie piloted his No. 07 Ford with the trademark offset stripes from hood-to-spoiler from the 13th starting position to checkered flag contention – no small feat at the flat track where passing is notoriously difficult – but wasn’t able to make one final pass. In the end a gracious LaJoie congratulated winner Matt DiBenedetto as he celebrated on the frontstretch, but once again he came just that close.
Instead of standing pat LaJoie and his father, two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series Champion Randy LaJoie, have gone back to work in the family race shop to get the third-generation driver over the hump.
“We’re actually bringing back a completely different car this year,” LaJoie said. “We built a brand new car with a Billy Hess chassis and a composite body to race all the short tracks, so we’re kind of bringing a new gun to the fight. I don’t think we’d bring it if we thought it wouldn’t be better.”
With last year’s experience as a foundation, and years of racing and winning on flat bullrings as his career progressed from youth, this year’s NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 could provide the perfect recipe for that first victory.
“We’ve got things in place, we just haven’t had everything in place yet to get the W, but we’re doing everything in our power,” LaJoie said. “One of these days all the ducks will be in a row and we can get to Victory Lane.”
Kennedy at Home at The Stadium: In 17 starts to-date, the best result of Ben Kennedy’s K&N Pro Series East career came at Bowman Gray Stadium a year ago. Then a rookie, Kennedy entered the race with plenty of fanfare due to his family’s history at the track – his grandfather, Bill France Jr., met his grandmother, Winston-Salem native Betty Jane, at Bowman Gray – and he did not disappoint with the eyes of The Stadium upon him. Kennedy finished a career-best third in the inaugural series event at the historic track, and will vie for his first career victory in this week’s return.
Elliott on a Roll: “Sophomore slump” is a phrase often used in the world of sports, but when making reference to second-year driver Chase Elliott, a “surge” would be more apropos. Elliott has forged a 20-point lead in the championship standings after just four races with top 10s each outing and his first K&N Pro Series East victory came in the previous race at Iowa Speedway. Bowman Gray wasn’t kind to the rookie a year ago, however, as he was involved in multiple incidents and finished 18th.
Schedule Diversity: The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East is currently in the middle of perhaps its most diverse portion of the 2012 schedule. The previous race was held at expansive .875-mile Iowa, this week’s will be contested at the extremely-tight .25-mile Bowman Gray and the fast half mile of Gresham Motorsports Park will follow next week.
Next 9 Class to be Introduced: Leading into the Bowman Gray race weekend, the 2012 Next 9 drivers will be unveiled on May 30. The program, which started in 2011, identifies and promotes the NASCAR’s rising stars in the developmental ranks. The selected drivers come from the K&N Pro Series, both East and West.
|Race:||NASCAR Hall of Fame 150|
|Place:||Bowman Gray Stadium, Winston-Salem, N.C.|
|Date:||Saturday, June 2|
|Time:||8 p.m. ET|
|TV Schedule:||SPEED, June 7, 3 p.m. ET|
|Track Layout:||.25-mile flat asphalt oval|
|2011 Polesitter:||Coleman Pressley|
|2011 Winner:||Matt DiBenedetto|
|Event Schedule:||Practice1-1:45 p.m., Final Practice 2:15-3 p.m., Qualifying 6:15 p.m., Driver Autograph Session 6:45 p.m.|
|Track PR Contact:||Loren Pinilis, 336-765-6802, firstname.lastname@example.org|
|NASCAR IMC Contact:||Jason Cunningham, 704-201-6658, email@example.com, @NASCAR_NE|
The Race: The fifth of 14 races on the 2012 schedule, the NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 will mark the second year in a row the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East has traveled to historic Bowman Gray Stadium.
The Procedure: The starting field is 24 cars, including provisionals. The first 20 cars will qualify through two-lap time trials. The remaining four spots will be awarded through the provisional process. The race will be 150 laps (37.5 miles).
The Track: Nicknamed “The Stadium” and “The Madhouse,” Bowman Gray is a flat .25-mile asphalt oval. The track opened in 1946 and held its first NASCAR-sanctioned race in 1953.
Race Winners: Matt DiBenedetto won the inaugural NASCAR Hall of Fame 150 on June 4, 2011.
Pole Winners: Coleman Pressley took the first series pole at Bowman Gray in 2011 with a fast lap of 14.722 seconds (60.926 mph).
Home Tracks: Bowman Gray
NASCAR’s longest running sanctioned track, Bowman Gray Stadium features four divisions of NASCAR Whelen All-American Series racing on Saturday nights from May-August, headlined by the famed Modified division. Through May 19, Burt Myers led brother, Jason, in the Modified standings while Jeff Garrison (Sportsman), Billy Gregg (Street Stock) and Charlie Curry (Stadium Stock) were atop their respective divisions. The Modifieds will join the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East with a 100-lap event on June 2.
Last Time Out: Iowa
The most recent NASCAR K&N Pro Series East contest was a combination race with the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West at Iowa Speedway on May 19. Here are some East highlights:
• Chase Elliott earned his first career victory with a late-race pass of leaders Brett Moffitt and Cale Conley. The win came in his 16th East start. At 16 years, five months and 22 days he was just two days shy of tying Darrell Wallace Jr.’s mark as the youngest race winner in series history.
• Moffitt earned his second-straight pole and led the first 144 laps of the race before Conley made contact with him and allowed Elliott to make the winning pass. Moffitt, who was attempting to gain his second win in a row in from of his homestate fans, had led 164-consecutive laps dating to the previous race at Richmond International Raceway.
• Conley finished third for his best result in 12 career starts.
• With the win by Elliott, an East driver has now been victorious in all six East-West combo races at Iowa since 2007. The event has also featured a different winner in each edition.
Up Next: Gresham
The NASCAR K&N Pro Series East will head to Jefferson, Ga., for the third year in a row with the Slack Auto Parts 150 at Gresham Motorsports Park on June 9. Ty Dillon and Max Gresham – grandson of the track owner – have captured the first two East events at the racey half mile, but the door will be open for a first-time Gresham winner this time around, perhaps for Georgia native and points leader Chase Elliott. Raceday will include midday practice and late afternoon qualifying with the 150-lap race slated to begin at 8:30 p.m.