Corey LaJoie is proud of his dad’s past success in NASCAR, but he has always said he wanted to make a name for himself. He went a long way in proving that Friday night at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
The 18-year-old LaJoie, son of two-time NASCAR Nationwide Series champion Randy, passed veteran driver Tim Brown with five laps to go and held on to win the inaugural Atlanta 150 Friday night.
It was the first career start in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour for the younger LaJoie, who had to hold off a furious challenge from veteran Tim Brown over the closing laps to secure the win on the track's front-stretch, quarter-mile oval. Brown, who led three times for a race-high 101 laps, drove hard on the LaJoie's back bumper over the final five laps hoping for one slight bobble that would allow him to sneak by. He was able to get up to LaJoie’s door as the two drag-raced out of Turn 4 on the final lap, but ran out of room as LaJoie crossed the finish line by just .061 seconds ahead of Brown for the win.
Frank Fleming, David Brigati and Brandon Hire completed the top five.
Early in the race it appeared LaJoie, from Concord, N.C., was in for a long night. Competeing as a teammate with James Civali driving the No. 19 Hill Enterprises/LeBleu Water Pontiac, he had to battle back from an early mistake that put him in the back of the field. While battling for the fifth-place position on the backstretch of the tight oval, LaJoie wound up driving into the infield. He was able to keep his momentum, cutting through the grass, and re-enter the track in Turn 4. But the miscue put him near the back of the running order.
“I got pretty down after that and the guys got me calmed down and told me just to keep pushing and I did,” said Corey. “I was so excited after winning I didn’t want to leave the front stretch. I just wanted to thank all the fans for staying out and watching our race.”
LaJoie worked his way through traffic after spinning, while Brown was setting a quick pace in his No. 83 Hayes Jewelers Chevrolet. Brown took the lead from Hire on Lap 30 and stayed in front until Corey LaJoie used strategy often reserved for much more seasoned drivers to take the lead.
“Lapped traffic was pretty tough all night out there, but I guess we were the beneficiary of that when we needed it,” Corey said. “We were able to get by Tim when he was stuck behind some lapped traffic the first time and did again with a few laps to go.
Brown passed Lajoie on Lap 143 for the lead but it was short-lived as LaJoie used the lapped car of Brian Loftin to hold Brown at bay and make the pass for the lead with only five circuits remaining.
For Randy LaJoie, it was a memorable night.
“He (Corey) amazes me every time he is on the race track,” said Randy. “He doesn’t lack for confidence that’s for sure. One of the main reasons I stayed in the (Nationwide) series was so I could go-kart race with my kids and it was great sitting up there watching him race tonight. He did all the right things just like when we used to race go-karts.”
For Brown, who has five career wins on the tour, the night was a disappointment.
“I think the best car here didn’t win the race tonight,” said Brown. “We were just out there riding and with about 20 laps to go we ran up on lapped traffic that was racing side-by-side. I watched them get the move over flag and I know they are racing hard too, but it was pretty frustrating. I am probably one of the sorest losers in the series.”
Fleming brought his No. 40 Jerry Hunt Auto & Truck Centers Ford home for a podium finish and felt he also had a great car.
“I have to agree with Tim that the best car didn’t win tonight because we had a really good car,” said Fleming. “We were just riding trying to save our tires for the end of the race and I got bumped back a little to fifth. But I was able to get around some cars to get third. It was a great start to our season.”
The race was slowed five times by caution. It was the first time the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour ran at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Civali, who won the Coors Light Pole with a time of 14.428 seconds (62.379 mph) earlier in the day, finished sixth. Jason Myers, Zach Brewer, John Smith and Buddy Emory rounded out the top 10.
Fleming used his top-three finish to win Featherlite Most Improved Driver of the race, and Mike Norman won the Sunoco Rookie of the Race award.
Corey LaJoie won the Coca-Cola Move of the Race Award after advancing from his ninth-place starting position to first.
The tour returns to action with the Spring Classic 150 at Caraway Speedway in Asheboro, N.C., next weekend. Action begins on Saturday with practice and qualifying for the Coors Light Pole on Saturday and the race on Sunday afternoon.