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Kenny Wallace: Was Gateway Corey LaJoie’s Last Big Opportunity?

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Joshua Lipowski

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Kenny Wallace had a lot to say after his hometown race in St Louis last weekend. However, some interesting comments came regarding Corey LaJoie, who finished a disappointing 21st while substituting for for Chase Elliott at Gateway. Wallace posed the question about if this was the final opportunity LaJoie would get with a big team.

Wallace’s Claims

Wallace started off by expressing two pieces of advice he was given by NASCAR Hall of Famers early in his career. Bill Elliott told Wallace that opportunities are, “All about timing and circumstance.” Kenny’s brother Rusty also said, “Don’t let anyone drive your race car.” Kenny expressed that he even gave LaJoie some advice before the race.

From there, Wallace analyzed two pieces from what happened on Sunday. First, the piece of LaJoie driving a Hendrick Motorsports car originally built for Chase Elliott. Secondly, the piece of Carson Hocevar running so well in the Spire Motorsports number seven car.

Wallace pointed out how LaJoie and Larson were running particularly badly during the early part of the race. Those two cars share a building at Hendrick Motorsports, and they were not as good as the other two drivers in the other building in Alex Bowman and William Byron. However, as the results showed, Larson was able to run up front leaving LaJoie towards the back.

As Wallace notes, the result was not good, and he adds that Carson Hocevar running up towards the front made it even worse despite the brake rotor failure. Did LaJoie blow his only big chance he will ever get?

Wallace points out how when he substituted for big teams, he always left a good impression, including finishing second at Rockingham in 2001 while substituting for Steve Park, and getting a top-five at Martinsville with Robert Yates substituting for Ernie Irvan.

Wallace wondered whether or not LaJoie will get another chance like this primarily because of the way NASCAR has changed over the years. He points out that in modern day sports, it is often one chance and once chance alone.

Analyzing Wallace’s Claims

Very few may know more about substituting for big teams than Kenny Wallace. He substituted for Kyle Petty at SABCO (Felix Sebates) in 1991, Ernie Irvan at Robert Yates Racing in 1994, Steve Park at Dale Earnhardt Incorporated in 2001, and Kevin Harvick at Richard Childress Racing in 2002. Therefore, his words on this subject do hold some merit.

His analysis of the day at Gateway itself is pretty indisputable. What happened at Gateway happened, and there is not much that can be done to change it. It was one of the worst possible outcomes for LaJoie.

However, what about Wallace’s analysis of one chance in modern sports? Is it fair to compare Wallace’s substitute driver performances to LaJoie’s?

The comparison Wallace makes of himself and his performances to LaJoie is not apples to apples. In most of these instances, particularly substituting for Irvan and Park, Wallace ran multiple races. LaJoie only ran one race.

However, the fact that it is not an apples to apples comparison illustrates Wallace’s point because the sport is different now from when Wallace was driving. The opportunities Wallace got are fewer and farther between nowadays. Drivers, generally speaking, do not get injured or suspended often, and substitute drivers are typically lower-series guys.

LaJoie got the ride because it happened to be a week where the Xfinity Series was in Portland, so someone like Josh Berry could not. It’s not often that someone like LaJoie gets a call like this.

Unfortunately for LaJoie, Wallace is right in that opportunities like this are incredibly rare. Oftentimes, it is a one-time shot, and if that shot is blown, then there is not guarantee one will get another.

This is not make-or-break for LaJoie’s career per se. In terms of getting a top ride, this weekend definitely did not help his case.

In the Stands

@psinclairjr believes LaJoie deserves a second chance.

salty_flightdeck_cpo says that LaJoie deserves another chance.

@davidt4102 still believes in LaJoie as well.

Hayden3210 says that LaJoie was not given a great shot because of the lack of pitwall data.

The bottom line is that LaJoie is back in the seven car this weekend, and he will be in the car for the remainder of the season. If he continues to achieve in that car, then this race will probably be largely forgotten.

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Joshua Lipowski

Joshua Lipowski

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