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FONTANA, Calif. (April 28, 1998) Randy LaJoie has found the top-10 groove in his five races with the No. 50 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo team. LaJoie, 36, who hails from Norwalk, Conn., came through with another top-10 ...

FONTANA, Calif. (April 28, 1998)

Randy LaJoie has found the top-10 groove in his five races with the No. 50 Budweiser Chevrolet Monte Carlo team.

LaJoie, 36, who hails from Norwalk, Conn., came through with another top-10 performance last Sunday in the DieHard 500 at Talladega Superspeedway. The 10th-place run gave LaJoie two straight top-10s, after a career-best fifth-place showing April 20 at Martinsville.

Filling in while driver Ricky Craven recuperates from post-concussion syndrome, LaJoie also finished in the top-10 at Bristol on March 29, with another 10th-place finish.

"I suppose a top-10 habit isn't a bad habit," LaJoie said. "If you're filling in, you're supposed to do a good job. This is Ricky Craven's car. His name is still on it.

"I'm over 50 percent for top-10s in my Busch career. There's no reason why you can't do that in Winston Cup, too, if you've got a good race team. Hendrick Motorsports obviously has a good race team. The whole team is great. I can't say enough for these guys.

"What they have available to them is just awesome. I'm honored to be driving this thing for them. It won't hurt my feelings if I win a race for 'em along the way. It ain't like we're not trying."

LaJoie will get another chance Sunday in the California 500 Presented by NAPA at California Speedway. With races under his belt in IROC and NASCAR Busch Series competition last season at California Speedway, LaJoie is ready to tackle Roger Penske's two-mile track in a NASCAR Winston Cup Series car.

"The race track is California," LaJoie said. "It's not a Michigan. It's not a Charlotte. It's a California. It's totally got its own attitude, and it's a fine facility. They did a fine job building that track. It's a very raceable race track. It's competitor-friendly, a real nice place. Penske needs to be commended because they did a great job on it."

Hendrick Motorsports Monte Carlos finished 1-2 in last year's inaugural race at California Speedway. Jeff Gordon won the fuel-mileage contest, running out of gas just after taking the checkered flag and scoring a 1.074-second victory over teammate Terry Labonte. Craven finished ninth in the Budweiser Chevrolet last season. LaJoie says he expects a two-groove race track when the green flag falls at 3:30 p.m. EDT Sunday for the 250-lap race.

"If you've got a fast car, I think you'll be able to pass," LaJoie said. "I think it'll be a little better this year. It'll have a lot of grip like it did last year, but I don't think there will be much change."

But there has been some change for LaJoie since taking over the Budweiser ride for Craven at Darlington on March 22. LaJoie finished 38th at Darlington and stood 51st in the series standings. He climbed to 37th in points after Sunday's race at Talladega with only five of nine starts to his credit.

"I seem to be getting more comfortable with the Bud car every week," LaJoie said. "I'm getting more comfortable with the guys. I'm finally starting to learn their names. They're doing their jobs, and I'm doing mine. It's working out good.

"If you run well, the sponsors are happy and that makes the car owner happy and that makes the crew chief happy and that makes the team happy. All you've got to do is run well. Sometimes it's hard to do that, but we've been able to do that. That's fine with me because that's enjoyable."

LaJoie has never led a lap in NASCAR Winston Cup Series competition, but he ran second for a few laps earlier this month at Martinsville.

"I really wanted to lead that race because I haven't led a lap all year, and it's starting to wear me out," LaJoie said. "I'll just take it as it goes and keep working hard. I've never led a Winston Cup race, and it would be cool. California would be a real cool place to lead for the first time."

LaJoie, who turned in his best Bud Pole Qualifying effort of the season last week at Talladega, hopes to improve on that No. 10 starting position this week.

"Qualifying at California is just like it is everywhere else," he said. "You've got to get a good lap in. They've got one pit stall, so you don't have to worry about frontstretch and backstretch.

"I try to be careful in practice because it doesn't pay to wad one up in practice. I always try to save some for qualifying. If I'm going to scare myself, I'm going to do it in qualifying. I don't hold my breath qualifying. I just shut my eyes."

Of course, LaJoie was kidding about shutting his eyes, but if his top-10 streak continues at California Speedway, LaJoie may open some eyes sooner than he expected behind the wheel of the No. 50 Budweiser Monte Carlo.

Source: NASCAR Online

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About this article
Series NASCAR Sprint Cup
Drivers Jeff Gordon , Ricky Craven , Roger Penske
Teams Hendrick Motorsports