Tumultuous year puts LaJoie fourth By Shawn A. Akers BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Jan. 7, 1999) The 1998 season not only signaled a changing of the guard in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division. It's also brought about the end of a ...
Tumultuous year puts LaJoie fourth By Shawn A. Akers
BEVERLY HILLS, Calif. (Jan. 7, 1999) The 1998 season not only signaled a changing of the guard in the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division. It's also brought about the end of a tremendously successful relationship. Randy LaJoie failed to win his third consecutive NASCAR Busch Series championship. And even though his No. 74 FINA Chevrolet team did win a race and managed to finish a respectable fourth in the series point standings, it wasn't enough to keep him at BACE Motorsports where, in the past two seasons, he had established himself as the series' most dominant driver. LaJoie has taken his talents elsewhere for 1999 and will drive the No. 4 Chevrolet next season for James Finch. His departure didn't come without hard feelings, either. "When you run good, nobody points fingers. But when you run bad, everybody starts pointing fingers," LaJoie said in September following the announcement. "Most of the time they should look in the mirror and point the fingers at the mirror. But that doesn't necessarily happen. I'm the guy that gets stabbed in the back and pointed at, but that's OK, I've gotten it all year. Nothing's going to change." It became evident early on in 1998 that the team would have its problems. After starting the year with three top-10 and two top-five finishes in the first four races, LaJoie and the team hit the skids. Uncharacteristic finishes out of the top-20, laced with engine trouble and accidents, pushed LaJoie down the standings far enough to where winning a third straight title would be a major struggle. Not only that, victories, which had been plentiful the past two seasons, became elusive. LaJoie and the team went through the first half of the season without making it to Victory Lane. Six times during that span they had finished outside the top-20. A bit of relief came on July 11, when LaJoie out-dueled former nemesis David Green to win the Myrtle Beach 250. During that race, LaJoie dominated early, but then had to come from behind to win in the final six laps. "I needed a victory," LaJoie said with a relieved smile after the race. "Damn, I needed a race win, whether it was in Go-Karts or anything. A win is a win. I know it's been a long time. I've got all my flags on the wall from last year, and I sit there in my office and think, 'Man, I need a damn new flag.' "I needed this win, just like Ricky Craven needed a pole up at Loudon (in his return to the NASCAR Winston Cup Series after being injured). We were on a streak there for two years where every seventh or eighth race, we'd win. Boy, it sure would feel good to get back into that swing again. It was like old times." Old times never resurfaced, however. After a pair of top-five finishes in the next three races, including a second to teammate Tim Fedewa at South Boston, LaJoie's season hit the skids. In the final 10 races of 1998, LaJoie finished 30th or worse five times, including 41st at Atlanta. He finished ninth in the season finale Jiffy Lube Miami 300 at Homestead, guaranteeing him a top-five finish in the point standings. But fourth, a distant fourth at that, was certainly not what LaJoie had been accustomed to in recent years. While LaJoie looks back on his years with BACE with bittersweet memories, he chooses more to focus on the task ahead of him, and that's to help mold his new team into a championship contender. "James (Finch) has got a damn good race team -- very well-run and organized -- and it has been whenever he's raced," said LaJoie, dismissing any concerns. "With the addition of (crew chief) Marc Reno, it's gonna be that much better. They're going to add some people, and I hope to have some input into some of that."
Source: NASCAR Online