LaJoie lacked very little in 1999 NBS season By Marty Smith LOS ANGELES (Jan. 3, 2000) (Note: The top-10 drivers in the standings will be honored during the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division Awards Banquet at the Regent Beverly ...
LaJoie lacked very little in 1999 NBS season By Marty Smith
LOS ANGELES (Jan. 3, 2000) (Note: The top-10 drivers in the standings will be honored during the NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division Awards Banquet at the Regent Beverly Wilshire on Friday. Two-time series champion Randy LaJoie finished 10th in the standings, his fourth straight year on stage at the banquet.)
Give Randy LaJoie 20 percent and he'll hand you the 2000 NASCAR Busch Series Grand National Division title on a Bob Evans lunch tray, the two-time NBS champion says.
For LaJoie, the 1999 NASCAR Busch Series season was euphoric for a brief moment, but quickly transformed into an utter disappointment for the 1996-97 champion. However, he feels that the No. 1 Bob Evans Chevrolet team has 80 percent of the puzzle. Give him the other 20; and look out.
"Absolutely. That's all we lack," LaJoie said. "It was an all of the above season for us -- a good season, a frustrating season and it was a very trying season. We started off just as well as you can at Daytona, in Victory Lane, then ran a fourth at Rockingham.
"Then, we had some bad luck, had some things happen that we didn't qualify well and got behind in some races. All in all, our race packages were as good as anybody's. We raced very well. We just really have to improve our qualifying and our pit stops -- that's what we have to do to be a title contender."
LaJoie began the 1999 season by running away with the NAPA Auto Parts 300 at Daytona International Speedway, in the process landing the Phoenix Racing team a full time sponsor in Bob Evans Restaurants. Then, he backed that up with another impressive top-5 run at North Carolina Speedway.
After that, however, the No. 1 team direly struggled. In the 16 races following Rockingham, LaJoie reached the top-10 just twice; including a 42nd-place finish at Richmond, a 43rd at Darlington and seven finishes outside the top-25.
"Man, I had my speech already prepared for the banquet (after Daytona)," he said. "That type of success gets your wheels spinning and your mind turning. We had some very good runs; but then again, Phoenix Racing has always had good speedway programs. We started 9th at Rockingham due to last year's points, which they've been between ninth and 12th in the points the past few years.
"We didn't get them to the next level, and to do that we gotta have those pit stops and qualifying efforts down. If you qualify well, even if you're not that good, you can still finish in the top-10. You're not gonna start 25th and finish in the top-10 every week, not anymore. You gotta start up front."
Qualifying proved to be a major problem for LaJoie in 1999. In 32 races, he started in the top-5 just four times. And, had they managed to start races better, they would have better finishes to show for it, he said. The racing itself was the bright spot.
"You always look at your program, and you try to get better from there," LaJoie said. "Some of the biggest things that's hard in this deal is to race good. Well, we race just fine. From the time they dropped the green flag to when they dropped the checkered, our on-track racing is as good as anybody's.
"But, sometimes we struggled to get there. If we can get that qualifying effort and pit stop effort better, I think everything else will fall into place."
After his slide into mediocrity, LaJoie vowed to win again. And, although he didn't quite get to Victory Lane, his overall performance improved dramatically at the season's midway point.
"At midseason, I wanted to win three out of five races," he said. "We had a very dominant car at Pikes Peak, but it had an interior sheet metal problem where the metal was holding particles of rubber and sand. I'm leading the race, but in front of both rear tires, it was packing up with rubber and sand and when it flushed, it was like I run over ice.
"It was like somebody threw a bucket of gravel on the race track, and I spun out. Then, after we fixed that, it never happened again, which was actually positive. We had a problem and we fixed it immediately.
"At Milwaukee we ran very well too. We got to second and cut a rear tire down and somebody hit us. Indianapolis, we led the most laps but got into a wreck after a bad pit stop. At St. Louis I ran second to Little E. So really, in the heat of the summer, we really ran good. That's what I'm looking to do every week next year."
Give him 20 percent, and it might just happen.