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Drivers ready for Bristol race weekends

Jeff Birchfield • Mar 13, 2019 at 8:19 PM

BRISTOL — Drivers from all three NASCAR national series and the NHRA Funny Car division were on hand Wednesday at Bristol Motor Speedway for the 2019 season preview.

It’s less than one month away to the Food City 500 weekend with other major racing weekends scheduled in June and August.

Corey LaJoie, driver of the No. 32 GoFas Racing Ford on the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, said his team has Bristol marked on the calendar.

The Food City 500 on April 7 is a chance for the underfunded team to make a good showing against the top-tier organizations. LaJoie, the son of two-time Busch Series champion Randy LaJoie, has made a good account of himself so far this season.

The 27-year-old Concord, N.C. driver, is currently 27th in the point standings, ahead of Ryan Preece from JTG Daugherty Racing, Bubba Wallace of Richard Petty Motorsports and Michael McDowell of Front Row Motorsports.

“We’re four spots ahead of where the average finish was last year,” LaJoie said. “That’s obviously a bonus. A couple of times we’ve missed the race setup a bit and we’re behind the teams who have tested. If we can run 24th to 27th every week, that’s solid of where we are budget-wise and resource-wise.”

LaJoie first came to Bristol as a 14-year-old, winning a race for 3/4-scale cars. He also experienced success at BMS in the Xfinity and Truck Series with a pair of top-10 finishes.

“If eight or 10 guys get caught up in a wreck here, it’s like the bigger tracks,” LaJoie said. “As different as Bristol is compared to the superspeedways, you can protect your car here and come out with a good finish. I won my first Pro Challenge race here and driving around a track like Bristol when you’re 14 years old is like driving Daytona.”

ALSCO 300

Justin Haley, driver of the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet, has moved to the Xfinity Series this season after finishing third in the Truck Series points last season. He will compete in the Alsco 300 on April 6.

In four starts this year, he finished eighth at Atlanta and 10th at Las Vegas. His record at Bristol is good with a fourth-place finish in the K&N Series in 2016, a year he won the championship, and a sixth-place finish in the 2018 UNOH 200 for the Truck Series.

His first Truck Series start came at Bristol in 2015 on a night Haley likely won’t forget.

“When I made my Truck Series debut at Bristol, it was on my mom’s 40th birthday,” Haley said. “She was nervous for sure. It was super cool. We finished 14th and I brought it back without a scratch on the truck. It was cool to experience that and it was such a big leap for me.”

UNOH 200

Brett Moffitt, the defending Truck Series champion, will be in a new ride with the No. 24 GMS Racing Chevrolet when he comes to Bristol in August for the UNOH 200. The 27-year-old Iowa driver won six races and the title last year before losing his ride due to sponsorship. 

He’s quickly bounced back and finished runner-up to Kyle Busch two weeks ago in Las Vegas. Still, he was disappointed, feeling he had the truck to beat.

“Second place doesn’t mean a whole lot to me,” Moffitt said. “This new world of NASCAR is all about winning. If we hadn’t have had some mishaps earlier in the race, I feel like we would have competed with Kyle better. That just wasn’t in the cards. I’m quite confident if we raced him all race long, the outcome could have been different.”

THUNDER VALLEY NATIONALS

Hight, a two-time NHRA champion, is looking forward to the Thunder Valley Nationals on Father’s Day weekend. He is a two-time event winner, each time celebrating with his daughter.

After finishing runner-up to J.R. Todd in last season’s title race, the 45-time national event winner is off to a fast start this season. He won the season-opening race in Pomona, Calif. He already has two No. 1 qualifying efforts and leads the Funny Car points standings.

“I couldn’t be happier with the start to the season,” said Hight, who holds the national record speed at 339.87 mph. “Last year, we came down to the last day for the championship and didn’t get it done. It lit a fire under my team. We looked at where we needed to improve. We went to Phoenix to test and we had the quick car there. We went to Pomona, qualified No. 1, won the race. It’s a very good start to the year.”

FAN OPTIONS

Some of the special deals for fans this season include $10 kids tickets for the Bristol Cup races and free admission to Xfinity and Truck Series races. There is a $40 package where fans can add a headset and fan vision to their tickets.

The 32nd year of Food City Race Nights is here and Kyle Busch, Joey Logano, Ryan Newman and Bubba Wallace are some of the drivers who have committed to the event. Also, the Bandit Big Rig Series will hold its season finale at Bristol on Oct. 12.

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