Most of the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season has seen its drivers be relatively unaffected by COVID-19 protocols. Unfortunately those protocols have come into effect and will keep the driver of the No. 7 Chevrolet out of this weekend's race.
According to Bob Pockrass of Fox Sports, Corey LaJoie will be unable to participate in this weekend's Cup Series race at Michigan International Speedway due to COVID protocols. NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Josh Berry will serve as the substitute driver of the No. 7 car in his place.
It was unclear from the reports as to exactly what LaJoie's specific issue was. In a quote tweet shortly after the announcement, LaJoie stressed the word "protocols".
This is the third time this season that either a driver or key team member for Spire Motorsports has had to miss a race due to COVID protocols. In February, crew chief Ryan Sparks was forced to miss Homestead due to COVID protocols, with former Daytona 500-winning crew chief Steve Letarte serving as LaJoie's crew chief in his place. Then, Dover in May saw Justin Haley -- the regular driver of the team's No. 77 -- miss a race due to COVID protocols. Berry served as substitute driver that weekend, a role he will reprise this weekend.
Assuming LaJoie only misses one race, his absence at Michigan will likely have little bearing on whether or not he can qualify for the NASCAR Playoffs. LaJoie currently sits 29th in points, and his only avenue towards making the Playoffs would have been to win either this weekend or next weekend at Daytona. LaJoie has one top-10 finish this season, a ninth-place run in the Daytona 500. According to Pockrass, Spire Motorsports will apply for a waiver that would allow LaJoie to remain eligible for the Playoffs despite missing a race.
Josh Berry's being called up to Cup continues what has been a landmark week in his career, as JR Motorsports announced he would compete full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series in 2022 after winning a race and scoring four top 5s and nine top 10s in 16 races this season. Berry will pull double-duty as a substitute in Michigan, driving the No. 1 Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series in place of an injured Michael Annett before driving for Spire in Sunday's Cup race. Berry will also drive the No. 25 Chevrolet for Rackley W.A.R. in Friday night's NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway.