Over the course of his NASCAR Cup Series career, Corey LaJoie has always been labeled as the perennial underdog, driving for smaller teams like BK Racing, GoFas Racing, and now Spire Motorsports.
But there’s something special about Spire Motorsports, something that LaJoie hasn’t been able to find with other teams, as the driver-team pairing enters its third season together in 2023 – the longest LaJoie has competed with a single organization.
That foundation, built between LaJoie, crew chief Ryan Sparks, and Spire Motorsports over the last two seasons, should only grow this season, as the team picks up a second full-time driver for the first time since joining the NASCAR Cup Series.
The addition of Ty Dillon to drive the No. 77, brings with it a different environment for LaJoie, who in his seven years of NASCAR Cup Series competition has never had a full-time teammate.
Additional infrastructure hasn’t distracted LaJoie from the reality of the situation, that the team still has some work to do, if it wants to compete for victories and top-10 finishes on a consistent basis.
“If the word today is excited, I’m trying not to use excited because everyone is excited when you get to Daytona, and everybody thinks they’re going to win all 36 races,” LaJoie said about his excitement for the upcoming season. “But last week was a pretty good reminder of where we stack up as a race team. I think we didn’t get beat by anybody that we weren’t supposed to get beat by out in LA, but granted we didn’t beat anybody that we shouldn’t have, so left there frustrated.”
Despite the frustration from the Busch Light Clash, LaJoie is still optimistic about what the upcoming season brings for himself and Spire Motorsports, but also recognizes that in order to climb up the order, they’ll have to finish races, and mitigate any mechanical issues.
“I think we’re going to get a little more help on some intermediate body scans, stuff from GM that has been helping with simulator times, so I think you’re going to see us be in play at the speedways and run well,” LaJoie said. “I want to be a team that doesn’t have any DNFs and to be just a solid team. We had nine DNFs last year – nine mechanical DNFs and then three driver DNFs – so if we can clean those up, I think we should be substantially better.”
Over the last couple of seasons, the strength of Spire Motorsports has been superspeedway racing – with all three of the team’s top-five finishes being earned at Daytona, Talladega, or Atlanta. In 2022, LaJoie scored his first top-five at Atlanta in March, before returning to the track in July and nearly winning.
LaJoie will compete in the season-opener for the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series at Daytona on Friday, piloting an entry for Spire Motorsports. The Charlotte, North Carolina-native will return to the series at Darlington, in order to chase trophies.
“This is the first time realistically in my national series career that I’ve showed up with a truck or car that’s capable of having race-winning speed,” LaJoie exclaimed. “And now I have a ton of experience, I’m super confident on speedways to do the right moves and there’s no other outcome for me to consider a good day than to hold the trophy.”
Friday’s 250-mile contest will serve as an appetizer to Sunday’s Daytona 500 for the Spire Motorsports driver, who has expressed continuous confidence in the organization’s superspeedway program and is widely considered as one of the non-obvious favorites to secure a solid finish on Sunday.
“We have been solid at the speedways,” said LaJoie. “The reins aren’t fully pulled off me when it comes to the 500 specifically because being a smaller team, we have to come out here with a good financial date, so the intention of coming here with a win is different from the intention of finishing eighth and collecting a pay-check. We’ll see how the race ebbs and flows. It’s a priority for our team to have a good points day and a good financial day, which doesn’t coincide with winning the race necessarily.”
According to LaJoie, part of the reason he loves superspeedway racing is because it serves as an equalizer, allowing drivers and teams with not top-tier equipment to run near the front of the pack, and potentially position themselves to secure a surprise victory.
“You can use some common sense and have some brains to find yourself there at the end, and it’s like chess with 3,600-pound chunks of metal,” said LaJoie. “You don’t have to be the fastest car. I don’t think we’ve qualified better than 33rd here at the 500 ever in my seven years here. So, we’re looking to do better than that. It doesn’t make you feel good when you roll out here and you floor it for a minute and realize that’s where you stack up. I do like speedways because it doesn’t matter how slow your car is. You can find the right ways and position yourself.”
LaJoie and teammate Ty Dillon will look to secure Spire Motorsports their second victory in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2023, starting with the 2023 Daytona 500 on Sunday, February 19th. For LaJoie, Dillon, and Spire Motorsports, a victory at NASCAR’s top-level – and a berth into the Playoffs – would be welcomed with open arms.
Image Courtesy of Craig White, TobyChristie.com