Corey LaJoie‘s year has not started the way he hoped.
Halfway through the regular season, LaJoie sits 30th in points with a lone top-10 in the Daytona 500 and two top-20 finishes, the only other coming at Circuit of the Americas on Sunday [May 23], where he also scored stage points by finishing fifth in the second stage.
Speed is starting to show, though, with his new team at Spire Motorsports, transitioning from the No. 32 Ford with Go Fas Racing last year to the No. 7 Chevrolet in 2021.
LaJoie recently sat down with Frontstretch to discuss that transition, the points deficit he’s in, fatherhood and his future. Below is our edited interview:
Zach Sturniolo, Frontstretch: Thirteen races into your tenure with Spire Motorsports, what’s this transition been like for you coming over from Go Fas Racing?
Corey LaJoie: The transition has been good. A lot of the same people came over with me from the [No.] 32l with Ryan Sparks as a crew chief and car chief John Frattura and several others. So a lot of the same faces and people and a lot of good fabricators as well as mechanics came from there, too. So I think transition with internally, with just personnel was easy. But the transition on the racetrack was probably a little bit harder than I expected.
I thought that we were going to hit the ground running, especially with some newer cars and some better engines like we have. It took us probably five or six weeks to get our feet underneath of us to really figure out the balances where those cars needed to be. And then we had pretty much the whole shop down with COVID [around] the West Coast Swing. We had several mechanical failures that took us out of a couple of good finishes, and we’ve had some bad luck. So if we can get those issues out of the way, we should be able to make a nice stretch, nice little run here during the summer and hopefully have a long-shot, Hail Mary chance to put that thing in the playoffs at Daytona [International Speedway]. Everybody’s got a little bit of a shot there.
Sturniolo: You came into the year pretty confident that this year Spire would be different than last year’s Spire. And I think that’s still true, especially with the partnerships that exist with Ganassi and Hendrick. Are you seeing the benefits of those partnerships yet?
LaJoie: Yeah, for sure. We have way more speed relative to the guys we raced around last year. We have eight motors from Hendrick. We were a 32nd-place car last year. Some weekends, we’d run a little better, but we had to hit everything right to run 25th. Now I feel like we should be the 21st-to-23rd-place car on just speed alone, which we’ve had that. We finished 22nd at Darlington [Raceway]. We should have finished somewhere between 18th and 20th at Dover [International Speedway] – we cut a right front tire down under green, which killed us there. So the last five or six weeks, we’ve shown the speed of what we’re capable of; we just, a lot of times, haven’t had the results to match.
Certainly, the cars are faster. I drive the same as I did last year; it’s just that sometimes you go a little faster, sometimes you don’t. But we race around the Front Row [Motorsports] cars. We race around JTG [Daugherty Racing] cars and sometimes the [No.] 23 [of Bubba Wallace and 23XI Racing], some others that sometimes we probably shouldn’t be with comparatively, how much different our budgets are. I think that we still have some areas to work on for sure. And hopefully we can clean up some of those mechanical issues we’ve had or just even execute the whole race from start to finish. If we can do that, I think we’ll be [a] really strong team towards the end of the year [and] leading into this Next Gen car.
Sturniolo: You said in December that you thought, based on the speed and based on the equipment, that you thought this had the potential to be a car between 19th and 23rd in points. Where you’re running speed-wise right now, it seems like you’re right around where you expected it. How do you clean up the execution for the second half of this regular season?
LaJoie: Well, we’ve already dug ourselves a hole that’s gonna be really tough to get out of. We broke three weeks in a row. We had a couple dumb things happen. Getting caught up in the wreck at the Bristol dirt race, I thought we had a decent car there. We had a DNF at Martinsville [Speedway] when we we should’ve had a top-10 run. So we’ve left almost 100 points on the table, which would have put us somewhere between 23rd and 25th in points. But I don’t know if we can recover from those issues because especially points are so hard to make up if you’re not getting those stage points weekly and things like that.
So for us, it’s not necessarily looking at the week-by-week points, trying to get big chunks of it. It’s just finishing where we’re supposed to finish and where we run throughout the course of the day is the goal now. And that’s always been the goal, but you always want to strive for better and pass some guys or getting past some guys in the point standings that you know you can be in front of.
Sturniolo: I want to shift this to [be] a little bit more lighthearted. You’ve been able to be a dad at home now with Levi. What’s that experience been like for you and [wife] Kelly?
LaJoie: Man, it’s been a blast. It’s definitely another chapter of life, for sure. Everything that you thought was fun before you had a kid, you don’t get to do anymore. You do not have any time to do anything. You’re always lugging around a little kid — which sometimes it’s great. A lot of times my parents can take them from us. They live in Concord and they’ve been awesome. And they love having their grandkid around hanging out with them. So it’s an amazing chapter of life. It’s a lot of fun to watch him grow up and have a personality and start walking around and stuff like that. It’s been a really cool thing to watch. We’re buddies and we like hanging out and going on walks and pushing a cart around and doing all that sort of stuff. I don’t know if I want him to be a racecar driver, though. But if dad [Randy] wants to pay for it, he can have at it if he wants to. I don’t know. I don’t know if I’m gonna set him up for that.
Sturniolo: You also started a new podcast this year and transitioned from “Sunday Money” over to “Stacking Pennies.” How have you enjoyed that? And has it felt any different for you? What’s the feedback been like?
LaJoie: Yeah, so it is a different kind of show, right? It’s not just a roundtable where us three like Daryl [Motte] and Lauren [Fox], who were on “Sunday Money,” when they were just spitballing different ideas and we would just carry the show like that. Now, it’s more of a segmented show where I’m transitioning in and out of the particular segments, interviewing guys. It took me probably five or six weeks to get my feet underneath me, but I’m having a lot of fun with it. And I loved this [past] weekend alone at Dover, there was probably eight or nine people that came up to me in the casino. I was walking around playing blackjack a little bit and [fans] were saying, “Hey man, I love Stacking Pennies!” It’s cool when when people every weekend, all the fans that go the racetrack acknowledge that they do listen to the podcast.
— Rev Racing (@RevRacin) May 25, 2021
I try to be unbiased with it. Obviously I have a particular take on it because I see it only through my windshield every Sunday. I don’t get to watch the broadcast but we got a lot of good people, a lot of good guests on there. We had Alex Bowman on last week after his Dover win, and we usually can get whatever winner from any particular race. I’m having a lot of fun with it. And I do Sirius XM radio on Tuesdays quite often as well. So it’s another different style of show, more so long-form conversation. Anybody can listen to that 11 a.m.-1 p.m. with Danielle Trotta and myself. So it’s cool that I’ve found a niche in the sport on the media side. You’ve got to tread lightly there though just because you don’t want to sound a certain way or ruffle any feathers because as much as I am being a “media member,” I’m a representative of the race team, the partners that are on my car as well. So I have to toe the line a little bit to make sure everybody’s taken care of.
Sturniolo: Has the sponsorship process been any easier or more difficult at Spire as opposed to where it was at Go Fas? Obviously, you guys have had a lot of interesting sponsors come on. NASCAR sponsored you with the Truck Series race at Knoxville, and you even got Nation’s Guard and Zerex, which is a Valvoline product. What’s that process been like for you this year?
— Corey LaJoie (@CoreyLaJoie) May 9, 2021
LaJoie: Well, Spire was originally a management company, so they are a relationship company. They get what it takes to close deals to show values to particular sponsors that are on the car. It’s night-and-day different than what I’m used to, and they even applaud or support what I do on the media side because I know it brings value to the team. Places I’ve been to before, it’s almost like this “Corey’s brand” up against the team’s brand, and they didn’t like that differing opinion or […] I don’t know what it was, but it certainly wasn’t embraced like it is here at Spire.
On the sponsorship stuff, we’ve got a lot of great stuff going on. We’ve got Schluter Systems on the car at COTA this weekend. They’ve been a supporter of mine for years and they’ve probably singlehandedly kept my Cup Series career afloat. But we’ve had Built Bars protein bar company and they’ve been with me for the last couple years. They continued up their investment and see the value in the sport as well several others. Drydene was at Dover. So just trying to keep partners we have and try to keep showing those guys value as well as try to get new ones on board and integrate them all together and see if we can make it all happen.
Sturniolo: On the track, where do you set your goals here for these next 13 races to end the regular season? I know you mentioned earlier it’s already a pretty steep hill to climb, sitting 30th in points. Where do you set those goals over these next 13 races?
LaJoie: Well, we’ve got a couple of road courses coming up, which aren’t my strong suit. I haven’t got a lot of seat time on road courses. So you have to keep all four tires on the pavement here at COTA this weekend and Sonoma [Raceway] here in a couple of weeks. So I prepare as best as I can for the road courses. Unfortunately, we don’t get access to the Chevy simulator and some of the tools that other guys that are on top of the totem pole get. So those certainly would help, but we’re gonna try to utilize everything we can to get better.
We go to Road America, and I’ve never been there before. That’s a long-ass track, so that’ll be tough to even memorize where a lot of the guys have Xfinity Series seat time. So for me, it’s minimize the damage at those places. And then when we go back to places like Bristol or Martinsville or some places we know we can run well at, really hit the ground running.
I think my expectations fluctuate any particular week, but I wish we could just finish where we run or show some speed. We’re going to Charlotte [Motor Speedway]. It’s one of our better mile-and-a-halfs next week here. I think we finished 19th in the 32 car last year in one of those races. I know Sparks has a pretty good grasp on the setup there. I think we want to just, at this point in time, stop the bleeding of points in relation to the guys that we race with. I feel like we are as good as the [No.] 43 car [of Erik Jones] or as good as the [No.] 37 car [of Ryan Preece] and some others. But we just haven’t been able to show it. I just want people to recognize what I can do behind the wheel of a racecar as well as what we’re capable of doing as a team.
Sturniolo: Do you see your future tied with Spire? What does the near future look like for Corey LaJoie? I know your biggest goal is getting into and staying in competitive equipment to show that ability. Do you see that with Spire Motorsports?
LaJoie: It could be. I’m here on a multi-year deal. They have some options on myself. I think that at the end of the day, the leadership here at Spire certainly knows what it takes to run a competitive race team. We have Steve Letarte, who’s kind of like the conduit between ourselves and Hendrick and Ganassi to cultivate that and get the stuff that we need to be competitive. Obviously, he’s been a Cup-winning crew chief, so he knows what it takes. [Co-owners] T.J. [Puchyr] and Jeff Dickerson, they’ve worked and been a part of championship and race-winning organizations themselves. I think that if the Next Gen car does what it’s supposed to do with closing the competitive disparity up a little bit, as well as knocks down some of the cost of what it takes to operate, then if we can get a seven-figure deal to jump on board, I do think we could be a top-10 team with the people we have here.
That’s what we’re working towards. I feel like we have the infrastructure here to do it. It’s just a matter of — and you hate to keep pointing back to money, but money buys speed, especially the top level, and you can’t make up for lack of downforce; you can’t make up for lack of horsepower, or wind tunnel time or more engineers or whatever the case may be. But I feel like we’re blocking and tackling and stacking pennies here at Spire as good as we can at the moment.