Stacking Pennies — that phrase has been coined by Corey LaJoie as he seeks to climb the ranks of the NASCAR Cup Series, and it has become a popular adage for his fan base.
As drivers continue to try and grasp the challenges of the Next Gen car, Spire Motorsports has seen its share of uphill and downhill battles. Some tough results on short tracks have left the No. 7 team searching for more as they seek to take the next step in the Cup garage.
A top five at Atlanta Motor Speedway and four top 15s on the season have been bright spots for a team who lacks the information that fellow Chevrolet teams get.
Frontstretch spoke with LaJoie following Martinsville Speedway in early April, where he discussed the Next Gen racing on short tracks, the team’s goals after some tough breaks and the parts shortages that make equipment even more valuable for a small team like Spire.
Luken Glover, Frontstretch: What were your thoughts on the way Martinsville went down?
Corey LaJoie: In terms of the [No.] 7’s night, it was horrendous. We missed it and were really bad. I think that’s the worst I’ve been there since my rookie year, so that was super frustrating just because we missed it on the setup. We’ve missed it on the short track stuff ever since the [L.A.] Coliseum, missed it at Richmond [Raceway], missed it at Phoenix [Raceway] and missed it here as well. So we’re still searching for ourselves what makes these cars drive good, and it’s not surprising to see two dominant Hendrick [Motorsports] cars.
The conditions weren’t great or conducive for a great Martinsville race. The drop gear that NASCAR brought was way too low, so we were shifting, which allows a little bit bigger of a range to hit the corner. You don’t have to be so precise to keep your RPMs in the range of being able to launch. So I think shifting allowed a little bit less passing. And then with how cold it was, it wasn’t peeling rubber off the tires, it wasn’t laying the rubber down on the concrete, so there were less lanes. It was just wrapped around a curb, maybe up a half groove on entry, so when you have that much grip over the entire course of the run, you’re not going to see a whole lot of comers and goers.
If the conditions were different, do I think it would be a drastically different race? No, because so much is controlled by the tire degradation that Goodyear brings. I think that [Goodyear] brought a pretty hard tire to Phoenix as well as Martinsville, and we saw long green-flag runs and not much tire degradation. I’m sure they’re going to look at that. We’re all learning this, Goodyear included and NASCAR, as well as the drivers with this Next Gen car. I wouldn’t write it off just yet. They’ve got plenty of stuff they can do to make the races better at short tracks.
Glover: Taking a look at Richmond and Martinsville, what’s the biggest improvement that you think could be made with these cars heading into the future of short tracks?
LaJoie: A couple of issues are harder to fix than easy ones, like tires, right? The cars are 200 points heavier than they were last year and they have about 70 less horsepower, so the power-to-weight ratio is way less, and that way you’re going to have less deviation from center of the corner speed to straightaway speed. I would love to see a lighter car. … Would we love to see 900 horsepower? Yeah, but I think there are things pivoting that as well. All of those things are way above my pay grade. I just drive what they give me and drive as fast as possible.
Glover: We go back a couple of weeks to Atlanta where you got a top five. How much of a boost was that for your team, and how did that help your confidence?
LaJoie: Well, if it hadn’t been for that race, our season would have been a disaster, so that’s about the only thing we can hang our hat on. We’re several steps behind. I’ve made some mistakes behind the wheel, speeding on pit road, and beyond that, I feel like I’ve been fairly close. It’s been a little bit harder to understand this car to get that information flowing in through us, through the manufacturer, so we’ve got to bear down and get after it to try and figure out how to make a decent finish by package.
Glover: Looking at the Next Gen car, what do you like most about it? Does it drive like a racecar?
LaJoie: Yeah, it’s a racecar, we race around in circles. By definition, it is a racecar. It’s a heavy racecar with a lot of grip. There’s a big difference from the teams that have figured it out on how to get the most amount of grip and teams that don’t, which is not surprising. Look at IndyCar, there’s teams that are seconds faster than others, with Team Penske obviously being the one that has probably figured it out the most, where it’s work on the dampers that defines the amount of grip that’s available in its car. I think it’s done good. I think it’s been durable, I think it’s fragile enough to wear you want to save your equipment. You don’t want to bang wheels, but it can take some cosmetic beating. I think overall, I would give the Next Gen car an A or A-.
Glover: Many drivers have talked about the difficulty to get parts this season. What has that been like at Spire Motorsports this year? Has that been an issue, and how have they handled it?
LaJoie: A lot of work — just trying to build 10 cars in the span of three months, so those guys have been putting in a lot of late hours. We ran the same car at all three west coast races. They’ve been working hard, they’ve been grinding, we just really haven’t had a lot of time to hone in on the setups. We’re just trying to get them done and get them in the truck. That’s where we are behind a little bit, but we’re lean and a tough team. It’s just hard to overcome those guys that have the group of guys to build the cars a little bit quicker and massage on it for a couple of weeks leading up to the race, so that’s what we are up against.
Glover: With how hard your team has been working, what would you say is the biggest improvement you’ve made as a team from last season between the Gen 6 and Next Gen, and what has been the biggest challenge?
LaJoie: I don’t think we’ve made a whole lot of gains, to be honest with you. We’re seven or eight races in, and we haven’t done a whole lot of things well. The disadvantage is having the same parts and pieces where you think your expectations are where you should be instantly better than some teams, but you figure out real quick where you are in terms of the totem pole and information is low. If you’re not getting the latest and greatest information on shop builds, prep body builds or tire information, then you are going to be behind the guys that get that, and that’s what we’re up against right now. Hopefully, we can get a little bit tighter in our relationship with Chevy, but as of right now, we’re in an uphill battle.
Glover: As you continue to grow, what is the goal from what you set at the start of the season to now?
LaJoie: I think the goal at this point is just to try and find the setup that is at least a baseline to figure out where to venture from there. Right now, we are completely dropping darts, and we don’t even know where the dartboard is. I would love to find out a decent baseline in the next couple of weeks what a decent short track package is, what a decent intermediate package is, which I think we have that. Then we can control the things that we can control better. I need to do better by not compounding mistakes, whether we have a slow car and I don’t want to make a bad day worse. I’ve been doing not a great job about that. When the going gets tough, the tough ha[ve] to get a go on it, and things are pretty tough right now. We’ve got to bear down and get after it because nobody is coming to help. The only people that are coming to help are between our four walls of Spire Motorsports.
Glover: Which track has been your favorite so far with the Next Gen car?
LaJoie: Vegas is probably our strongest run, top to bottom. We were legitimately a 12th-to-15th-place car. I think we ended up 15th, so that was nice to have some relative speed. We haven’t had that speed anywhere else this year. Martinsville is one of my favorite tracks, and we ran terribly there. You see Denny Hamlin, he led the majority of the laps last time we were there, and he ran 28th, four laps down (in the 2022 spring race). That’s how close everybody is. If you miss it by a little bit, you’re out to lunch. Hopefully, we can pack our lunch and bring it with us the next couple of weeks. …
Glover: To throw a fun question in here, you said on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio last year that on your way to work there was a guy who flew a Kevin Harvick flag, and you dropped off one of your flags at his house. Have you gotten a response from that person?
LaJoie: It’s on the way to my dad’s shop (Randy LaJoie, who builds racing seats). So I saw it every day, it was an old 2013 Kevin Harvick flag that was all tattered. We had some flags, so I was like, ‘Well, let me drop off one of these flags,’ so I dropped it off on a stoop. It flies every day, and it makes me feel good, so yeah, I got to talk to him a little bit on Twitter, and they were certainly appreciative.
Glover: What has been your opinion on the one lug nut this year? What have the challenges been with that?
LaJoie: I think it hasn’t turned out to be a huge change like everybody was anticipating. Obviously, we’ve seen a couple of wheels fall off. I was the victim of one. It’s tough to lose your crew chief for four weeks because of your wheel falling off, but I also understand the liability that is when wheels start coming off … that’s not a good look for us. I think they look cool, I think the cars overall look good. It definitely makes [pit] stops faster, and it definitely opens the door for blazing fast pit stops. I think as a fan watching it, that’s changed a lot of what people are seeing.
About the author
Luken Glover arrived on the Frontstretch scene in 2020. He has been an avid NASCAR fan for the majority of his life, following in the footsteps of his grandfather, who used to help former team owner Junie Donlavey in his garage. Glover covers news for the site and took over "The Underdog House" column in 2021. In addition to being a college junior, his hobbies include volunteering at church, playing basketball and tennis, racing go-karts, and helping at his high school alma mater.
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