NASCAR Cup Series
Corey LaJoie on Spire's 2023 improvement, his podcasting career and more
NASCAR Cup Series

Corey LaJoie on Spire's 2023 improvement, his podcasting career and more

Updated Jul. 6, 2023 10:08 a.m. ET

Corey LaJoie has enjoyed a season of improvement this year driving for Spire Motorsports.

When he got his chance, though, to drive the Hendrick Motorsports No. 9 car at WWTR Gateway for the suspended Chase Elliott, it didn’t go as well as he hoped with a 21st-place finish.

LaJoie talks to FOX Sports about his season, the Hendrick experience and his popular "Stacking Pennies" podcast. The conversation has been edited for brevity and clarity.

This year, you are averaging 18.3 points a race. Last year, it was 12.9 for the full season. That's over five points more a race. How did that happen?


By finishing races. We only completed 83 percent of the laps last year, and you cannot get points If you don't finish races. We had a lot of mechanical mistakes take us out of contention. We also had a couple driver’s mistakes as well that resulted in DNFs. Cleaning those up was certainly the No. 1 of our priority list. And we've done that so far halfway through the year.

I don't want to jinx you, but you don't have a DNF (the stat for races where a driver does not finish the race) this year. Last year, you had eight over the course of the year. How much do you feel is your responsibility and how much do you feel like you've contributed?

There’s always something you can do unless it's a mechanical failure. I think seven or six of the eight were mechanical failures. We had a tire fall off, blew up, we had about every problem you could have go wrong. And even there's some races where we were running well and then had steering issues where we still finished but just not to the pace that we had. 

There's certainly things I can do different with not bending toe links and overstepping the edge on certain days. So cleaning those two DNFs up that I had last year — you want to push the limit, you want to find the speed, but there's some times where the risk versus reward isn't there. So I’m trying to be a little more in tune with that and just not lose focus as a driver was something that I was working really hard at going into the season.

You’re ahead of three SHR cars in points, one RCR car, both Legacy cars ... what does that say to you about where your program is at?

It's right where we thought we should be. When we execute the day, our floor is generally in the top-20. If you continue to do that, then you start running in the top-15 more consistently and that's the way the progression goes. .... [Competition director and crew chief] Ryan Sparks and I and all the people knew what we were capable of when we executed and what we were able to do when the competence is there for me driving the car putting it on the edge. And then him also just having confidence in me and my feedback and continuing to grow that notebook. 

It might surprise some people who don't really know what we were capable of — whether it's myself as a driver, or my team behind me building good race cars — but it's no surprise to everybody within these doors.

"No surprise to everybody within these doors"

Corey LaJoie explains why he isn’t surprised by the Spire Motorsports performance this year and looks back on his experience substituting for Chase Elliott in the No. 9 car.

I do want to say that I did hear you say that maybe the Hendrick experience, though, made you kind of more impressed with what you're doing with what you have at Spire?

Oh, for sure. The amount of information we don't get here was staggering, whether it's driver comparisons and stuff — anything that those guys have to continue to hone their thoughts and get better as a driver was big. But also being a key partner [of Chevy], those guys can see what RCR is running, what Trackhouse is running and what obviously each individual teammate car is running. And that's a huge tool to be able to progress the entire company. And we've been doing that essentially with part-time teammates last year and Ty [Dillon] had a tough start to this year, but he's starting to find his rhythm. 

Not having a ton of data points, I thought that was going to be where we were short. But then I saw it and I was like, "OK, no wonder why these guys are a continual, every year challenger for championships because they're so deep and they're so capable." They equip their drivers with what they need to get better. And each engineer and every crew chief is pushing each other for a better setup and more aerodynamics and all this stuff. The depth of what they have and the amount of information they have is quite impressive.

Are you over the disappointment from that one race at Hendrick?

Yeah, I was over the disappointment pretty quick. Like Ted Lasso says, "You’ve got to be a goldfish, no matter if it's good, bad or indifferent." My own rule is just as soon as you touch the tarmac from the previous race, it's looking forward to the next one. 

After the competition meeting on Monday, nobody felt like they did a great job. Alan [Gustafson] was wishing he had a better setup, I was wishing I gave those guys a better job, a little more pace off the jump. But I just wasn't settled in. I wasn't comfortable all weekend there, whether it be the pressure or just driving a different car. I wanted to give those guys a solid run. And really I didn't find myself driving as hard as I drive mine, just because I'm more comfortable with my guys and my car. 

But I'm not disappointed at all because a couple of things I learned after that weekend is that I did nothing as a person to orchestrate that. That was figured out without me sending any text, without having any conversations. It literally just came down to pieces working out behind the scenes or from the man upstairs to allow me to have that. And I think I learned that there's no magic pill, there's no magic dust that they sprinkle on these cars. They have really good people building really fast cars and their drivers are getting the most out of it.  

I left there more confident that I could do it in the scenario of having the information to grow as a driver, to have those tools to learn what my weaknesses really are and work on those and have the simulator and have a ton of information behind you to look at and to grow. So I left there feeling more confident about what the potential of my abilities could be in that scenario. Just the overall results of the weekend was disappointing, but there was a lot of positives to take out for me mentally and for the future.

Going to Atlanta, obviously, is that a track you're looking forward to considering what you've been able to do the last few Atlanta races?

That’s one we got circled. Here and Daytona obviously are two chances to be the David that upsets Goliath. And obviously a big weekend to having Gainbridge on our car for the first week. We know how to position ourselves with a chance to win there. 

There’s a lot of other guys that can find themselves in a similar spot, but that work to find yourself on the last lap, in position for a move for the win happens when you unload in qualifying — when these guys are working on the car right now on a Wednesday. You build the car to last all race, to have good speed, to have a good setup through those meetings and you don't just happen to find yourself or luck into being in a position to have a chance to win. 

We’re doing all the same stuff we normally do every other weekend, and I don't feel any extra pressure going in there. I just feel more confident going in that I know what it takes to find yourself in a position to win. Our chances are as good as anybody's this weekend, and I'm excited to see what we’ve got.

Picking up the points in 2023

Corey LaJoie is averaging 18.3 points a race this year. Last year, he averaged 12.9. He explains what has made the difference.

How big a deal is this week’s Gainbridge announcement — 16 races for you and Ty Dillon — to have a somewhat anchor sponsor?

It’s huge. We’ve been on a fairly linear, just somewhat inclination of progression with competitiveness, not being a key partner team at Chevy, but just acquiring good people and good information. … One of the biggest choke downs of what we're trying to do is trying to get some depth, and having Gainbridge believe in our organization and what we're doing in the sport enough to jump on board with us allows us to get some better people, some more people.

Is the podcast doing what you thought it would or is it a headache at all? Or do you need it to supplement income? Are you getting out of it what you want?

My podcast pay just might cover freakin’ diapers. Those suckers are expensive. My wife gets the bougie ones with all-natural stuff — it’s like five bucks a diaper. I didn't go into it hoping that it would produce some sort of outcome. I went into it originally with Daryl Motte and Lauren Fox at MRN and we were just riffing about current events and just NASCAR — stuff that I was passionate about.

When NASCAR assumed MRN, they saw the numbers were pretty good in the show and they asked me if I thought that I was capable of kind of leading the show and doing it myself. I asked my best buddy [tire changer Ryan] Flores to jump on with me. And we got [NASCAR producers] Chuck [Bush] and [Jonathan] Merriman. And it has grown into much more than what I think we all anticipated. Over two million downloads total last year, which is pretty cool — obviously a lot of recurring people.

We’ve talked to a ton of people on the show. It's allowed me to grow in that area to see the sport in a different light besides just the blinders of being a competitor. And then also, it's allowed me to kind of cultivate relationships with a lot of people at NASCAR. 

"Stacking Pennies" … and chasing downloads

Corey LaJoie talks about the evolution of his popular NASCAR podcast, which he says had more than two million downloads last year.

Do you enjoy it? It's got to be a little bit of a time suck?

It’s not to the point yet where it's annoying or I don't enjoy doing it. If I can't enjoy doing it, if I can't take the time to prepare enough to put on a good product for people to take time out of their day to listen to, that's when I'll probably be like, "OK let's do something else." But right now, it doesn't eat up too much of my time because at the end of the day, it's kind of natural to talk about what's going on in the sport and talk shop with guys who are in the sport with me. I work hard at it to get better and to learn enough about the sport to talk about different perspectives, but NASCAR makes it pretty easy to show up there, speak my mind and they chop it up and fire it away.

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What To Watch For

In March, the final 44 laps of the Cup race at Atlanta went caution-free. It amazed even the competitors that someone didn’t have a push gone awry or a block attempt go terribly wrong.

With playoff spots becoming few and far between, it would be even more amazing if that occurs again Sunday night at AMS. A driver desperate for a win to make the playoffs is going to have just too much incentive to make a risky move.

So which risky moves pan out and which ones won't will be what to watch for. And as the crashes happen, it will be pivotal to watch how the new safety enhancements to the cars work to increase how much energy the car absorbs versus how much the driver absorbs.

Thinking Out Loud

Some wonder if Shane van Gisbergen’s victory makes NASCAR Cup Series drivers look bad since he came in and won in his first career start on the Chicago street course. I would think not.

The street course was new to everyone and no driver had experience on it. Part of the race was run in the wet, which van Gisbergen has more experience with as well.

The biggest thing, though, was that NASCAR went to single-file restarts for the race. It is in the double-file restarts where Cup drivers and their aggressiveness excel — or create chaos. It would have been much more difficult for van Gisbergen to keep spots on the double-file restarts when he wasn’t out front.

Take nothing away from van Gisbergen and his accomplishment. He is used to sitting on the right side of the car and shifting with his left hand. Just to change sides and perform the way he did was remarkable and shows incredible talent and skill.

But did he beat Cup drivers at their own game? Not truly, considering this was their first game on a street course themselves and the rules were different for this race than virtually any other race in several years.

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They Said It                                                                       

"Project91 was just a crazy shower idea that I had that I brought to the executives at Trackhouse. ... If you do the work and you believe in a big vision and work hard towards that, amazing things can happen." —Trackhouse owner Justin Marks on Shane van Gisbergen’s victory at Chicago

Bob Pockrass covers NASCAR for FOX Sports. He has spent decades covering motorsports, including the past 30 Daytona 500s, with stints at ESPN, Sporting News, NASCAR Scene magazine and The (Daytona Beach) News-Journal. Follow him on Twitter @bobpockrass, and sign up for the FOX Sports NASCAR Newsletter with Bob Pockrass.

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