DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 13: Corey LaJoie speaks to the media during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 61st Annual Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on February 13, 2019 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) | Getty Images
DAYTONA BEACH, FLORIDA - FEBRUARY 13: Corey LaJoie speaks to the media during the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series 61st Annual Daytona 500 Media Day at Daytona International Speedway on February 13, 2019 in Daytona Beach, Florida. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images) | Getty Images

Corey LaJoie soaks in Spire’s culture, stays bullish on team’s growth for 2021

The well-aged expression of “hanging out your shingle” has a parallel for Corey LaJoie in his new role as a full-time driver for Spire Motorsports. No, he’s not striking out on his own, as the saying implies, but instead of a shingle, he’s building a full-fledged sign for the race shop.

There may be no better tangible indicator of the roots that the 29-year-old journeyman is establishing with Spire, which will expand to a two-car fleet next season in the NASCAR Cup Series. LaJoie’s debut in Spire’s No. 7 Chevrolet will kick off the first year of a multiyear agreement with the start-up organization, co-founded by owners Jeff Dickerson and T.J. Puchyr in 2019.

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LaJoie makes the transition with veteran names in key support roles — some faces are familiar, others less so. But there’s also newfound optimism for LaJoie, who has scratched out a career in NASCAR’s top series, bouncing among three teams during the last four seasons.

“I mean, this is probably the most excited I’ve been leading up to any year in my NASCAR career at least, just because I know how much we’re going to over-exceed expectations for what people have become used to a Spire Motorsports entry being on track,” LaJoie said in a Tuesday video teleconference with reporters. “I’m going over to the shop here this afternoon and I probably go over there every other three days or so, and there’s somebody new, somebody from a different team, somebody that’s excited to come build and be part of the culture that we’re trying to build for the future. We’re getting some good cars, some good engines, and it’ll be the most solid deal that I’ve ever had.”

LaJoie toiled in some of the final starts for BK Racing (2017) and TriStar Motorsports (2018) before moving to Go Fas Racing and the Archie St. Hilaire-owned No. 32 Ford. LaJoie says the last two seasons there gave him an opportunity to learn and to become fully acclimated to the 36-race routine.

The new situation, LaJoie says, gives him “a little bit of job security.” Spire got its start by purchasing the team charter of Furniture Row Racing upon its closure, and the No. 7 charter for next season comes from the former Leavine Family Racing group.

Spire does have one victory in its Cup Series infancy — Justin Haley’s rain-shortened Daytona upset in the summer of 2019 — but its final rankings of 36th then 34th in the team owner standings have trailed most of the pack. Eight drivers rotated through its No. 77 Chevy entry in the organization’s first season; nine did in 2020. LaJoie represents Spire’s first full-time driver.

While Spire’s week-in, week-out performance hasn’t quite rattled the sheet metal of its better-funded rivals, LaJoie is betting on stronger results to accompany the growth.

“Each step has been progressively better, so I’m trending the right way,”LaJoie said. “I do feel like I’m in with a group that ultimately have the same vision to get it there and are realistic with their expectations and have the connections to put some good cars and good tools in the hands of the guys they’re hiring to push this deal along. I’m just happy to be a small part of it.”

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Among the hires is a familiar name atop the pit box in Ryan Sparks, his crew chief last season at Go Fas Racing. Another key addition is familiar to TV viewers but new to Spire — Steve Letarte, who will serve as a team consultant while maintaining his role as an analyst for NBC Sports’ NASCAR broadcasts. LaJoie said both personnel moves should help serve as handy connections for partner teams Hendrick Motorsports, which Spire will rely on for engines and drivetrains, and Chip Ganassi Racing, its car supplier.

Letarte represents a new colleague for LaJoie. In his career as a crew chief with Hendrick Motorsports, Letarte scored 15 wins during a 10-year stretch, working with Hall of Famers Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. While the stats and resume were a known quantity, LaJoie says he’s gotten to know Letarte on a more personal level in conversations over coffee, which he said is an always-present Letarte accessory.

“That guy’s just an awesome personality, but I probably didn’t give him enough credit — and I was probably a bit young when he was crew chiefing for Jeff and crew chiefing for Dale Earnhardt Jr.,” LaJoie said. “That guy is one of the smartest guys that I’ve ever met, and he’s also infectious and he’s just a guy that gets you pepped up. …

“I think that in terms of Steve’s timing, everybody when they take a step away from the competitive side, whether for him to be going to the broadcast booth, he’s stepped away from that competitive day-to-day trying to figure out what areas you can do to make yourself and your team better. Eventually for everybody, that fire starts burning again and I think Jeff and T.J. offered Steve the opportunity to have his hand to kind of quench that fire, if you will. He’s the perfect guy to fit into the culture we’re trying to build.”

LaJoie said that Spire is keeping its expectations realistic for next season, hoping to inch closer to the top 20 threshold and to match or surpass the performance of JTG Daugherty Racing, Front Row Motorsports among others. Longer-term, LaJoie didn’t shy away from the idea of the organization contending for a playoff spot within a few years.

“Right now, you’d like to think so, and that’s why we’re doing it,” LaJoie said. “That’s why we jumped into the boat and we’re rowing that sucker.”