By: Ashley McCubbin
Following a season with seven top-20 finishes, highlighted by a ninth at the Daytona 500, Corey LaJoie and Spire Motorsports have their focus on learning as much as they can about the NextGen car before the 2022 campaign.
Prior to testing on Wednesday and Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, the second-generation racer shared his thoughts on the new car and more with NEWS FROM THE PITS.
ASHLEY MCCUBBIN: What are your thoughts on the NextGen so far?
COREY LAJOIE: I think the premises of it is good, I think there’s a lot of work to do on teams, vendors, everybody involved in the process. The teams are kind of the last ones to get the parts and its up to the venders and venders to distribute so there’s some issues there that some people are working towards. I’m interested to see how this test goes this Thursday and Friday to hopefully get a direction for the mile and a halves.
I think fast forward a year from now, it will be a positive for the sport. It’s a direction that we had to go as a necessity, I feel like. I’m a fan of it. I’m not the court side seat biggest fan yet, but I’m one of the guys that’s more excited for it as I’m one of those on this side of the garage getting close to those on the other side for the first time on top.
ASHLEY: What has surprised you the most about the car?
COREY: I think that it’s still a racecar at the end of the day. It drives similar to a super with the rack-and-pinion feel, there’s not much aero grip on side force, there’s not much side wall give in the tire, so it’s just figuring out what that limit is. But there’s also weighing the pros and cons in trying to find that extra little bit of speed and getting a comfort for the balance as NASCAR continues to tweak the package. We just need to continue to learn how to work on it and prepare good racecars for the start of the year.
ASHLEY: What would you like to see them do different / better with the car?
COREY: I don’t think they need to ask me of my what opinion is, but I also don’t think they need to let the inmates run the prison. I think NASCAR is going to be taking the blunt of it so they should be making all the decisions now. The guys that are driving them have the best idea of how to achieve things that NASCAR is looking to do, I think there could always be more communication between NASCAR and the drivers. But generally, I think NASCAR has been an open book with what they’re trying and what they want to see accomplished.
I think what I want to see is all the fans give it a minute to figure what this is. We’re only one test into the NextGen car and people are already writing it off or judging it a certain way. Like, let this thing have half-a-season, full season before you judge it because the drivers are going to put the racing on to the best of our ability and just like always with NASCAR, the drivers are always going to deliver a good show. There’s going to be the thrilling endings and battles with this car, just like what we’re used to seeing with the previous car.
ASHLEY: How do you feel it will race better in traffic?
COREY: I haven’t ran much in traffic. I’ve ran around some cars a little bit. I think the problem is you have to set the car up on the tighter side of neutral, where the other car, you could drive the car a little more sideways due to more sideforce, more downforce, and side wall flex.
Now, you have to be on the tight side to get good speed by yourself, and you get in dirty air, and it continues to push you more the tight side more. So it’s not so much the balance shifting as much, but your starting balance being 15% tighter by ourselves than what we had to be with the Gen 6. So therefore you have to that much tighter in traffic and can’t generate as many runs.
ASHLEY: There are still several tests set for this car prior to 2022. What are you hoping to accomplish in those?
COREY: I think for us, making laps, understanding what the car needs, continuing to learn about front-end geometry, and front-end combination of springs make the thing comfortable. Also, make speed and keep the tires on it for a long time. With the independent new suspension and torsion bars, it’s different for everybody so all the notes that we had over the last couple of years are irrelevant. It’s as much as for me to get used to as my team to work on.
ASHLEY: Speaking of 2022, the schedule has been released. What are your thoughts?
COREY: I think NASCAR is going to be flexible. I’m excited about the L.A. Coliseum. That’s going to be a big risk that they’re taking on, but I think it will pay high diligence with some excitement there in one of the more recognizable stadiums in the entire world, and that leads into our Superbowl being the Daytona 500. So with St. Louis on the schedule, I remember going there as a kid with my dad watching him race. Going to COTA, back to other tracks, I’m excited to see the direction the sport is going.
ASHLEY: If you could make one addition / change to the schedule, what would that be?
COREY: I would love to see more short tracks. I’d love to lose three or four intermediates and gain three or four Wilksboros, or hell, I’d race Martinsville or Bristol every week if it was up to me. But I’d love to see a lottery race. Obviously Nashville Fairgrounds is in play now with the SMI deal coming to fruition. So I’d love to see Nashville Fairgrounds, North Wilksboro, and maybe a lottery to the 3/8ths or 3/4-mile race tracks in the country to get a race that may not have the infrastructure, but you make it limited release ticket sales, nice as you can, but go to a Kern County, or Iowa as NASCAR owns that track.
I think that the tighter you are together, the more excitement you’re going to get; the bigger the track is, the more air comes into affect with just the way physics work and get a more strung out race.
ASHLEY: We saw the recent announcement in each week featuring 20 minutes of practice. What are your thoughts on practice returning and is it that enough time?
COREY: If they gave us four hours of practice, you’d say it was not enough. But I think as we saw with the COVID protocols, limited practice, you’re showing up to race on Sunday, it didn’t change the on-track product on Sunday to what the cost difference was to practice vs. not. I think 20 minutes is literally two-runs maybe, baring you have no issues. So that’s just to make sure you have no leaks, or any rubs, but now simulation is getting so good, and we rely so much on it, you should be close when you get to the race track.
I would love to get an hour so, but that’s what TV wants is what they get because they more or less pay the bills and some ways, it should help a smaller team and other ways, it will hurt us, but we’re going to have to figure out how to make our cars drive well.
ASHLEY: What grade would you give your 2021 season?
COREY: I think I would give it a B+. I think we did a lot of things well. I think we left a lot of points on the table with some mechanical issues and some things that we learned which we’re going to imply over the next year or so. I think B+ is good. I think we’re going to continue to get better. We’re essentially starting a brand new team in end of December / early January last year to have some runs inside the top-15, I think that’s a pretty successful year.
ASHLEY: Knowing what we saw in the team’s progression, what are your goals / expectations for 2022?
COREY: My goals are high, just because it’s such a blank canvas for everybody. I feel like if we can figure out this NextGen car out, and figure out a balance off the bat, and make sure our stuff stays together and play it smart, I think we can be in the hunt. I’d love to think that we can be a top-20 team competitively each and every week, and then when you can do that, you can start finishing top-15 consecutively and work your way up from there.
But when you’re talking about the top-10 guys, those guys have the best people, most resources, tapped into the OEMs, the most funded – so that’s a different game, as even a top-15 is tough. But the runs that we had being Daytona and Bristol and Darlington like 2021 season, I think will happen more often, where they’d only happen every five or six weeks. I think they’re going to happen almost every other week with the NextGen car.