Corey LaJoie on ‘Stacking Pennies,’ feuding with Erik Jones and more: 12 Questions


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Each week, The Athletic asks the same 12 questions to a different race car driver. Up next: Corey LaJoie of Spire Motorsports, who is 12th in the NASCAR Cup Series point standings after back-to-back top-15 finishes to open the season. This interview, conducted before the Daytona 500, has been edited and condensed for clarity, though the full version can be heard on the 12 Questions podcast, which is now exclusive to subscribers.

1. What is currently the No. 1 thing on your bucket list?

Winning the Daytona 500. That’s the top right now. And then come Monday (after the 500), I’ll reevaluate.

Well, this interview will come out after the Daytona 500.

Then hopefully I didn’t kick the bucket and I checked the box.

2. How much media coverage of NASCAR do you consume?

Very minimal. With how much work I put in, with simulator and debrief and preparation and film study throughout the week — over 36 weeks, it’s easy for me to get burned out. So if I’m listening to podcasts, if I’m listening to SiriusXM Channel 90, if I’m doing more than what I do on my podcast (“Stacking Pennies”), I will get burned out. So I’ve found a good little balance intaking what I need and prepping like I need to.

You know enough.

Honestly, not just because you’re sitting around, but I look at The Athletic and read the stories you and Jordan (Bianchi) are writing. And I keep up with the latest and greatest breaking news on the NASCAR app. That’s legitimately it. And also if it’s big enough or cool enough or whatever, then LeeAnn (Egolf, his communications manager) will screenshot and text it to me. It’ll make its way to my phone if it’s significant.

3. Beyond winning, what is the best way to measure success in racing?

There are so many ways to quantify success that don’t involve a trophy. That’s where “Stacking Pennies” came from, because when I first came into the Cup Series, I was driving for BK (Racing, a backmarker team), and there was less than zero chance to ever get a trophy. It was old cars and very limited people and no partners. I was getting zero external validation for the work I was putting in, and it made me really bitter to start showing up to work and I didn’t want to get better. I just thought it really sucked.

I met with a sports psychologist, started actually setting achievable small tasks — not speeding on pit road, being in the top 15 in pit road rolling speeds, not cussing on the radio, out-qualifying a teammate — little things that you can go try. If you do everything in your control and don’t worry about the outcome so much, that’s what was starting to become a successful weekend.

And we’ve added plenty of things to that list of pennies. But if it wasn’t for that approach and mindset of just doing the small things right, to keep me more motivated to get better at doing those small things, then I wouldn’t be here talking to you.

So for us this year, measuring success is getting better consistently, having more pace at the racetrack and being more comfortable in places where I haven’t been very strong. If we can do all that, then I will consider it a success.

4. What is an opinion you have about NASCAR that you don’t think is shared by the fans?

NASCAR is getting cool again. There’s been a collective push with the NASCAR marketing team and it was like, “OK, what are we pushing?” The narrative going into this year is “NASCAR is hard.” NASCAR is hard to work in. It’s hard to cover. It’s hard to drive, it’s hard to pit one. It makes the elite of the elite stand out, and I like that messaging.

But for me, it’s just trying to make the sport cool again. We’ve got DJ Khaled coming (to Daytona). We’ve got The Rock coming as the grand marshal. You start to see it pop up in pop culture, with people wearing throwback t-shirts and jackets. I see people who don’t know anything about Elliott Sadler, they just know they’re wearing his name on an M&Ms jacket. And with the Netflix show, there’s more content out there that (is) going to make it cool again, because there’s a lot of things that are cool about the sport.

Noted reader of The Athletic Corey LaJoie reacts after experiencing the latest prose from Jeff Gluck and/or Jordan Bianchi. (Todd Kirkland / Getty Images)

5. What is the biggest thing fans don’t realize about what you do for a living?

Prep and working on your weaknesses as a driver. Just like any professional athlete, you’re only as good as what your weaknesses are. So if I hone in on running the fence, I need to get some confidence, and I need to practice. So I’ll go into the simulator, and I’ll look at SMT (data), and I’ll look at how Kyle Larson or Tyler Reddick runs the top. I try to incorporate some of the throttle traces and brake traces and wheel input angles and legitimately try to reprogram what’s natural for me of how to drive a car.

So fans don’t see the prep work behind the scenes, whether I go to GoPro (Trackhouse Motorplex go-kart track) and work with Scott Speed, and I’m trying to change my entry approach or exit value and continuing to hone your feel of the tire, hone your comfort level being uncomfortable — that’s the stuff that is hard to even show on camera. It’s just trying to push your mental boundaries, trying to grow your skill set and hopefully, it pays some dividends on Sunday.

6. This next one is about a current topic related to yourself. You’ve got two rookie teammates this year. What is the approach you want to take to help them with that? Do you have to wait until they ask and then you’ll give your input? Do you just give unsolicited feedback?

Nobody reached out and gave me unsolicited feedback. Everybody is willing to help if they’re asked. Same thing (with LaJoie); if they’ve got a question about the way to handle certain things, I’d be glad to help.

If they are struggling with something or they want to understand something on a deeper level, I’ve been doing it for seven or eight years now. I’ve got a pretty good understanding of the garage and how it all works. But they haven’t asked any questions yet, so I will keep my head down and make sure the No. 7 car is our focus and let those guys follow along.

7. This next one is a wild-card question. This is your sixth season of podcasting between “Sunday Money” (former Motor Racing Network podcast) and “Stacking Pennies” (his current NASCAR podcast). Why do you want to still keep doing this?

It’s a good question. I ask myself that every week. (Laughs.) One, I love it. I love talking about the sport in a positive light, because it does seem to be the sentiment from certain media and a lot of fans that there’s a negative perception of the sport. They always have a quick fix.

NASCAR really tries to put the sport in a great place and do cool things for the fans that really deliver. So I like being able to tell that side of the story because I know it’s provided me a life I never could have dreamed of. I like giving fans a peek behind the curtain there. I love the platform that NASCAR has given me to do it.

I have learned a lot about the sport, just to see from a different point of view, because it’s easy as a competitor to put blinders on and really see it from a myopic point of view. So seeing it from a media-person standpoint or a fan standpoint allows me to see it from a little bit different side. And I think it’s matured me a bit as well.

I get to talk to a lot of cool people. SVG (Shane van Gisbergen) is gonna be a regular guest on “Stacking Pennies” this year, which I’m excited about. And it’s more value to my brand, it’s more value to our partners, so why not?

8. What do you like about the place where you grew up?

Kannapolis, North Carolina. Birthplace of Dale Earnhardt and Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Corey LaJoie and Daniel Hemric. So there’s certainly some pride going. We do my charity Kickball Klassic at the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers’ stadium and I went to high school right down the road at Northwest Cabarrus. And I still live there as well. Born and raised, a lot of friends in the area.

I never needed to go anywhere else. All the racing stuff was right where I needed it to be and I got a lot of connections there on the business side as well as some fun side stuff. The city has been willing to do some fun stuff with us, too. So it’s been good.

9. What personality trait are you the most proud of?

Resiliency. It’s hard to keep getting kicked each and every week in this thing, especially for years on end without a lot of light at the end of the tunnel. So to have the resiliency of really building some mental toughness to keep coming back and to keep just getting a little bit better every week, that has kept me in the Cup Series when a lot of other things that were stacked against me didn’t pan out. That’s what I try to instill in my kids, too.

10. Which driver would you least like to be stuck with on an elevator?

Erik Jones. We’ve had some run-ins. I don’t think we’re gonna be breaking bread together. And I think if an elevator broke down, he would be equally as upset as I would be.

11. Maybe you just answered that, but what is a run-in you’ve had with a driver that TV or the media missed?

Probably that one. So he got in my left rear at Atlanta (last summer) and wrecked us and we had a little bit of a jaw session. It was really more just me yelling at him. TV picked up Ryan Preece smacking my helmet at Pocono when I was in the car. I haven’t gotten in a lot of spats. I think Erik Jones was probably the most mad I’ve been in a while.

Was that on pit road or something?

Yeah, when it rained. We were three-wide and he got a little bit tight and got in my left rear and we all wrecked. And then we rolled around wounded and it started raining. So we got out, I had some choice words and then we kept it moving.

12. Each week, I ask a driver to give me a question for the next interview. The last one was Chase Briscoe. He says that similar to you, he feels like he switched teams in the offseason because he has new teammates, he’s got new shirts with a new logo. You have new teammates and you have a new shop. So what was your offseason like, and how different is it going into this season versus every other season? And also, will your dad (Randy LaJoie) give him free sprint car seats?

(Laughs.) I can definitely answer the last one first: Probably no. But he’s been in our (The Joie of Seating) seats forever. So I want to make sure I keep the good runners in our seats, especially somebody like Chase who I consider a friend. So we’ll make sure we cut him a good deal on a seat.

This (truck where the interview is being conducted) is actually the 14’s hauler from last year. So this is new to us — “brand-used.” I’m sure they got a nice shiny new one, but this is the nicest one I’ve ever had. We have a new shop, a lot of new people, truck teams are wedged in there, new teammates, new crew chiefs. And there’s really just a core group of us — probably eight to 10 — who have been there from pretty much the beginning.

So in that regard, there’s obviously a lot of comfort and trust in (crew chief) Ryan Sparks and I and in our kind of core unit of the 7 team, which is always nice for continuity. But everything else is different. Our preparation is gonna look a lot different because we have (new team president) Doug Duchardt as well. He understands what it takes to be successful, so to have Doug guiding us and giving us the tools we need to go compete is something I’m excited about.

I spend as much time at GM (Chevy’s performance center) as I do at the shop, so working with (performance coaches) Josh Wise and Scott Speed is a bigger adjustment for me. So I’m excited to really get entrenched in that to learn and continue to evolve.

I just realized unfortunately for you the next interview is with the aforementioned Erik Jones. Obviously, I did not do that on purpose, because I did not know about this. But he is next. So do you have a question I might be able to ask your friend Erik?

Does he know a good elevator mechanic so our s— doesn’t break down?



Top 5, Atlanta: Breaking down one of NASCAR’s modern-day classic races

(Top photo of LaJoie before the Duels at Daytona earlier this month: James Gilbert / Getty Images)

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Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams
Alexandra Williams is a writer and editor. Angeles. She writes about politics, art, and culture for LinkDaddy News.

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