Spire embraces underdog role but still aims higher

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Spire embraces underdog role but still aims higher

NASCAR

Spire embraces underdog role but still aims higher

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There are banner-shaped stickers on the humble Spire Motorsports shop’s wall recognizing its teams’ different achievements.

Justin Haley scoring the organization its first win at Daytona in 2019 is the first one. There is also one from William Byon’s win at Martinsville Speedway in the Camping World Truck Series. Sprinkled in between are ones for top 10 finishes earned by Corey LaJoie and Landon Cassill. LaJoie’s top-five finish from earlier this season at Atlanta is also there.

“Corey looks at some of those things like, ‘Oh my gosh, we have participation trophies. We ran top 10,’” team co-owner Jeff Dickerson said. “Really, the thing is, man, Sundays are really, really hard, and look around you and look at who we’re racing against. We want to celebrate those moments.

“You’re trying to show not only to your people that these are real accomplishments but with [race] shops and always bringing your sponsors in, and people are always coming visit. We don’t take any of this for granted. That’s why we do it. We take none of this for granted. We’re the luckiest people in the world, and we want to celebrate the guys when they do well, and I guess my big thing is, we should have more of those.”

Spire employs about 40 people and run two NASCAR Cup Series cars. LaJoie will compete alongside Ty Dillon next season, who was introduced on Tuesday as the next driver of the No. 77 Chevrolet.

It will be the first time in Spire’s young history they have focused on two primary drivers, as the No. 77 car had been split between various drivers the last few seasons. But this is the next step for the team as they continue to grow and find their footing in the series.

Earning the results is the challenge, but not having the right attitude. Spire team president Bill Anthony wants the organization to continue to make memories and shock the world, “at least on occasion”.

And there have been oh-so-close moments with LaJoie on the superspeedways, particularly with a fifth-place finish in the first Atlanta race and challenging Chase Elliott for the win on the last lap in the second race there.

LaJoie and Dillon talk about wanting to be Cup Series winners, but all involved know that Spire’s resources are not at the level of being weekly contenders. Dickerson, who strikes as someone living in the moment and enjoying the ride, is one of many at Spire who have bought into understanding and shooting for what they can do.

“This team should be in the top 25,” Dickerson said. “That is our expectation and our goal for next year. We should be a top-25 team. When you look at the 7 and where they run consistently, and with the 77 hopefully meeting that or exceeding that, we feel like the 7 should be 25th in points. We feel like they spent the summer just lighting points on fire, and not all driver or not all team, but it feels like we’ve left a lot of points out there.

“That’s where I think our goal needs to be. To me, it’s not about, hey, we need to win a race or hey, we need to do this. I feel like we should be a top 25 team at the end of the year because that’s where we run.”

But that doesn’t mean there is a driving force behind what Spire is doing in their part of the garage.

“These cliches [of] underdog or out punch our weight class or have something to prove, here it’s not a cliché,” Dickerson continued. “Our guys don’t try to overperform or outkick their coverage because of our budget. I don’t think your mechanics care what your budget is or your driver cares.

“What they care about is somebody discarded them along the way, and they want to prove them wrong. I look at Corey and … he’s trying to prove it to every team in the garage that’s told him ‘No’ along the way. Or someone like Ty, who it must have really sucked getting let go from GMS five- or six months in. It’s easy to see it with the drivers, but it feels like our whole staff has been let go by somebody or passed over by somebody.

“That’s how you outkick your coverage. That’s why guys stay. Guys don’t stay late because you’re paying them more. They stay because they want to show somebody that they can do it. I think that really binds this whole team together.

“We can sit here and probably point at somebody and say, ‘That guy was let go by Roush,’ ‘that guy was let go by RCR.’ You can go around the room [and see it], and that’s what you’re trying to tap into when you’re trying to get them to go.”

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