Race Weekend Central

Stat Sheet: Spire’s Las Vegas Performance Was Its Best Yet

Rajah Caruth’s first NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series win on Friday night (Mar. 1) was a statement for 2024’s new-look Spire Motorsports team. Its performance in Sunday’s (Mar. 3) NASCAR Cup Series race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was icing on top on the cake.

Both Corey LaJoie and Carson Hocevar ran in the top 15 for much of the afternoon and LaJoie passed cars inside the top five during the first stage.

But of course, the finishing order doesn’t reflect the speed that the duo had.

Hocevar finished 15th while LaJoie finished a lap down in 32nd after a late crash. We never even got to see what Zane Smith had in store this weekend, as he finished in 36th, 13 laps down after early contact with the wall damaged the toe link of the No. 71 car.

See also
The Underdog House: A Fortune Won, a Fortune Lost for Spire in Las Vegas

If finishing order was all that mattered, Spire’s Sunday in Las Vegas wouldn’t even be a blip on the radar. In 297 Cup entries since the team’s inception in 2019, Spire has recorded 24 finishes inside the top 14 and 24 finishes that bested its latest showing in Sin City.

2019 Daytona 2Justin Haley1st
2020 Talladega 2Justin Haley11th
2021 Daytona 1Jamie McMurray8th
2021 Daytona 1Corey LaJoie9th
2021 Indianapolis RCJustin Haley 8th
2021 Daytona 2Justin Haley6th
2022 Daytona 1Corey LaJoie14th
2022 Atlanta 1Corey LaJoie5th
2022 Talladega 1Corey LaJoie14th
2022 Daytona 2Landon Cassill4th
2022 TexasCorey LaJoie14th
2022 Talladega 2Landon Cassill11th
2022 Charlotte RovalCorey LaJoie12th
2023 FontanaCorey LaJoie14th
2023 Atlanta 1Corey LaJoie4th
2023 COTACorey LaJoie11th
2023 Talladega 1Ty Dillon14th
2023 DoverCorey LaJoie14th
2023 Chicago StreetCorey LaJoie14th
2023 Daytona 2Corey LaJoie10th
2023 Daytona 2Ty Dillon11th
2023 Talladega 2Corey LaJoie4th
2024 Daytona 1Corey LaJoie4th
2024 Atlanta 1Corey LaJoie14th

However, upon closer examination of the team’s best finishes, there’s a noticeable trend: a prevalence of superspeedways.

Of Spire’s 24 finishes inside the top 14, 17 of them came between Daytona International Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway’s new configuration. Just seven of the team’s top-14 finishes came at the rest of the tracks on the schedule and superspeedways also account for 10 of the team’s 11 top 10s.

It’s clear that Spire and LaJoie in particular have figured out superspeedway racing, but running well on those tracks doesn’t correlate to the remaining 30 events on the schedule.

Of the seven top 14s that didn’t come on superspeedways, four were on road courses. This means that in Spire’s entire history, it has only recorded three top-14 finishes on unrestricted ovals: LaJoie at Texas Motor Speedway in 2022 (14th), LaJoie at Auto Club Speedway in 2023 (14th) and LaJoie at Dover Motor Speedway in 2023 (14th).

By finishing 15th on Sunday as a rookie, Hocevar was just one spot short of tying Spire’s best mark on tracks that make up nearly 70% of the Cup Series schedule. And if LaJoie hadn’t crashed late, he would’ve been up there too.

See also
Up to Speed: More Opportunity and More Pressure for Corey LaJoie

Spire’s performance at Las Vegas holds up even when looking at advanced data, as LaJoie and Hocevar spent 71.2% and 64.4%, respectively, of their laps inside the top 15 on Sunday.

Those values are a long way from the speed and equipment that Spire had at the start of its Cup operations. From 2019 to 2022, there was only one race on a non-superspeedway where a Spire car spent more than 45% of the laps inside the top 15: LaJoie in the 2021 Southern 500.

Race/DateDriverFinishAverage Running Position% T15 LapsNotes
2021 Darlington 2Corey LaJoie15th1376.8Scored 1 stage point
2023 FontanaCorey LaJoie14th1468.0Scored 1 stage point
2023 DoverCorey LaJoie14th1672.0
2023 Chicago StreetCorey LaJoie14th2155.1
2023 Bristol PavementCorey LaJoie25th1746.0Led 48 laps, scored 9 stage points
2023 HomesteadCorey LaJoie20th1555.4
2024 Las Vegas 1Corey LaJoie32nd1371.2Scored 4 stage points
2024 Las Vegas 1Carson Hocevar15th1564.4

Flash forward to 2023 and LaJoie had five races on non-superspeedways where he spent at least 45% of the laps inside the top 15. That speed was reflected in the finishing order last season, as LaJoie recorded a career-best average finish of 20.8 and a career-best points finish of 25th. Both of those marked significant improvements from 2022, where LaJoie had an average finish of 24.3 and finished 31st in points.

The first non-superspeedway of the 2024 Cup season is now in the books, and Spire had both of its cars inside the top 15 for over 60% of the day, the first time in its history that it has done so on a non-superspeedway. LaJoie also tied his best average running position on a non-superspeedway in 13th, and if it wasn’t for a flat tire under green and a late miscue on pit road, Hocevar could’ve challenged for a top 10.

Whether it’s increased support from Trackhouse Racing via Smith, Hendrick Motorsports support through its Truck team or an inflow of cash from its partnership with Group 1001 (the parent company of Gainbridge), the improvement in Spire’s Cup performance is already on display.

Look for more of the same in the rest of the 2024 season.

About the author

Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.

Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.

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Carson is my pick for ROY

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