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Corey Heim: One to Watch in Truck Series Title Tilt

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By Joseph Wolkin

Corey Heim is making a name for himself as one of the most promising young prospects in NASCAR. The 21-year-old racer from Marietta, Georgia, has emerged as a consistent front-runner and championship contender in the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series.

Now wheeling the No. 11 Toyota Tundra for Tricon Garage, Heim recorded 10 top-10 finishes in his first 12 starts this season, including a victory at Martinsville Speedway in mid-April.

Heim is part of the Toyota Driver Development program and previously drove for Kyle Busch Motorsports and Venturini Motorsports.

Many garage area insiders expect Heim to be among the Championship 4 when the Truck Series returns to Phoenix Raceway in November.

The young driver recently took time to discuss his season, evaluate his new team and share his expectations for the playoffs.

What has this season been like for you?

It’s been up and down at times. Recently, we’ve had really good speed every weekend. To start the year, I didn’t know if we’d get to that point, just being with a new team, new crew chief and a new spotter. I didn’t know those guys at all. I didn’t know what the future looked like for us.

As the season started going along, months started clicking by and I started seeing a lot of bright spots on our team. We’ve gotten to the point where I feel like we’re one of the trucks to beat.

What is it like competing for Tricon Garage?

It’s been different. Coming from KBM last year, it’s a different kind of vibe. KBM is very oriented in what they’ve been successful with in the past. Tricon is more innovative and they’ve been very open to change just because the last couple of years haven’t been as good as they wanted.

With (crew chief) Scott Zipadelli coming in from Hattori, having a lot of success, they’ve been open to what he wants to do and the changes he wants to make. They’ve been good so far. I like how open they are.

What’s an example of something the team has been open to changing?

Really, it’s just anything. From the aerodynamic side, they’ve been consistent every week with what they’ve brought to the track. It’s been good, but it hasn’t been over-the-top. They’ve been open to change. We’ve been able to tell the chassis guys we need to make improvements here or there, and everyone’s come together in agreement. It’s come together for the better. Sometimes, it’s hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’ve run good with something but not great. You don’t want to go backward. But everyone trusts each other and it’s a good mutual decision to keep getting better and going forward.

What’s the biggest difference between working with KBM – a championship-winning team – and Tricon, which is chasing its first title?

It’s just being open and innovative. KBM brought really fast trucks, but we just ran the same from the start to the end of the year. We were fast and in contention, but we never went out and dominated a race.

With Tricon, they’ve been innovative and they’ve made changes to become a championship-caliber team. We’re going in the right direction. It’s something I’m not used to. We’re making changes every week. I’ve learned to like that and enjoy the fact that you don’t know what you’re going to have. Everyone is investing the time and effort into it, and everyone hopes it’ll be good. Nine times out of 10, it has been good.

What’s it like to work with team co-owner David Gilliland, who’s a veteran racer himself?

He’s very in tune with what we’re doing. He still steps in the truck and he did so this year at Charlotte. That helps him understand what other drivers are doing, and how he can coach us and improve our team on a weekly basis.

He’s worked with Cup-level talents like Ryan Preece. Being able to hone in on that and understand what made them successful, he can go back to younger drivers like me at Tricon and understand what makes a successful driver. David is definitely really involved and I appreciate that from him. He’s a team owner who’s really involved and invested, and you can’t ask for more from his part.

You’ve run a few Xfinity Series races this season for Sam Hunt Racing, finishing 10th in your second start at one of the toughest tracks in Darlington. What’s it been like to get your feet wet in that series?

It’s been a wake-up call for me a little bit. It’s not that I’m lacking anything on the preparation side or anything like that, but it’s so much different than the truck and I didn’t really understand that. When I’m watching it, I expected it to be different, but it’s a lot different. It’s a lot of fun.

The Xfinity Series races have more longer runs and more dynamic racing. With the trucks, we struggle to have long runs because of the short stages or there’s a lot of cautions. It’s fun to move around (the track) and see where everything trended. I feel like I learned more in my first two starts than I have in any other two starts that I can narrow down.

What are your expectations for the final months of the season?

I just want to keep improving and keep learning. We’ve had a consistent progression since Kansas (in May). We built new trucks and we put the knowledge that we know can work into our equipment. We’re getting better every week. Every week, we need to pick up and learn. We need to be in a good mindset for the playoffs. It’s pretty cut throat. If you have one or two bad races, you’re forced to win. We want to go out and win the race, but we have to be consistent and get a lot of stage points.

What would it mean to you to win the championship?

It would mean everything. Me being out at Gateway was a humbling experience, but it helped me understand how much this means to me personally. When you sit at home for a weekend and watch someone else in your truck, it’s a humbling experience. It’s really telling on what happens when you’re not there. With everything I’ve done this year, I feel like I deserve to run up front every week and contend for this championship. It’s created a lot of reflection, but I feel like we’re good enough to make a run for it.

What does Toyota’s support mean to you?

It means a lot. I started with them in 2020, but we didn’t get started until the summer of that year due to COVID. Ever since, I started working closely with them and it’s been amazing. They supply everything you could possibly need. Every morning, I go workout and I meet with the staff – my nutritionist, my sports psychologist, my physical therapist. Everything you could possibly need to succeed as a professional race car driver is there.

The opportunity is present, and I feel that I do a good job at taking advantage of that. I’m doing everything I can to set myself up for success on any given weekend. Outside of that, working with the upper levels of Toyota and being able to have them put me in a good spot this year. After KBM and the relationship there collapsed, I feel like I was a little lost about my future. But they did a phenomenal job at getting the new team set up. It was a slow start, but TRD has done a good job at building a successful race team. It’s been great.

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Josh Mull

Josh Mull

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