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Eric Estepp’s Out of the Crowd: Expectations for Spire, the LA Clash, and More

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Eric Estepp

Host of the Out of the Groove YouTube Channel
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Hey y’all, Eric here! I get THOUSANDS of comments every week underneath YouTube episodes of Out of the Groove. I wanted to pluck several comments from out of the crowd and respond to them directly here on The Daily Downforce!


Was anyone else surprised to see Corey LaJoie leading laps under green?

@tylerroutzahn on YouTube

Corey LaJoie ran a great race at Bristol on Saturday night, cracking the top 10 before employing a pit strategy that allowed him to lead 48 laps. That was the most laps LaJoie has ever led in a NASCAR Cup Series race, and in 2023 he led more laps than in every other year of his career combined. He continues to sport a 21.0 average finish this season, which is at least three positions better than in any of his previous years. It’s safe to say both Corey LaJoie and his Spire Motorsports team have taken at least a small step forward this season.

This should be just the beginning. Spire and Gainbridge have formed some sort of deep partnership, which should inject some much-needed cash into the organization. We’ve already seen them make a big splash by purchasing a charter for $40M and forming an alliance with Trackhouse to help them run Zane Smith in Cup next year. With Ty Dillon likely out, and rumors suggesting top prospect Carson Hocevar will be in, it’s clear that Spire Motorsports and Gainbridge expect to be even more competitive in the near future.

This also means expectations for Corey LaJoie will be higher than they’ve ever been. 

Since getting to Cup, LaJoie has never had teammates that could put any pressure on him. He was all by himself at GoFas and the first year at Spire. The No. 77 car has never been as quick as LaJoie’s No. 7, but if Carson Hocevar does join the team next season, I think that will change.

Corey LaJoie will be 32 years old next season. He’s the veteran. Hocevar (potentially) and Smith will be looking at him to lead. I believe a good season for LaJoie would be top 20 in points. I don’t believe he is on the “hot seat.” He just signed a multi-year extension with the team. But if the results don’t improve, or if LaJoie is outrun regularly by his less-experienced teammates, then Spire and Gainbridge may have some difficult conversations in the future. 

As long as the LA Coliseum isn’t a points race, I’m ok with it coming back. As for Road America… I hope it comes back to Xfinity or Cup competition series soon. It’s too good of a road course, with too rich of a history to be left off the schedule forever.

@cadillacejohn1994 on YouTube

We now know the Clash at the Coliseum will return in February for a third consecutive season. I am VERY relieved that it will not be a points race… at least as far as I can tell. I suppose until the full 2024 schedule is released I shouldn’t celebrate prematurely. I’ve attended both Coliseum races thus far, and feel like the novelty still hasn’t fully worn off. I know friends and family continue to look shocked when I tell them NASCAR is racing in a football stadium! I’m excited that NASCAR is bringing the Mexico Series to Los Angeles as well. NASCAR made waves with Garage 56 in Le Mans so this is a great way to continue highlighting their international efforts. 

The Clash at the Coliseum is a logistical inconvenience. Besides the millions NASCAR spends setting up the track and promoting the event, Denny Hamlin recently said that most race teams lose money sending all their equipment across the country for an exhibition race. Once the 2024 event is complete, I would love to see NASCAR bring The Clash to a new track or a new market. There may not be many hospitable options in early February, but I trust NASCAR to try something bold. That’s what an exhibition race should be used for.

As for Road America… ditto. Awesome track with awesome fans. I hope that the only reason it’s off the 2024 schedule is because NBC is struggling to schedule around the summer Olympics. Hopefully, at least one NASCAR series will return to Elkhart Lake in 2025.

Coming from a big Byron fan, this confidence from Denny, as well as his speed, is scary. As much as I want Byron to win, I think Denny is his biggest obstacle as it stands.

@steviegiamalis9251

Fortunately for you, William Byron is still tied for the most playoff points. I still feel confident he will advance to the Championship Four in Phoenix, but the 11 car is one of his chief rivals.

At Darlington, Denny Hamlin was closing in on his fourth Southern 500 trophy when he was forced to make an extra pit stop due to a supposed loose wheel. At Kansas, Hamlin had a big lead erased by a late caution and then got beat on the restart by Tyler Reddick. At Bristol, Denny was able to finally deliver.

From my seat, Denny Hamlin had THE fastest car in all three playoff races thus far. He led 382 laps, FAR more than any other playoff driver, and was leading late in each event. I still question the No. 11 team’s ability to execute consistently. Denny has a history of falling short in big moments, see the final restart at Kansas recently as a great example. And the team let him down at Darlington with a loose wheel on pit road.

Hamlin may have Byron and the rest of the field beat on raw speed, but the NASCAR Playoffs often come down to who can avoid the big mistakes.

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Picture of Eric Estepp

Eric Estepp

Host of the Out of the Groove YouTube Channel
All Posts