One of the most intriguing storylines heading into last weekend was the substitute drivers particularly surrounding Spire Motorsports. With Corey LaJoie substituting for Chase Elliott in the number nine car, Carson Hocevar would drive LaJoie’s normal ride. Shockingly, Hocevar outdrove LaJoie before Hocevar’s day was done by a brake failure.
This meant that we left Gateway with many questions. Is LaJoie not as good as some think he is, and is Hocevar a future Cup Series star? However, a less discussed questions is this, is Spire Motorsports better than we all thought, and what do they have to do to prove that?
The Slow Rise of Spire Motorsports
Spire Motorsports first came onto the scene in 2019 running the 77 car with a myriad of drivers from Jamie McMurray in the Daytona 500 to Quinn Houff to Reed Sorenson to Justin Haley amongst others. The team actually stumbled into a win with Haley at Daytona in July of that year thanks to a perfectly timed lightning strike, literally.
2020 was more of the same with multiple drivers filling in such as Ross Chastain, Josh Bilicki, B.J. McLeod amongst others. In 2021, the team expanded to two cars bringing on Corey LaJoie to run full-time and Haley to run almost full-time. In 2021, the team got its’ first non-superspeedway top-10 with Haley finishing eighth at the Indianapolis Road Course.
In 2023, Spire has had two full-time drivers for the first time with LaJoie teaming up with Ty Dillon. This year, LaJoie has had the best season of his career, and he still sits within striking distance of pointing his way into the Playoffs. Now that Spire finally has had some stability for the first time in its’ history, its’ found a nice groove.
While yes it is not a Championship contender per se, it is working its’ way up the ranks. Could they potentially be one star-level driver away from being a serious contender in the Cup Series? There is proof in Craftsman Truck Series that once Spire gets star-level talent, they can win races.
The Alliance with Hendrick
In the Craftsman Truck Series, Spire Motorsports has entered an interesting relationship with Hendrick Motorsports, the best team in all of NASCAR. Hendrick was notorious in the 2000s for discouraging many of its’ drivers to race in the lower series during a time when multiple drivers were running full-time in Cup and Xfinity. That changed with Spire Motorsports.
What happened when stars were driving Spire Motorsports cars in the Truck Series with help from HendrickCars.com? They won races. William Byron won at Martinsville last spring, and Kyle Larson won at North Wilkesboro a couple of weeks ago.
When given good drivers, good backing, and a good team, Spire can win races. However, there is an asterisk that without Hendrick backing in this series, Spire has only one top 10 in 10 races. This does call into question whether or not Spire has the manpower themselves to win races and run well consistently in the Cup Series.
In order to be a Playoff contending team, it takes more than flash-in-the-pan type performances. But those performances do show what could be. Did we get some insight into what could be this weekend?
The Rise and Potential Conundrum of Corey LaJoie and Carson Hocevar
As was mentioned previously, this has been Spire’s best season in the Cup Series so far. LaJoie is within striking distance to point his way into the playoffs if everything breaks right. He also had his best career finish of fourth at Atlanta in March.
Then Carson Hocevar came in to substitute for LaJoie. Most had realistic expectations for Hocevar. If he could bring the car home in one piece with a respectable top-25 finish, that would be considered a solid debut.
Hocever did more than that on Sunday as he drove up into the top-20, outrunning LaJoie, before a brake rotor failure ended Hocevar’s day. No one expected that, and it provided insight again to what Spire might be capable of if a talented driver is behind the wheel. Could Hocevar be that star that Spire Motorsports needs?
LaJoie is a good driver, but the race this weekend definitely called into question how good he really is. How far can LaJoie truly take Spire with the talent he has? He’s a worthy Cup Series driver for sure, but he is not a superstar.
Another thing to note is the fact that it was an equipment failure that did Hocevar in is a concern as well. Is Spire reliable enough to give a top talent what they need without parts failing? That remains to be seen.
Overall, this past weekend opened some eyes and changed some opinions in terms of talent levels of drivers. However, the teams are not to be overlooked either.