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There are some ways in which a NASCAR team's race shop is emblematic of the team's character. Specifically the way in which it views itself and what it aspires to be.

For the several years prior to 2024, Spire Motorsports had been using a building that fit the team's character and stirred the soul of any small and fledgling race team trying to succeed. It was the shop that had once belonged to NASCAR Hall of Famer Alan Kulwicki, one of the sport's all-time greatest underdogs and the last true owner/driver to win a Cup Series championship in 1992. With Spire being a small race team that few thought much of, and with the team possessing little in terms of tangible hardware designating its accomplishments on the racetrack, the halls of what was once AK Racing proved a fitting home.

But the standards for Spire Motorsports have now changed, and they have a new building to reflect that. For 2024, Spire Motorsports has moved into the shop that once belonged to Kyle Busch Motorsports, a much larger and more sophisticated building with a very notable, defining feature: Many trophy cases that its new occupant is tasked with filling.

"Moving shops from Alan Kulwicki's shop to Kyle Busch's, it's much more spacious, it's new, all those things -- the thing I notice is there's a lot of room in the trophy cases," Corey LaJoie told CBS Sports. "Because that guy and that team, they won a lot of races."

With the organization's bet on NASCAR's growth and the explosion of its race team charters in value having paid off, Spire Motorsports has positioned itself to become a stronger race team ready to contend at the highest level and disrupt the established order of the sport. It has expanded to three Cup Series teams, with Corey LaJoie leading the way for rookie drivers Carson Hocevar and Zane Smith, and has also become a Craftsman Truck Series powerhouse following the purchase of Kyle Busch Motorsports -- a status validated by its first win of the season with Busch behind the wheel at Atlanta.

As he has been since he joined the team in 2021, LaJoie has been the lynchpin for the growth of Spire. Speaking to CBS Sports, LaJoie shared details of much of what has gone into making his race team, owned by NASCAR industry veterans Jeff Dickerson and T.J. Puchyr, a deeper organization: Increased and larger sponsorships, Increased personnel, and a deeper ability to engineer and build better and faster race cars.

But with that has also come an internal heightening of expectations and an understanding that what was cause for celebration in the past is now the standard bar of success. In Spire's case, that means not aiming as zealously for low-hanging fruit -- a goal of the team last year was to finish more races, one met and exceeded when LaJoie was the only driver in Cup to finish all 36 races without a single DNF -- but still maintaining the perspective that has come from working its way from the back of the garage area forward.

"I think it comes with some understanding and some expectations of, 'Hey guys, we have to sustain this and we have to make this bet pay off for these guys that are putting a lot of effort and a lot of money on the line for this,'" LaJoie said. "I think it comes with some pressure and expectations, which I like and I feel like we're geared up to do that more so than we've ever been.

"Just as evident as getting a partner like Chili's for the [Daytona] 500 -- that's the caliber of team and the level of professionalism that we're trying to get to and maintain. I'm happy to be a part of that. It's what we've been working for and pushing for for the last three years."

Through two races so far, LaJoie has a fourth-place finish in the Daytona 500 and a 13th-place run at Atlanta, while Zane Smith had a top 15 at Daytona and Carson Hocevar managed a top 20 at Atlanta. With the most continuity going for it, LaJoie's No. 7 team stands as Spire's standard-bearer, and they have sought to strike a balance between setting realistic expectations they're capable of meeting and expectations that feel like a stretch to be pursued.

In LaJoie's case, he pointed to a five-to-six position jump in the Cup Series standings from a 25th-place finish last year as something to strive for.

"We set lofty expectations last year, we met those on a frequent basis, so we were able to move the bar up this year. Whether it's points gained per event, whether it's finishing position, whether it's strategy to go attack a superspeedway win," LaJoie said. "The bar has been bumped a little bit, but not very much. We feel like if we just hit our metrics of a top- 20 average finish, certain points gained per event, we can be in that 15th-to-19th points range. Which gives you a fighting chance to be on the fringe of a playoff spot, aside from a win obviously. 

"I feel like that's where we kind of stack up as a team with the depth and the engineering and the resources that we have, which would still be a really long step from where we were last year."

As Spire has become set to elevate its performance from week-to-week, it stands to validate LaJoie's methodical ascension to NASCAR stardom and popularity, consistently showcasing the level of driving talent he possesses. But after two drafting tracks to open the season -- places where LaJoie and his team traditionally ran and finished well anyway -- the true test of exactly how far the No. 7 Chevrolet and its team cars have come is now at hand.

This weekend at Las Vegas presents the first race of the season on a traditional downforce 1.5-mile oval, which promises to showcase exactly which teams should run at the front from week to week. Despite being at or near the same age as some of NASCAR's biggest stars and drivers he grew up racing against -- at 32, he is only a touch older than Cup champions like Chase Elliott, Kyle Larson and Ryan Blaney -- LaJoie has never been in that sort of position before as he has had to take a harder and much longer path to prominence.

Now, he has a window of opportunity before him, trophy cases to fill, and an entire organization to continue to try and elevate beyond just the modest success that they and their driver have experienced together -- four top fives, six top 10s and a best finish of fourth on three occasions -- so far.

"This has been an appetizer. All this work, all the dues being paid, all the hard lessons are just getting me ready," LaJoie said. "I'm 32 years old. I still feel like I have six or seven prime years left. I feel like my career is starting now, getting to a point with a team that's capable of actually going toe-to-toe on a regular basis as opposed to just being the David vs. the 39 other Goliaths every week.

"But I feel like we're prepared. We're gonna be ready to rock, and we're gonna surprise people."