Toyota Racing – NCS Darlington Quotes – 23XI Press Conference – 05.12.24

23XI Racing driver Corey Heim, 23XI president Steve Lauletta and TRD general manager Tyler Gibbs were made available to the media prior to the NASCAR Cup Series race at Darlington Raceway on Sunday.

COREY HEIM, No. 50 Mobil 1 Toyota Camry XSE, 23XI Racing

STEVE LAULETTA, president, 23XI Racing

TYLER GIBBS, general manager, TRD, USA

How did that announcement come together?

LAULETTA: “We are lucky enough to have a new relationship with ExxonMobil with Toyota’s help, across the Toyota teams. I tossed out an idea, late last year with them, knowing that they were going to celebrate their 50th anniversary – that we’d run a third car a couple of times last year. I told them that we could run it as the 50 car – I had no idea there was another car running the 50, which was some work for me to do. We agreed that we would do three races with three different types of storytelling opportunities, and the second one – which is Nashville – is with our young friend, Corey (Heim). We are thrilled to put him in one of our cars and have him run as a driver in his own car. It was good for him to get a couple of races with LEGACY, unfortunate for the circumstances, but we’ve been planning this for a while. He’s spent some time with us at our facility and we are thrilled to get him to hop in the 50 car with Mobil 1, and help continue to celebrate their 50th anniversary.

GIBBS: “We’ve had a long relationship with ExxonMobil – both on the technical side, as well as the partnership side. You see them in the GR Cup, and you see them with Jade (Avedisian) in the dirt and you see them with John Hunter (Nemechek) in Xfinity last year and a whole bunch of different places, so when Steve (Lauletta) presented this opportunity to us and to Mobil1 – it was a no brainer for us. Corey (Heim) is clearly ready, and we are really excited to see where this goes.”

What does this opportunity mean to you?

HEIM: “It means the world. It is such an unbelievable opportunity, first of all, with me being in my fifth year of developing with Toyota Racing, and just stepping through the ladder and to come all the way from ARCA to Cup with Toyota Racing and make my first start with my name on it with 23XI Racing. As Steve (Lauletta) mentioned, we’ve been planning this for a while previous to those two Cup races with LMC (LEGACY MOTOR CLUB), so to have my name on it and to celebrate with Mobil 1 and their 50th anniversary, and to have that on board is very special. I can’t wait for that.”

What was it about Corey Heim that said to you that he was ready for this opportunity?
LAULETTA: “What he is doing on the race track, number one. We do have the relationship with LEGACY, ourselves, with Corey (Heim) being our reserve driver for the moments, like what happened. He has spent time with our competition folks. He’s been at Airspeed with us. You’ve seen some of our posts of his history as a fan of Denny’s (Hamlin) – I can tell you Denny is a tremendous fan of his and what he’s doing on the race track. It was time to give him the opportunity to get him with a car like ours, and a team like ours and see what he could do in a race. We did a lot of conversations with him and Toyota to pick the right race and one that we will feel like will be a good one for him Nashville. Having Kamui (Kobayashi) run in COTA and following that with Corey, we feel like that is a nice storytelling opportunity for Mobil 1 and our team.”

When this opportunity came up, what did it mean to you?

HEIM: “Yeah, as you mentioned, I’m a pretty levelheaded person. I’m not overly emotional, but just to think about where I was at three or four years ago to step through this ladder and come to the Cup Series in the way that I have. It definitely got me pretty emotional. I’ve always dreamed of being a Cup driver, but I was never too sure of the opportunities that laid ahead, and to finally know I get my shot, I get my opportunity – of course, this was previous to knowing that I would be running the two Cup races for LMC (LEGACY MOTOR CLUB) – it definitely made me pretty emotional and really excited to say the least. But I’m ready to make the most of it. It is a tremendous opportunity. I have so many great people in my corner, supporting me – 23XI, Toyota Racing and Mobil 1 – to have them all in my corner is tremendous and I can’t wait.”

How do those two starts tie in to helping you prepare for Nashville?

HEIM: “Under harsh circumstances, I made the most of it. I think those two starts were pretty crucial with my experience to prepare Nashville. Of course, you never want to be thrown in at the last minute, but with the harsh circumstances, it is what my job is – to be a reserve driver for LMC (LEGACY MOTOR CLUB) and 23XI Racing. I think being a sim driver for LMC this year has prepared me for this opportunity to an extent, but nothing beats real sim time. Going out there and getting the laps and having a 400-lap race to settle in – figure it out in stage one, settle in, in stage two, and hopefully, close in on stage three, and that is sort of what I did. As you mentioned, concrete race track at Dover will translate to Nashville. All of the drivers in the Cup Series, and me included, have agreed that seat time trumps everything, so to have those two races is crucial for my experience going up to Nashville with 23XI and hopefully it pays off.”

What was about Corey that you knew he was ready for this opportunity?

GIBBS: “I think the first thing for the driver is that they need to be fast, but growing up in culture, he learned those things, but some of it is just Corey (Heim) and the person that he is, so from that perspective, the moment isn’t too big for him. We know that he has the talent – that is pretty clear. When you watch the way he races, even before he was racing with LEGACY. From that perspective, he was one of two or three choices that were pretty clear for us, and when you look at his relationship with Mobil 1, us, the 50th anniversary, the story of bringing him in the series this year – it was a clear choice.”

How close do you think you are to a third charter for 23XI?

LAULETTA: “We are not close because everything right now is what ifs and maybes and who knows until there is a charter agreement. That is the key. That is what needs to happen. That is what, I know, everyone is working hard and focused on doing, so at the end of this year, there are charters so that there is something we can then talk about and see what the future plays out to be.”

Does 23XI have the infrastructure to run a third car?

LAULETTA: “Look, when we moved to Airspeed – we are going to open that to the public at the end of the year – we didn’t build it to only run two cars. We are proving that. I’ve said that all along – we ran a third car twice last year, and we wanted to do it at least that many, and we are going to do it three times this year. We are building towards that. Whether or not that is in the immediate future of next year or beyond, that is something that we will have our eyes on.”

Can you add another car from the Toyota side?

GIBBS: “From our side, the key thing is going to be the timing. If decisions are made in October or November, that is a whole lot more difficult if they are made sooner. So from our perspective, we are working towards being ready to do that, if the opportunity arises.”

What stands out about Corey to you?

LAULETTA: “He does it with a great attitude and he fits right in. Personality wise, you guys have been around him, you can see what a genuine person he is – which is important – that is the kind of people and culture that we want to have at 23XI. He’s a sponge in terms of what he is learning. I get that from our competition guys. He’s asked to sit in some of our meetings already, and I think what he gets from that is really important as he builds his knowledge, and as I’ve said, Denny (Hamlin) is super impressed with him, and has been for a long time. It was not a big leap for us to say – we did the 67 in Daytona with Travis (Pastrana), but it was time to get on an oval – a mile-and-a-half – and see what we could do, and there was only one name that we talked about and he is sitting right here.”

You have a lot of a young talent with the team. Is that how you are trying to build 23XI?

LAULETTA: “Everything is opportunistic, and the pieces have to fit together at the right time, which did quickly with Bubba (Wallace) and we a little more time with Tyler (Reddick) and now we are going to take our time to see what the next move is. When those pieces fit together, I’m sure we are not going to do it unless it is the perfect fit because we don’t want to take any steps backwards from where we are today, so it is definitely with a super diligent mindset that we are going to do anything moving forward.”

How do you evaluate who gets these opportunities?

LAULETTA: “From as far as setting it up, there is a lot of conversations with a lot of partners involved. We talk to Toyota all of the time, obviously Mobil 1 in this instance, our internal competition staff and staff on how we want to position ourselves as a race team, so there are a million things that go into every decision that we make, this one was really important. There was a lot of things that really needed to line up to make it happen. There is a lot of parts and pieces – I mean, if I had to show you the spreadsheet on how we decided on Nashville, it is a lot of work to make sure we put our best foot forward as a team all the time, and that is what led us to Corey (Heim) and that is what led us to Nashville.”

What are you doing behind the scenes to prepare for this?

HEIM: “From my standpoint, this year, I’m really focused on trying to win a truck championship first of all. I’ve always been a person to take it a week-by-week basis. I’ve never really projected ahead into the year. I’ve never been a person to focus on a year, because for me it is just a week-by-week basis. This is an incredible opportunity with 23XI when the time comes and the moment is there, but I’m focused on winning the truck championship and being ready for that.”

How do you stay ready in a reserve driver role?

HEIM: “Luckily with the Truck Series, we follow the schedule for the most part, so I will have a general idea of what to look for on certain racetracks. Now when a week comes up, such as a Sonoma, that’s a couple of weeks ago – that is definitely tougher to be prepared, when you don’t have a lot of laps at a certain race track, but as I touched on earlier, I do all of the simulation and reserve driver kind of things for LMC (LEGACY MOTOR CLUB) and 23XI, so I do get laps during the week to get experience from a virtual side of things, which helps, but it is tougher when you don’t have that real life experience, but it is part of the learning process on my part.”

What is it like receiving praise from your Toyota teammates?

HEIM: “Over the years, I’ve gotten along great with my Toyota teammates. We all work out of the same buildings during the week, between the Toyota Performance Center in Mooresville, and TRD in Salisbury, North Carolina. We see each other in passing a lot between all of the Toyota teams, from late models all the way to Cup. I’ve gotten along great with all of my Toyota teammates, and John Hunter (Nemechek) is a guy that I’ve been fortunate enough to be teammates with all of the way back at KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports) and now, somewhat, at LMC (LEGACY MOTOR CLUB). It has been great. He has been a great teammate; a great supporter and I love reaching out and picking his brain out about certain things. It definitely helps with those two Cup starts as well. Him as well as all of our other Toyota teammates that I’ve been fortunate enough to pick their brain throughout the years, has definitely been really good for me in my development.”

Does hearing from other Toyota drivers that they agree with decision make you feel even better about it?

LAULETTA: “For sure. Again, I don’t think anyone should have been surprised that we tapped him on the shoulder to give him his chance to run a Cup race. He’s earned it, and I think he proved with the two races with LMC (LEGACY MOTOR CLUB) that we made the right decision for sure.”

GIBBS: “I just think the work that Corey (Heim) has done as the reserve driver, in terms of some of the meetings he sat in, some of the work that he does during the week, just reinforces that. It is certainly nice to hear the other drivers say that, but to Steve’s (Lauletta) point, I don’t think anyone is really surprised just knowing the contribution that Corey puts in behind the scenes.”

Toyota Racing PR