TRICON Garage driver Corey Heim was made available to media as part of the Championship 4 media day on Wednesday:
COREY HEIM, No. 11 Safelite Toyota Tundra TRD Pro, TRICON Garage
Can you talk about the adventure getting here and what you are building for the future?
“I feel it’s been a long journey, in a short amount of time. In the off season, I was pretty unsure with how all this would end up with TRICON Garage begin kind of a new slated team, and having a new truck and team, with my personal 11 crew, and a new spotter and everything. It was just a fresh slate for me in the offseason, there was a question mark, but in a short period of time, we were able to form a championship contending organization with my team and the 11 crew. Just super thankful for everyone at Toyota Racing and TRICON Garage, TRD, Safelite for everything they do for and cannot wait to go and contend for a championship tomorrow.”
How do you reconcile with the great year you have with a one race championship?
“Throughout the year, I’ve been a big believer in that we’ve gotten better every week, every single race we’ve improved. We got off to a little bit of a slow start for our standards with the first three or four races, but I knew that we had the pieces in places, it was just a matter of putting it all together for me. With having a championship winning crew chief and spotter, all of the variables were kind of there for me, and with the help of Toyota Racing, building up now a championship contending organization, it is definitely special to be a part of such a great team and I cannot wait to go and contend for it.”
Is this season with the consistent success similar to other experiences you have had?
“I don’t know. It is hard to say because I haven’t really run a lot of full time seasons in my career. I ran the ARCA season in 2021, and we were pretty steady throughout the year, but I think it is more about get our feet under us at the beginning of the year – everything was new to me. There was a question mark to start, but once we got our feet under us and knew what we had to do to keep improving to get to this point in our year, we really got our feet under us and started running. Just super special to be a part of.”
Is it a good thing to be the favorite?
“I’ve heard it go both ways, so I don’t know, but I think we’ve earned that label. I guess it doesn’t really matter at the end of the day until you win it. I feel like we have just been so rock solid and consistent since the spring time. We’ve done a good job of executing every week and we show up with fast Toyota Tundra TRD Pros. I feel like ever since around Martinsville when our first win happened, we kind of knew that we were capable of it, it was just a matter of executing from that point.”
How has being locked in since mid-September helped you prepare for some this moment?
“It was nice to be able to kind of spread out some of my studying and really just sit on it for a while and really understand the circumstances. I feel like with it being my first full time season and my first playoffs, being able to sit on it and understand the pressure has really helped me come here and feel a lot better about it. It would be a lot different if I got my win in Homestead, and had a week and a half to think about it, I would come a little unprepared and have a little bit of pressure on me, but to be able to sit on it and study it for six weeks and then show up and kind of know what I need to do, has been big for me.”
Do you go in with a plan?
“I think we go in with a plan every week, but with this being such a big show, the pressure is on to make sure we execute that extra little bit. Our flat track program – as far as a Gateway and Milwaukee-style race tracks – this year has been okay, we could have gotten a little bit better. We have really gone the extra mile these last couple of weeks to make sure we’ve gone back and looked at data with our Toyota Racing people and everyone at TRICON as far as the engineering department, to really make sure we’ve done everything we can to execute on this flat one-mile race track.”
How would winning a championship help with next year?
“It would mean so much. A little over a year ago, we announced our plans to start TRICON Garage with Toyota Racing. Everything was kind of up in the air as far as would it be successful? How long would it take? Within a couple of months, we were already winning races. To be able to really have a true offseason, to really think about it and build on the data that we’ve found this year would be super special to be able to go the extra mile and win more races next year. I feel like last offseason, we were just trying to get all of the variables, and just get to the race track, now we’ve got everything under us that we need – all of the equipment, all of the data – so next year will be special for sure.”
Do you expect to have to have a little bit of elbows out mentality on Friday night?
“The races that I’ve watched, these last couple of years it definitely has gotten a little crazy in the last stage. I’ve been on the good side of that this year, and the bad side of that this year. It’s just a matter of being in the right place at the right time, and setting myself up for the most success that I can.”
What have you learned as a driver from this point last year?
“I feel like just this past year – if you would say one year ago today – I’ve made more progress in one year, than I have in my entire career. Just being able to spend time with Scott Zipadelli, a championship winning crew chief, and Tony Hirschman, a championship winning spotter – just all of the pieces were there for me, and it was just about blending that whole team and getting our feet under us. I really feel like my development has been big this year with TRICON Garage and look forward to making that better next year.”
What do you feel like you have to work on your craft to get better?
“Really just comes down to restarts in my opinion. I’m still somewhat new to the series. It is my first full-time year, so every race I can get under my belt, I feel like I learn something new. It is just a matter of getting those races, I think.”
How do you destress before a moment like this?
“I think it is just doing your job off of the race track and preparation. The more boxes I can check as far as some circumstances that would come up during the race, even before I show up for the weekend, is big for me – to make sure any sort of variable, or issue that can come up during the race, that I’m prepared for. It makes me feel a lot better. The summer stretch that we have – I think we race six weeks in a row – and some races I felt like I wasn’t prepared enough and some issues came up throughout the race that kind of threw me for a loop, but since I’ve known I’ve been locked in since Bristol, I’ve been really able to sit down and make sure I check all of those boxes.”
What was your week like leading into this?
“A lot of laps on the sim, to say the least, but I like to go back and watch the previous races, and see strategy wise, what worked out for people and what didn’t, and also with the access to the Toyota Performance Center, that we have in Mooresville, NC. I was able to talk to some other drivers. I see John Hunter (Nemechek) over there, Christopher Bell – I was able to talk to them about what their experiences are as far as other Championship 4 experiences and what they did to prepare for the race and how be mentally prepared – calm, cool and collected – for it.”
What about personally, do you have a bunch of people out watching it?
“Yeah, we definitely have a lot of friends and family out here to support me, and luckily to say, that I have a lot of supporters in my family in Pittsburgh and Chicago, and they’ve all come out. I’m excited to see them.”
How much does the simulator translate to real life for you?
“I think this year has been a big development in that with coming KBM (Kyle Busch Motorsports), which is a little bit different on the sim side. It has been cool to kind of be the person that kind of tunes the set-ups in perpetration for the race. With the truck schedule the way it is, we really go to every track once – except for Kansas – so next year, I will be able to fine tune it. But to be able to be the person who does all of the tuning, I think has been a pretty big advantage.”
So, you tell them if it is working or not?
“Yeah, pretty much.”
That’s a big role.
“Yeah, it’s been good though. I feel like it’s been a pretty big part of my development in the last year, and I’ve really learned a lot about the engineering side of it. This year has been big for me, and I feel like I’ve really grown a lot.”
How much do you think restarts will factor into tomorrow night?
“Restarts will be pretty big. It’s one of the biggest characteristics of this race track, with the way you approach them, and you can see guys three, four or five wide – even from the drop of the green flag. It’s definitely not going to be easy. I feel like it’s just a matter of putting yourself in the right place at the right time.”
Who have you been able to lean on for guidance?
“Just a little bit of the people around the Toyota Performance Center is the main thing, like John Hunter (Nemechek) and Christopher Bell, to name a few. I feel like they’ve had championship experience in the past and being able to kind of pick their brains on it. They’ve got so much experience in the sport alone, but also that championship mentality, as well. They’ve won championships in their past, so to be able to kind of understand their mental side for a person that is in their first full-time year is kind of tough to understand, but by the day, I feel like I learn more and more.”
Is there anything that has been a part of this process that has surprised you?
“It’s hard to say – not really. Just being around the sport for a while, being a fan before a driver, has really given me a pretty good understanding of what it is like to be in these high-pressure situations, but also with the Truck schedule being as spread out as it is, I’ve been able to think about it more and more. I would say it’s all kind of gone to plan so far.”
Can you explain to me that fandom?
“I would say I’m a first generation kind of driver. My dad (Ray) has raced as a hobby, but never took it as a career. We were always big NASCAR fans growing up, when I was three, four, five years old. He surprised me with a quarter midget – I think it was for my fifth birthday – and raced locally in Georgia for almost 10 years in quarter midgets, and then finally moved up to Legends cars at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and it was always kind of my dream to race at Atlanta Motor Speedway, and I actually got my first Truck win there too, so that was super special. Moments like those are what make me super appreciative of racing for sure.”
Which drivers did you like as a kid?
“I was always a big Denny Hamlin fan. Always a big Denny fan.”
Have you ever met him?
“Actually, never met him.”
Are you excited about 2024, knowing your plans are solidified?
“I’m super excited. Those group of guys have been super key to my success this year, especially Scott Zipadelli, Kevin Ray, David Gilliland, Johnny Gray – and everyone at Toyota Racing as well. The dedication that they’ve put into this program this year without a true offseason to kind of look everything over, and the fact that we are going to be able to do that this offseason is super exciting for me personally. To our standards, I feel like we got off to a little bit of a slow start this year, so to be able to go back and look that over is going to be super helpful for us.”
How do you pull off the top-10 streak that you’ve had?
“I think just showing up to the race track every week with all boxes checked in preparation, all of the sim work we’ve done throughout the season and being able to execute on that with Scott Zipadelli and our crew has been super big for us. Being able to prepare every week and know that we have a fast Tundra and that we are able to go out and run every race has been really big for me. Hopefully, we can build on that and get a couple of more wins next year.”
As a driver, what is your x-factor?
“I would say that I am one of the more calm drivers in the field. I really feel like I don’t make a lot of enemies out there, and I feel like I just focus on myself – and not to say that they don’t, but like Chris (Knight) just mention with the top-10 streak that we’ve had – I feel like it’s just going out there and being consistent. It sounds cliché, but that’s what it comes down to, making sure you don’t take a fifth-place truck and try to win with it and wreck. It’s just about having those consistent days. With how the final four deal works, you just have to beat the other three – so it’s kind of gloves off.”
Do you feel like that consistency makes you the favorite going into tomorrow?
“I would say no. It’s just about winning the race. The way the Playoff format works and throughout the year, it definitely pays to be consistent with Playoff points and what not, but when you come here, the points reset and it’s pretty much just whoever beats the other drivers, but the goal is to win. We have shown we are capable of that, and I don’t think it is out of the question by any means. We are plenty capable of winning the race and the championship, but consistency doesn’t really matter at this point.”
Is there a favorite?
“No, I wouldn’t say so.”
It does seem pretty even.
“Yeah, I would say so. Even the drivers that may have not quite had the success, they have the championship experience. Ben (Rhodes) has won a championship, and Grant (Enfinger) has been in it several times, and Carson (Hocevar) has had an unbelievable year. I wouldn’t say there is a clear favorite, but my confidence is in us, and I really feel like we are capable of doing it.”
Do you have a timeline on how quick you move to the Cup Series?
“I would say it’s a year-by-year thing. Next year, I’m focused on ’24, and beyond is kind of the question mark at this point. I’m just really confident in what I’ve got going for me, and the program I’m with – Toyota Racing – have always set me up for success, and always have put me in the best scenario that I could ask for. I’m confident that going forward that would be the same.”
How are you prepared to handle the pressure?
“For me, it’s going out and doing what I’ve been doing. We’ve had such a successful year as far as being in contention every single week. For us, it’s not doing anything crazy different, more off the track – just making sure we have all of our boxes checked and preparation for this race is the big thing. For the most part, we have just been so solid every single week, so it is going out and executing.”
How much of your preparation is mental?
“I would say it’s a huge part of it for sure. Mental piece is tough – I won’t deny it. I’m definitely nervous – I won’t deny it. But I feel like for me personally, it has never weighed me down. It has always made me more motivated to go out and execute. I love the pressure. I think pressure is a privilege.”
What area do you think you made the biggest improvement this year?
“Really just consistency. Really last year, the announcers talked about it every week just that we were super hit or miss. It was either feast or famine for us. This year, I’ve really done a good job, I feel like, of not taking a fifth-place truck and try to win with it, and then wrecking. It’s more about just maybe taking a fifth-place truck and finishing fourth-place with it, or more focusing on myself and maybe a potential adjustment in the truck. For me, just the consistency part of it.”
What do you feel like you need to get better at next year?
“I feel like closing races. This year, I feel like my team – TRICON Garage and Toyota Racing – has given me plenty of opportunities to win races, more than we won this year. There is a couple, here and there, that still sting to this day and I feel like drops on me. So I feel like in the offseason, and kind of looking at what I could do better to close those races out is going to be the main thing for me.”
You are in the Toyota-pipeline. What have you heard from them and your future with them?
“It’s hard to say. I feel like every year with my development with Toyota Racing, they have put me in a good position to succeed. I feel like I’ve been successful with them since I joined the program. Next year, coming back to the Truck Series, I feel like it will be no different and when I’m ready to move up, they’ll move me up.”
Can you talk about how the Xfinity races have helped you?
“I really feel like it has been great for my development. I feel like any kind of new situation that I can be put in to grow my mental side of it and my knowledge of the sport has been really good for me. I’ve done races in the GR Cup Series. I’ve done late model races, Trucks, Xfinity – you name it. Anything I can use to grow my knowledge in the sport has been good for me.”
What have you learned at Phoenix in previous races?
“Any race I can get, especially here, which I feel is a very experience-oriented track has really been big for me. My first start here was in 2019, so it has been almost four years since I made my first start here. Each and every start I’ve been able to get at a certain track has been key to my development and my growth, and I plan to use that to my advantage this weekend.”
What would it mean to you to bring a championship to TRICON Garage?
“It would mean the world to me. Those guys work their butts off, week-in and week-out. It has been a lot of early mornings and late nights for them. To be able to see the smiles on their faces after we win this thing will be really cool.”
Is your preparation the next 24 hours going to be any different?
“Pretty similar stuff. I feel like during the week and the weeks leading up to a race is the main important areas to prepare for a race, so I feel like this it is just going out and making sure I’m getting hydrated, fed and ready to go.”
What has this been like for you?
“I won’t deny – I’m definitely nervous about it. I think that is kind of a given with it being the biggest race of my life, but I’ve never let that weigh me down. I’ve always used that to my advantage. I believe if you are not nervous, you are not ready. I definitely feel like I’m ready.”
What is it like being the guy who has been on top all season and now it comes down to one race?
“Definitely gives me a lot of confidence in my team – knowing that we’ve been so good at every race track since spring time this year. Definitely gives me a lot of confidence going into this weekend. It is all reset at this point, so it is kind of hard to say where wer are going to end up, but we have a long 50-minute practice tonight and I look forward to going out and executing on it.”
Are you nervous if you unload and you are a little bit off?
“Well, that is not the goal, so hopefully we are good. I feel like we have been really good off the truck, basically every week this year, so we kind of have a little extra time to go out and try some different stuff. We are going to treat it little bit like a test and try some things, and use our teammates to our advantage to make sure we have the exact package that we need going into tomorrow night.”
Are there any tracks that are similar to Phoenix?
“Yeah, you could say similar. I feel like Phoenix is a little bit of its own animal. It’s a flat track, pretty abrasive. You could say Milwaukee, maybe Gateway in a way, but once again, Phoenix is really unique in its own – I’ve never been to a place quite like it. It’s a big variable for us, because we only race one time a year here with the Truck Series. I’ll knock the rust off and see how it goes.”
What can you take from this race one year ago?
“I feel like that race was a key for this championship race this weekend, just to be able to go back and rely on that information and knowledge that I gained from that race. I won’t get into specifics, but I feel like there was a lot of stuff on my end that I could’ve cleaned up. To take that knowledge and apply it to sim and work on that the past six or seven weeks has been key.”
Do you feel like it is your title to lose?
“I wouldn’t say so. I just feel like it gives me more confidence really, that sure enough we will be at least in contention for it. I feel like I’ve got a really good team in TRICON Garage and Toyota Racing under me to succeed. It is just about going out and executing. The statistics are great and all, but at this point it doesn’t really matter. The goal is to just go win the race and win the championship.”
Golin for Toyota Racing PR