COREY LAJOIE, NO. 7 SCHLUTER SYSTEMS CAMARO ZL1, met with the media in advance of the NASCAR Cup Series weekend at Circuit of The Americas.
CONGRATS ON A GREAT RUN ON SUNDAY AT ATLANTA MOTOR SPEEDWAY. TELL US A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THAT AND KIND OF HOW FUN THAT WAS FOR YOUR TEAM.
“Yeah, I thought it was a great day for us. We talked about it in depth this week obviously on the podcast Stacking Pennies. I think I realized that the fans and everybody who has supported me to get me as far in this thing as I’ve gotten were more excited about it than I am. It was cool to deliver a good result for fans, for our partners Built Bar, Schluter, FOE that was on the car, Drydene, everybody that has been a part of my career who have believed in the abilities to deliver a result like that was cool to finally get the first top five for those guys and hopefully its not the last. For me, it’s not the end of the road. We’re just getting started. Starting the year with three top-15s here at Spire I think should be celebrated as well. We are doing a lunch here with the guys here shortly, so definitely means a lot to those guys. We’ve asked those guys to work more than they probably ever signed up to work. Couple of our guys actually worked all-nighters through the west coast swing to get cars turned around. To congratulate those guys and get those guys a solid run like that makes those guys feel like their work is not, just not lost. When you can deliver on the racetrack with the work they are doing off the racetrack certainly means a lot.”
SPIRE MOTORSPORTS HAS ONE TOP-FIVE FINISH THIS YEAR. JOE GIBBS RACING HAS ONE TOP-FIVE FINISH THIS YEAR. HOW DOES THAT HAPPEN?
“I mean that is a softball for me to insert my foot right into my mouth. Obviously saw Kyle Busch in contention late in Vegas, caution comes out and I think that might have been the only top-five they had. It is a little bit weird looking at the points. I don’t think it is going to stay like that for long because you can’t keep a guy like Denny (Hamlin) or Christopher Bell out of victory lane too long. Seeing the 11 car and the 20 car behind you in points five races into the year is a little bit unique, but we’re not racing those guys. Those guys will ultimately figure out (inaudible) to race and punch their ticket to the playoffs. We’re trying to race the other guys who we’re around to the couple we’re ahead of, to the couple that are right in front of us I think we can get in points. I think the next month or so through these couple road course and a couple short-tracks and then the dirt race, we’re going to try to gap ourselves and put a cushion between the guys who we feel like we can beat in points and hopefully we can finish in the top 25. There is not a Spire Motorsports comparison to the Joe Gibbs, but it is funny enough and they also have double the amount of cars we’ve got. We’ve got two cars; they’ve got four and considerably better funded. We’re going to continue to control what we can control and let everything else work out how it’s supposed to.”
THE LAST 11 RACES HAVE BEEN WON BY DRIVERS UNDER 30. DO YOU FEEL THERE IS A REASON FOR THAT OR IS THAT JUST YOU KNOW KYLE LARSON HAS WON SEVERAL OF THOSE RACES AND HE’S JUST REALLY GOOD OR IS THERE SOMETHING THAT YOU’VE SEEN FROM THE YOUNGER DRIVERS VERSUS THE OLDER DRIVERS?
“You know there are a lot of good guys, young guys driving for good teams. I think that however many of those races were won by Kyle Larson or just a Hendrick driver all together whether that be William (Byron), Chase (Elliott) and Alex (Bowman). Hendrick is probably carrying the flag in terms of young guys. Their driver line up is going to be set for the next decade probably because all of those guys can execute and deliver w’s. Then you lump in guys like Chase Briscoe. I think there’s something a little bit to younger guys or even guys new to the Cup Series that maybe are adapting to this next gen car slightly quicker. I don’t think there’s a whole lot of stock to be put into that, but you know there is obviously just studies done and it’s harder to adapt the older you get. It’s kind of hard to teach and old dog new tricks, but you know the experience and maturity level and speed of those older guys will definitely show up at points throughout the year. It’s definitely an interesting stat. Now, I’d like to figure out how to get to victory lane so they have to change it to 30 and under; not under 30.”
WITH TEMPERATUERES FORCASTED THIS WEEKEND IN THE 80S THIS WEEKEND, WHAT KIND OF CHALLENGES IS THE HEAT GOING TO PROVIDE? I KNOW IT IS LIKELY TO BE THE FIRST HOT WEEKEND OF THE SEASON.
“I’ll be honest I think the heat inside the car is less with the changes they made to the windshield NACA duct with the slots in the rearview around the rear window, the cockpit temperature five races in seems to be slightly cooler than the previous car. It’ll be the first true test to your point of this weekend being in the upper 80s and you’re working hard at a road course. You don’t really get a break aside from the straightaways and then you’re making you know 800-900 pounds of breaking force and you’re turning right, turning left working muscles that you generally don’t work at on an oval. You’re going to be winded, you’re heart rate is going to be up so this will definitely be the first test on heat, but I think my guys have done a good job keeping air circulating in the car well. The cool shirt systems are working well and helmet blowers as well. This will definitely be a good test to see how hot is real hot.”
AFTER LAST YEAR’S ROAD COURSE RACES, WHERE DO YOU EVALUATE YOURESELF ON THOSE TYPES OF TRACKS AND WHAT ARE YOU CONSIDERING A GOOD DAY ON A ROAD COURSE FOR YOURSELF?
“Every single road course in my entire life has been in a Cup car. I haven’t raced K&N, Late Model, like nothing. Every single time I’ve been on a road course has been not a test session, not anywhere else, it’s been on live television in a Cup car. When you’re racing against guys like A.J. Allmendinger and guys that have been doing this their whole life, it’s a pretty big gap to close and you’ve got to close it quickly and adapt because you will get passed over for the next guy that can get the job done. I’ve had to really put in a lot of work with the shifter cart and a little bit of iRacing and we don’t get the OEM simulator to jump on there to knock the rust off, so you really just have to figure out what your weaknesses are and address them really quick. I think generally speaking Chase dumped me at the Daytona Road Course last year when we were looking at, we could have been in the top 20 at all of the road courses last year. That was my goal last year and I’m going to try to carry that over to this year to try to get a top-20 in all the road courses, which would be a tough feat just for my lack of experience on it. I wish I had the opportunity to race in trucks or Xfinity cars like a lot of these guys are plugging their drivers in to get some laps on Saturday before Sunday with limited amount of practice, but I don’t have those resources or tools to be able to do that, so I have to figure out how to bear down and get after it and have a good day on Sunday.”
WHAT WERE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF THE TRACK, PARTICULAR CHALLENGES OF THE TRACK AND THINGS THAT YOU LIKED AND MAYBE DISLIKED ABOUT IT?
“Yeah, I think what’s not taken into consideration over this winter they repaved the majority of the track so the abrasiveness there was an element of tire conservation in the dry that you had to keep in mind, but I think that’s going to be gone because most of the slow speed sections and the esses they repaved. It’s going to be hammer down, super aggressive the entire time and also all the marks and brake markers and visual cues that you were trying to figure out in the rain. For example, you couldn’t see a car length in front of you so my brake marker into 11 or 12 at the end of the long back straightaway, there is a walkway over it, so I knew once I passed the walkway it was a three Mississippi before I had to brake as hard as I possibly could and by then the mist would kind of die down and you could make the corner. I believe I should have a little bit more finer marks than a three Mississippi after a walkway bridge this year but I will have to figure those out in practice and figure it out pretty quick.”
WITH THIS NEW CAR DO YOU EXPECT THE TIRE WEAR TO BE ANY MORE, ANY LESS OR ABOUT THE SAME?
“I think you’ll see the delta from new tires to old tires be more, just because you rely so much on the extra, I believe it’s an inch and a half wider tire patch to make speed early in the run and then if you’re relying that much more on the tires for short run speed then you’re going to give up more on the backend of the run and you’re going to be pedaling. Richmond is a place where you can’t even get wide open on the front straightaway later in the run. I think that’s what the drivers enjoy. I think the Goodyears have been taken to all of these tracks, especially Phoenix and Vegas we’re starting to actually see some marbles like we haven’t seen in a couple years. We’ve seen more rubber dust as opposed to marbles. Hopefully that will kind of lay some rubber down on the racetrack and it makes it wide as opposed to just a one lane racetrack. I generally like going to Richmond, but I think tire conservation and durability will be more of a factor with this Next Gen car and I think you’ll see a lot more commers and goers, guys better on the short runs and versus guys that had your bet to be soft and compliant and be there at the end of the run.”
EVEN WITH THE OLD CAR, THE GAP BETWEEN THE BIGGER TEAMS AND SMALLER TEAMS WAS OBVIOUSLY SMALLER AT SHORT-TRACKS WITH LESS AERO INVOLVED. WITH THIS NEW CAR IS THAT GAP AT SHORT-TRACKS SHRINK ANYMORE?
“I think so, but even though the gap shrinks the amount of time from the first place car to the 30th place car will be less. Whether that is a couple tenths, whatever than number is that gap is less but the percentage of you’re off to the leader is still equally as hard to overcome. If you’re off now two percent in a couple areas, downforce or mechanical grip or dampers or whatever the case may be that you’re a little bit off, it’s going to be that much harder to overcome because there’s guys that are closer to you. If you’re a 20th place car you’re going to have the guys that are 24th or 25th nipping at your heels just the same. Hopefully we can have another good day there. I’m always, I cut my teeth on short-tracks. Had some good runs there in the K&N car at Richmond, so I think I got a decent feel for it. I haven’t run great there in a Cup car so hopefully this current Cup car should change that.”
WHICH WAS COOLER, GOING BACKWARDS THROUGH THE AIR OR GETTING THE TOP FIVE FINISH?
“I could assure you finishing fifth is a hell of a lot cooler than flying backwards not knowing where you’re going to end up. I think the whole event was cool, I’m sure my owners did not appreciate a $300,000 racecar sliding backwards through the grass at 180. Luckily these Next Gen cars are durable, they are able to take some cosmetic damage and not knock a whole lot of speed out of it. You know we saw some guys like Kurt Busch finish fourth with a busted up nose, Kyle Larson was fighting for the lead with a busted up nose. We got lucky man. It’s not often you get to take a ride like that and then turn around and finish top five. We had a fast car. I mean that makes my job easier and when you can be on the offensive, when you can put your car in holes it’s able to maintain and go pass some guys.”
ONE OF THINGS THAT I THINK YOU SAID AFTER YOU GOT OUT OF THE CAR WAS THAT IT WAS ONE OF THE HARDEST HITS YOU’VE HAD. BUBBA WALLACE ALSO SAID THAT HIS WRECK WAS THE HARD HIT. WHAT DO YOU THINK THE CAUSE OF THAT IS AND IS THAT ANY CONCERN GOING FORWARD?
“I mean I didn’t say it was the hardest hit I’ve ever had. I wrecked last week at Phoenix when the wheel fell off and I actually asked NASCAR and John Patalak to pull the crash data. I wrecked there my first Cup year, I got wrecked in the tri-oval and relatively the same angle, same spot and pretty much the data laid over top of each other and actually the old car had a higher peak g load and acceleration than this Next Gen did. Now I don’t think that these things are a little bit stiffer, but with the big front bumpers and rear bumpers and the crash foam in the front, it does absorb a little bit more than the previous car. We’re sitting in 30 600 pounds of steel going 180 miles an hour, like when you hit something it’s going to hurt. you could make the car as safe as you want to but you’re body’s not made to go from 180 to 100 miles an hour in a split second and that’s what we are asking to do. It’s almost an impossible task, but it’s also you know hey, we know what we signed up for. That’s why we get paid a lot of money for a short period of time to do something a lot of other people won’t.”
YOU PARTICIPATED IN LAST FALL TEST IN CHARLOTTE, WHICH WAS THE FIRST TIME YOU GET TO TEST THE NEW CARS ON THE ROAD COURSE. DO YOU THINK YOU WILL HAVE AN ADVANTAGE THIS WEEKEND OR WAS IT TOO LONG AGO AND THE TWO TRACKS ARE TOO DIFFERENT?
“It’s definitely not a disadvantage. You know getting an understanding of how aggressive you can be on the down shifts, how much better braking potential with bigger brake rotors and overall package, has I think the Next Gen car was designed for many different reasons, but I feel like it’s best suited for road courses with wider tires with narrower side walls and that sequential box and bigger brakes. It is going to handle and be a more fun car to drive as opposed to the taxi cabs that we had that wouldn’t turn, wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t go and they had really narrow tires. I think 15-20 minutes of practice, everybody will be up to speed generally by the end of it once you figure out what your markers are. It’s definitely not going to hurt to have some laps of a couple days here at the ROVAL to transfer but the ROVAL across the street from Spire is really not a road course. It’s a bunch of access roads inside of an oval. COTA is a road course designed to F1 specs where there’s some fast, flowy corners, there’s some real slow, technical corners and some heavy braking zones when you’re going almost 190 miles an hour down to probably 35 or 40. So, that’s a road course and that will be the first true test of these cars here this weekend.”
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Note: Corey LaJoie is the son of two-time Xfinity Champion Randy LaJoie who is a native of Norwalk, CT.
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