chevy racing–nascar–dover–corey lajoie

HOW DO YOU FEEL THE SEASON HAS PLAYED OUT AND ARE YOU AT PAR OR, A PLUS OR MINUS?“I think, on paper, we are probably a minus. But I think internally, we are better off. We had mechanical failures early. We had an engine break and a couple of things happen. We had a really good run at Martinsville. We should have probably had a Top 10 result there, but we got caught up on pit road. We’ve had four DNF’s, so if we clean those up, then we’re 24th or 25th in points, which I feel like really over-achieving for what we set out to do. But we’re sitting there in 30th or whatever it is in points, and still pretty bullish on what we’re capable of doing. It was a little bit more of a transition than I expected from the Ford Mustangs we ran last year and transferring the set-ups over to these Ganassi Camaros, the aero balance was a little bit different. They had a little bit more front downforce, so we had to adjust, and we probably threw away three or four weeks on intermediate tracks to get that balance figured out. But I think we’ve got a pretty good handle on what these cars need to make some speed and I was pretty happy with how we ran at Darlington. We were probably a 20th to 23rd place car, around 22nd, and I think for us, that’s checking the boxes and incrementally getting better and figuring out the things we need to do to get better throughout the year.”
WHAT’S IT LIKE SERVING IN A BIT OF A MENTOR ROLE TO JUSTIN HALEY AND WHAT CAN YOU SAY ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP YOU’VE DEVELOPED AT SPIRE MOTORSPORTS?“I’ve actually grown to kind of like it. It’s this weird phase in your career when you realize you’re not the young guy anymore. You were always the young guy looking up to Jimmie Johnson or all these guys you grew up idolizing. Now, you look in the mirror and you are 29 or 30 years old with a couple of years of Cup experience under your belt. Now you’ve got a 22-year-old kid behind you and you are offering advice and you’re almost mirroring stuff that people have told you along the way. I’ve enjoyed that. We don’t get a whole lot of time. His focus is primarily on a Xfinity car and trying to go for a championship there with Kaulig Racing, but it’s fun to interact and just get to see his perspective on things because his path to how he got where he is, is a little bit different than mine. So, to see and compare different racing experiences together. He can give me some pointers sometimes, too, from the Xfinity race the day before (like) what the tires do and how much grip the track gives up, or whatever the case might be. So, I lean on him probably just as much as he leans on me for advice because he’s getting more seat time every weekend than I am on the race track.”
FIVE OF THE NEXT 11 POINTS RACES ARE ON ROAD COURSES. WHAT HAVE YOU GUYS AT SPIRE DONE TO PREPARE, ESPECIALLY THAT WE DIDN’T RACE AT WATKINS GLEN OR SONOMA LAST YEAR?“I do not like the fact that you reminded me there are five on road courses out of the next 11. I haven’t had a lot of experience on road courses growing up, for whatever reason. My first ever road course experience was in a Cup car at Watkins Glen. But I ran a car down at COTA earlier this year, in December, just to see the place and figure out the braking points and stuff like that. I feel like I’ll be able to pick-up fairly quick when we go to Austin, but I’ve never been to Road America. I’ve only got one of two races at Sonoma. That’s certainly my weak point. But I’ve been working hard on it. It’s totally different than what I grew up doing. I’ve got to put a little more weight into it since NASCAR is obviously going the way of a couple more road courses on the schedule and talking about street courses in the future. So, there’s no excuse to not work hard at it and I know my guys here at Spire Motorsports are going to do their best to give me a good car. I don’t want to be the weak link in the seat.”
WAS THERE ANYTHING ABOUT THE COTA TRACK THAT YOU FEEL IS UNIQUELY DIFFERENT FROM THE ROAD COURSES YOU’VE RUN AT PREVIOUSLY?“There’s not a whole lot of elevation change besides that big uphill climb into Turn 1. I ran a BMW down there, which was a WRL race and there were about eight different classes. The speed discrepancy was big. So, I was right there in the middle. My point being if I’d gone off Turn 1 and there was a GT car behind me and he didn’t get around me through that right-hand sweeper, up until the esses, he was stuck behind me because the course is so slow and those esses tighten-up so much. I think if you are somebody who might not be as fast as somebody in front of you, if you can just maintain your position on a restart through (Turns) 1 and 2 and get to the esses, you can maintain that position all the way down into (Turn) 11 and into the hairpin and it’ll single out and you can probably maintain for a long time. There are only three passing zones, I think. Beyond that, there’s going to be a lot of sliding around because that track is pretty racy.”
HOW MANY CARS CAN YOU FIT IN SOME OF THOSE WIDER AREA TURNS?“It’s a wide track but on the flipside, it’s only one fast groove, so you might be able to fit four cars, but the preferred lane is going to go. I’m not sure how it’s going to play out. I like the fact that it’s not quite as fast as Watkins Glen, so you’re not depending on aero so much up through the esses because Watkins Glen is an intermediate road course at this point in time with how much grip it’s got and how much downforce your car makes. So, I don’t think it’s going to be quite to that level. It’s going to be a little bit faster than Sonoma and kind of a good mix of both. I think it should be a good race. I’m just excited to go to a new market down there in Austin and see how the fans support it.”
DO YOU FEEL LIKE IF YOU STAY ON THE RACE TRACKS AND MINIMIZE MISTAKES THAT A SMALLER TEAM LIKE YOURSELF THAT YOU CAN GET SOME ABOVE AVERAGE FINISHES IN THE NEXT FEW WEEKS?“I would like to think so. You can point to Jeremy Clements winning that Road America race a couple of years ago. Xfinity racing is so much different than Cup racing. There might be 10 guys who know what they’re doing on a Saturday afternoon. There are 32 or 35 guys on a Sunday who know what they’re doing. The odds of 15 guys missing the boat or having the wrong strategy is very slim. That’s why those guys are making a lot of money, whether it be on the pit road side, or behind the wheel. It’s just as hard to sneak a finish at a speedway race as a road course or short track race just because everybody is a professional. That’s why it’s the big time. It’s not the minor leagues. And I don’t think you’re going to see a deep-in-the-field guy sneak one out at a road course unless there’s just some absolutely crazy pit strategy and he can go long or whatever the case may be, but I just don’t think you’re going to see it because the simulation models are too good. They’ve got engineers at the track as well as a whole compound at the shop running the infinite possibilities of strategy outcomes. When you’re up against that sort of stuff, it’s hard to sneak a good finish in any given week, let alone a road course.”
HOW MUCH DOES RUNNING SHIFTER CARS ACTUALLY HELP?“It doesn’t hurt. The only thing that hurts are your ribs if you hit a curb. Those things are just a person mover. I think the sensation of speed, braking technique are somewhat similar, but you have to have a lot of finesse wrestling a 3600-pound car around the track instead of just getting after it in a shifter car. I’ve learned a lot of things. I’ve picked up a lot of speed just forcing myself to learn different ways and different apexes into the corner just at a go-kart track. So, I think it’s not so much applying go karts to Cup cars as much as it is making your brain be flexible to constantly get better and make adjustments to trying to find speed. And I think that that side of it is what correlates the most.”
HOW ARE SOME OF THE COST CUTTING MEASURES FOR THE NEXT GEN CAR GOING TO HELP THE SMALLER TEAMS?“I think short term, it’s probably going to be a wash or a push to what we have now because now we can lean on Ganassi and Hendrick to get some of their hand-me-down stuff instead of cutting a seven-figure check to get all new parts in the door. I think the long-term gain of the trickle down, affect behind a team like Hendrick or Ganassi or Penske or Gibbs or all those big guys not spending the money at R&D to develop new parts. The infinite amounts of things they can work on and find just morsels of speed is what’s going to trickle down and save everybody money. But at the end of the day, big teams are always going to spend a little bit more and have more people and spend more time in the wind tunnel and stuff like that. So hopefully we can pick-up where we’d like to. I don’t think it’s going to be even by any means like some people might think. But you’re not going to worried about getting beaten because you have a different left-front upper control arm, or your suspension is a little bit different than the next guy’s. You’ve got to stack the pennies.
“I think for the first half of the year the bigger teams are going to further separated from the smaller teams than they are right now just because we have notes we can lean on. I’m probably a little bit nervous because we’re doing all we can at Spire Motorsports to get our cars currently on the race track with all the notes and all the decades’ worth of set-ups we have. And then we throw a whole new mix into it where there’s all the other bigger teams, obviously the ones who are competing for championships, have a working group internally already figuring that Next Gen car out and figuring areas they can work on with the bodies and suspension like that to obviously get themselves a competitive advantage. So, if we’re running as lean as we are now just to get to the race track, we have no time to look into the future and work on that Next Gen car until after the year is over. So, that’s what I’m a little bit worried about just to hit the ground running. But I’m also confident on the other side of the coin, in Ryan Sparks’ abilities as an engineer and racer to figure that car out quick. And everybody underneath at Spire Motorsports will figure it out. We’re just going to have to get lean and mean and get after it and not make excuses.”
LOOKING AT DOVER THIS WEEKEND WITH STEEP BANKING ALL AROUND, HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE MILES THE MONSTER AT DOVER PRETTY MUCH IN REAL LIFE IN TERMS OF THAT STEEP BANKING?“it’s probably one of the most unique places we go to because the rubber lays down really heavy and the track gets really wide, depending on what tire and downforce package we have. Obviously, we have the low downforce package. So, we’re going to get up the race track quite a bit searching for grip and trying to get a better run down the hill and put power down on the straightaways. I’ve had success there in a K&N car there in year’s past and have run well there in a Xfinity car, so I always have confidence going to the Monster Mile. But that’s a place, man, where it’s really car dependent. Your car has to get over the bumps. Your shocks have to be dialed in and you have to have a lot of downforce and a lot of motor. So, it’s one of the more-heavier-dependent car tracks that we go to on the circuit. And if you’re off a little bit, compared to those leaders, you’re in the way. This is the most excited I’ve been in my career going to Dover in a Cup car just because I know what we continue to build to. Our cars have more downforce, and we have good engines this year as well. So, judging by our performance last week at Darlington, where like I said, a 22nd place car, and if we can run there, then we can run 20th and when we start running there we can run on the back-end of the Top 15 and that’s kind of the trajectory that we’re trying to put ourselves on.”
WHAT HAS SURPRISED YOU THE MOST ABOUT THIS SEASON AS WE APPROACH THE HALF-WAY POINT?“How many winners there have been; I think we talk about that every week in my podcasts. Granted, we’ve got Martin Truex Jr. winning three, but beyond that, everybody has only won one. And the fact we haven’t seen Kevin Harvick or Denny Hamlin find Victory Lane is a little bit surprising for me. I think competitively, this is probably one of the most competitive seasons in NASCAR of all time. So, I’m excited to see how that boils down by the end of the regular season because having Daytona, there are a couple of different factors into that. All the teams have a couple extra speedway cars left and there are only two more speedway races left and one can punch your ticket into the Playoff, potentially. I think everybody is going to be tightening the belts up and putting it in there and trying to contend for a win at Daytona and then that fall race at Talladega will be just tighten the belts and throw caution to the wind and bring home the steering wheel. So, there is a lot of stuff to look forward to if you’re a race fan as we continue to see the numbers on TV grow or stay consistent. Those are really optimistic numbers. I do think there’s still room to grow. There’s a lot of things to be excited about as both a competitor in the sport as well as a fan, right now.”