COREY LAJOIE, NO. 7 SCHLUTER SYSTEMS CAMARO ZL1, met with the media Friday ahead of the first practice sessions for the NASCAR All-Star weekend. Press Conference Transcript:
GIVE US YOUR OVERALL THOUGHTS OF WALKING IN TODAY.
“I put it on Instagram yesterday, a Throwback Thursday… my wife and I took our engagement pictures here in 2018. I didn’t anticipate seeing it in the condition it is currently. It really is something dead that came back to life from the blood-stained gurneys and whatever this room was. I think it was this room where there were some things that you can’t unsee that were in this place five years ago. I don’t think we can give credit to Marcus Smith and the SMI group enough to bring this place back to life. For us to hold the All-Star race here, it really is really cool. When we were here taking pictures, I figured the next time I’d see this place, it would be a cornfield or something and be ruins. The fact that this place is very much alive and looks like we are going to be here for a long time coming makes me excited as a competitor.”
WHAT COMPELLED YOU TO TAKE YOUR ENGAGEMENT PHOTOS HERE?
“It took a lot of persuasion obviously, right? It’s got to be moody. It’s got to have the right lighting and the whole thing. It had to fit the look that my wife wanted. I showed her some cool pictures. It’s one thing to go to a racetrack… that’s kind of corny to shoot engagement photos. That’s kind of like going to a racetrack for your graduation photos. The fact that it was a run-down, broken-down speedway such as North Wilkesboro at that time, it was a bit easier of a pitch than I expected it to be. We’ve got some really cool pictures that we have framed up on the wall, so it’s pretty cool to come back to the same spots we took pictures at. We took some pictures on the roof in Victory Lane as well, so hopefully we can take a couple more pictures Sunday night. That would be a pretty special event for sure.”
“How’d we get in? There’s a fence with a little gap in it… no, I said we snuck in. We didn’t. I called Graham Smith. He asked his dad. He got me in touch with that grumpy guy out front in the trailer with the Chocolate Lab. The call didn’t make it to Paul, apparently. I rolled up and he was not too impressed that some people showed up with a makeup artist, a photographer and some people who were done up in nice clothes. So I had to call Marcus up and say, ‘No, no… I promise. I’m allowed to be here.’ Or at least I got the OK.”
NEXT WEEK IS THE COCA-COLA 600. WHAT MAKES IT ONE OF THE CROWN JEWEL RACES AND WHAT DO YOU EXPECT TO SEE?
“I think we’ve seen the Next-Gen car perform the best at the intermediates. Just going to that race as a kid growing up in your backyard, those guys really embrace the Memorial Day aspect with all the pre-race festivities. It gives you goosebumps. I have goose bumps right now just talking about the Blackhawks flying in and guys repelling down with ropes before the race starts. You also know as a driver that you’re going to be locked in for four-and-a-half hours. As the race transitions from day to night, your car goes through a lot of balance changes, so it definitely takes every ounce of concentration you have. You have to have a really solid pit crew that night. You have to have a really solid focus from top to bottom. The Coke 600 is one of my crown jewels on my list, for sure.”
AS YOU’VE COME IN HERE NOW, WHAT ARE YOUR FIRST IMPRESSIONS OF THE CHANGES AT THE TRACK?
“I came to the Racetrack Revival, the Late Model race that Dale Jr., ran in August or September last year. We had the motorhome parked up almost where they had the temporary suites in the back. Just how much of a facelift this place has and how hard these guys have worked to get the track surface and continue to patch that up and put band-aids on that 40-year-old surface… we’ve been scratching our heads all week to try and figure out what the best setup is going to be to try and get some tire longevity over the 100-lap All-Star Open and then the All-Star race as well. How clean it is certainly is what I notice, right? The paint is new. Everything is pretty new except the 40-year-old asphalt we’re racing on. I like that element but also I’m not going to be upset when they dig it up and put a new, fresh layer of pavement on this thing so we can really put on a race where you can hammer down, spin some guys and run close together. I don’t think we’re going to see super-tight racing here over the course of the weekend because of how limited the traction is.”
WOULD YOU ADVOCATE COMING BACK HERE NEXT YEAR?
“Brad (Keselowski) was up here talking about the stale schedule. Weaving in some events like this… I do think there are markets that I think we should go to every other year or every three years. I’d love to see Kentucky come back occasionally on the schedule. I’d love to see the Nashville Fairgrounds when they get that place hopefully up and going. I think there are going to be some traffic concerns come Sunday. To come back here as an every year All-Star race would be a good setting, but that’s way above my pay grade to figure that out. But I love a good short track, for sure.”
WE’VE NOT HAD A CUP RACE ON A SURFACE THIS OLD. COULD THERE BE POSITIVE BENEFITS TO THAT?
“The biggest benefit is that the engineers haven’t had time to figure it out yet or make it bad. When the engineers have a good, validated sim model or a good, validated track grip to figure out where the bumps are at, they make the cars drive considerably better so the gap between the comers and goers is a lot more. I think you’re going to see some guys with their setups skewed more toward short-run speed. Some guys skewed more toward long-run speed. I think you’re going to get some disparity there toward the back end of the run… 25 or 40 laps somewhere in that window, you’re going to see some guys fall off heavy and some guys hang on. I don’t think people anticipate how slow we are going to be going. We’re going to probably be two seconds slower than what the Super Late Models were here on Wednesday night just because our cars are a thousand pounds heavier. A lot of factors are playing into this weekend. We’ll be sliding around and I’ll bet you we don’t even get 50 percent throttle after 15 laps. So it definitely will be a challenge.”
SEEING THE AMOUNT OF EVENTS IN CUP AND SHORT-TRACK… THERE’S A LOT OF RACING THIS MONTH. HOW EXCITING IS IT TO HAVE THAT KIND OF SPEEDWEEKS ENVIRONMENT HERE?
“Yeah, it’s really cool man. Like Brad said, not having to fly anywhere for three weeks in a row is really nice. It’s nice to see short-track racing being healthy as well as NASCAR being healthy. The turnout here over the course of the week has been really impressive. I’m excited to see how amped up the fans are. Today even, it’s starting to fill up and it’s only 2 or 3 o’clock. Sunday is going to be a packed house, I’m sure.”
WE HAVE SUCH A BIG FIELD FOR THE ALL-STAR RACE THAT IT’S ONLY LEFT ABOUT 16 CARS FOR THE ALL-STAR OPEN. HOW DO YOU FEEL YOU STACK UP?
“I mean, most of the time we can run 18th to 21st as kind of like our average finishing position. So that would go to tell you that we should be in the mix to be one of those front-end cars in the Open. I would hate to think that we couldn’t give ourselves a fighting chance to be one of those first two positions. My pit crew has been unbelievable this year, so I’m sure they’ll lay a heater of a stop down tonight and get us a good starting spot. Then we’ll conserve some tires and try to be one of those two guys that transfer.”
IN TWO WEEKS, WE GO BACK TO GATEWAY. WHAT WAS YOUR TAKEAWAY FROM HOW THE TRACK HANDLED LAST YEAR AND WHAT DO YOU EXPECT THIS TIME?
“It’s an odd place. Something happened. I think we DNF’d there and blew up or something. I didn’t get a good feel for traffic and longevity of the tire and things like that. I think it’s a cool market to go to. The fans turned out to support it. I’m a fan of going somewhere new often, just to try and see what works. I think our Next-Gen car – as the teams understand how to make them go – should be a little bit better racing than it was last year. I think it got strung out quite a bit, so I’m excited to go back to Gateway here in a couple of weeks.”