Sunday, Oct 01

CHEVROLET NCS AT WWTR: Corey LaJoie Press Conference Transcript

HOW HAVE YOU BEEN SLEEPING?

“Like a baby.. because it’s weird, man. It’s like the dream is during the day right now. I missed the call from Mr. Hendrick – he left me a voicemail. I woke up to it on Wednesday morning and I told my wife, I was like – honey, I missed the call. But luckily he answered when I called him back on Wednesday morning and since then, it’s been like drinking out of a fire hose. Just information, preparation and just a level of perfection that those guys expect is really cool to see for the first three or four days leading up to here at St. Louis.”

 

DO YOU THINK THE LETTER YOU WROTE THREE YEARS AGO HAD ANYTHING TO DO WITH THE CALL THAT YOU GOT?

“No.. I mean it didn’t hurt and time is a flat circle, apparently. I’m glad that call didn’t come a couple months after that letter because I wouldn’t have been ready for it. I wouldn’t have been ready for the opportunity – my maturation level, my skills behind the wheel. It’s been six years of grind and stacking pennies to feel confident enough to be able to plug into this No. 9 Chevy and run it to its true potential.

 

It’s been a wild week. I can get all sentimental and all this stuff that’s attached to the letter and my dad subbing in for Ricky Craven in 1998 and all that sort of stuff. But at the end of the day, when I sit in that thing, I don’t know that NAPA is on it or the No. 9 is on it. I’m going to drive it like I have been driving the No. 7 Chevy and putting that thing 19th in points. It’s been a super fun, successful year so far, and we have a lot of work left to do and things to accomplish over there. But for the opportunity to drive for Mr. Hendrick, it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

 

CAN YOU SHARE WHAT RICK HENDRICK SAID TO YOU.. WHAT HE SAID ON THE MESSAGE?

“Yeah.. yeah. So it was just like – ‘Hey Corey, it’s Rick Hendrick here. Just wanted to let you know that I’m excited you’re filling in under this circumstance. Appreciate the help and I know you’re going to do us a good job’.

 

I was thinking about this.. there’s a couple young people in here that might have played NASCAR video games growing up. But NASCAR 2004-2005, like you’d start your career mode in the bottom team and then you’d get the call up to the next team and the next team. And then you’d get a notification on your phone from like Rick Hendrick to drive that car. That’s what I felt like laying in bed on Wednesday morning talking to the wife. I was like – my life is a video game right now.. it’s just nonstop progression, failure and just falling short time and time again, but keep taking steps forward towards the goal of getting to the position that I’m in right now. It’s been wild.”

 

YOU’RE LISTENING AND YOU HEAR ‘HEY COREY, IT’S RICK HENDRICK’.. JUST TO HEAR IT’S RICK HENDRICK..

“Yeah, so Tuesday night , (Jeff) Dickerson was the one that texted me around noon on Tuesday and was like – if this happens, you’re going to fill-in. I was like, are you punking me.. don’t punk me right now. And he was like – no, no it’s happening.

 

So he called me – I was actually downtown at NASCAR recording the podcast and Jeff calls me and is like – hey, it’s happening.. get with Alan (Gustafson), get the seats, get the whole thing. There was a lot of self-doubt that crept in that night of just like, can you do it? It’s like ‘put up or shut up’. You’re wrestling around and you’re like wrestling these emotions of like scared and nervous. And then you wake up on Wednesday morning; you go to the shop and you walk in there for the first five minutes and you realize just the collective focus of that group. Their goal is to win races and championships. You can walk through the lobby and you can tell why they’re so successful after the more time I spent there. I got there around 7:15 a.m. Wednesday. I spent about an hour and a half with Alan (Gustafson) and his engineers, and walked through the shop. Around 8:30 a.m., we went to the simulators and spent some time there. Just started looking at how those guys – obviously the difference in setups was interesting to drive, feel out and just the tendencies of how those guys drive; braking techniques, steering wheel angles and things like that. It’s something I’ve never had access to, so it was good for me to have kind of a high watermark to just try to go chase and try to hone how I attack this racetrack and how I changed how I attack this racetrack by just looking what other guys did. I left with much more confidence Wednesday of seeing the process and just the system that those guys have – that you can plugin somebody with good talent and that’s how they become great in the process with those tools and resources. Those guys build champions for a reason because they can extract the very best. And then even more so, so it’s pretty impressive to see.

 

Man, I’ve been here three days and my philosophy of how I approach a weekend; how I prepare, how I’m going to engage with my team at Spire Motorsports going forward is going to change. I think I’m going to be able to come in there and just apply and share some of the things I’ve learned over the course of the week with (Ryan) Sparks and the No. 77 team, as well, and I think we’re all going to be stronger for it.”

 

YOU SAID ON THE PODCAST THAT YOU WOULD HAVE NOT BEEN PREPARED FOR THIS POSITION BEFORE. WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN COREY THEN AND COREY NOW?

“Man, a lot. The kids will do it (laughs). But just – I was watching the Netflix documentary on Connor McGregor on the way up here and that will fire you up, for one. But he had this quick saying – he’s training and the lead up before the fight with Khabib and he was mad. He just wasn’t focused and the the chip on his shoulder was weighing him down as opposed to motivating him. And he said that whether it was – don’t eat that, then I ate it. I’m going to wake up at 6:00 a.m. and then you don’t wake up at 6:00 a.m. I’m going to go workout at this time and you don’t go workout at this time. So you string together these defeats, like these mental defeats, and then you don’t feel confident that when the big challenge comes that you can rise to the occasion.

 

So the last six or eight months, maybe a little less than that, have been like me preparing for today just not knowing if it’d ever come. It would just be like getting rid of those small defeats of – if you’re going to wakeup at 5:30 a.m., you’re going to wakeup at 5:30 a.m. If you’re going to workout at 7:00 a.m., you’re getting there at 6:50 a.m. Leaning into the work and just not making excuses or exceptions to the pursuit of the person that you want to be. Not the person that you are, but the person you’re striving to be.

 

And then you go to Hendrick (Motorsports) and you see that there’s 500 people over there that have the same mentality, and it’s like – OK, that’s why they’re so freaking good.”

 

WHEN THIS NEW CAR CAME OUT, YOU EXPRESSED THE HOPE THAT IT WOULD BRING THE MIDDLE CLOSER TO THE FRONT, AND THE BACK CLOSER TO THE MIDDLE. IT CERTAINLY HAS, BUT AFTER 72 HOURS NOW IN THE HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS’ SYSTEM, CAN YOU SPEAK A LITTLE BIT NOW ABOUT THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE HAVES AND THE HAVE NOTS IN THIS SPORT AND HOW DRAMATIC IT MAY OR MAY NOT BE?

“I thought that I knew what we didn’t have at Spire Motorsports, but I had no idea. There’s tools that those guys have, intellectual properties specific to Hendrick Motorsports, that even some of the other teams don’t have. But the biggest thing that I noticed was just the people and the attitude of the pursuit of perfection. All the key partner teams across all the OEM’s all have the same data, but they have an unbelievable way of delegating, taking, compacting and making it just digestible – whether it’s for a driver, an engineer, a crew chief. I think the fact that they have four incredibly strong teams individually raises the tide for those guys because when you’re sitting in the simulator and William Byron ran a 33.20 (seconds).. if you’re running a 33.35 with the same setup, you know you have a tenth-and-a-half under your butt and you have to go find it. And then when I go run a 33.20, William next time is going to want to run a 33.19. There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the driver’s end. There’s always a consistently raised watermark on the crew chiefs in trying to build the best setups, and the engineers trying to find the best strategies. Like the inner team competition is one of the biggest things and I think there are several teams that have that.. the healthy ones are certainly evident. But it’s just the overall structure – we have a Hawkeye.. all the things that do the same stuff that Hendrick Motorsports has, but the depth of people, collective focus of the goal and the mission is noticeable and evident. It’s a different world.

 

I texted Dickerson – Dickerson spent a decade over there with Alan (Gustafson) and spotting for Kyle Busch. He’s been someone I’ve leaned on this week – and also the last six or eight months – of just trying to help me learn how to be a professional. You go over there and the entire group are just as professional as it gets.”

 

HOW HARD WILL IT BE – OF COURSE YOU’RE MOTIVATED WHEN YOU GO BACK TO SPIRE MOTORSPORTS AFTER YOU SEE WHAT’S AT HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS, BUT AFTER YOU’RE BACK FOR AWHILE, IT MIGHT BE DIFFICULT THINKING – GOSH, WE DON’T HAVE THIS STUFF. HOW DO YOU FEND THAT OFF WHEN YOU SEE WHAT YOU’VE SEEN THIS WEEKEND?

“Yeah, the only way is through and now I think just forming a better relationship with Hendrick Motorsports and probably having a better working relationship with those guys – we share motors, we share pit crews with those guys. And now that I’m going to have a good relationship with Alan (Gustafson) – him and I have rode mountain bikes together several times, so we already had a bit of a repour before the weekend started. And I think I can lean on him and Andrew, the engineer, a little bit more just because we’re going to form a relationship over this week, and maybe get a little bit more help than we have. There are certain things that Spire Motorsports is trying to gear up to work on – whether it’s wind tunnel time that’s coming up the pipeline from NASCAR. There are some gains we’re going to be making over there. But I’m way past the point in my career and my life of getting jealous of things that I don’t have.. I’m just trying to figure out solutions and how to make where I’m at the best possible way.”

 

AS YOU GET READY TO RACE THIS ONE RACE FOR NOW, YOU PUT ALL YOUR EGGS IN ONE BASKET AND ALL YOUR HOPES AND DREAMS INTO ONE MOMENT – HOW DO YOU NOT OVERDO THAT?

“That’s a great question.. I’ve been trying to think about that all week. You know, once you put the helmet on – the talking and all the things that come along with that, all the interviews, that’s the noise. But the noise stops whenever you put the helmet on and you just drive it no different that I would the No. 7 car.

 

This is opposite, but kind of the same scenario - I remember, this was a couple of years ago when (Matt) Kenseth was driving the No. 6, the No. 32 and the No. 6 were in the owner’s points right next to each other. It was Matt’s first week back and he had been driving for (Joe) Gibbs – champion, hall of famer and all of that – he gets out of the car after practice and he’s looking at the rundown. He starts on the left side of the sheet and he’s like working his way down. He goes to the next sheet; he’s working his way down and it’s like 31st and 32nd. My buddy (Ryan) Flores that’s on the podcast with me – he’s like it’s going to be like that, but opposite. Like you’re going to work from the bottom like I’m used to; working my way up and you’re just going to keep going a couple spots higher. So hopefully that’s what happens this weekend. It’s not going to be easy. There’s a guy in the back of the room there, the Coca-Cola 600 champion.. congrats Ryan Blaney.. and then 15 to 18 other guys just like him that are capable of winning any other week. So its going to be fun to be able to dice it up and be sitting on equally fast horses as those guys for the first time.”

 

YOU MENTIONED EARLIER – YOUR DAD GOT A CHANCE WITH HENDRICK MOTORSPORTS BACK IN 1998. WHAT HAVE YOUR CONVERSATIONS BEEN LIKE WITH HIM THIS WEEK AND IS HE HERE THIS WEEKEND?

“He’s not here, he’s watching the kiddos. Levi and Jenson are at the house and mom and dad are watching them. We talked about it on the podcast a little bit – I believe it was the Coca-Cola 600, dad wrecked Dale Earnhardt Sr., so Ryan (Flores) was like – hey, at least you’re not going to wreck Dale Sr. in your opportunity with Hendrick Motorsports and you’re not going to be able to wreck Chase Elliott because you’re driving his car. So I guess if that’s your measuring stick, I think I’m going to be in pretty good shape.”

 

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