Ford Performance NASCAR: Aric Almirola and Corey LaJoie Watkins Glen Press Conference Transcripts

Ford Performance Notes and Quotes
Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series (MENCS)
Saturday, August 3, 2019

EVENT: Go Bowling at The Glen, Watkins Glen, NY. (Media Availabilities)

ARIC ALMIROLA, No. 10 Go Bowling Ford Mustang – WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES OF THE INNER LOOP HERE? “This is a really different road course from Sonoma and most other road courses. Most road courses you go to you really just focus on setting yourself up for the next corner, and it’s very slow and technical. This road course is like a superspeedway, or a mile-and-a-half race track. It’s so fast. It’s hard to explain to people that don’t understand, but for a road course this place is so fast and momentum plays such a big factor, where most road courses we go to it’s about stop and go. Heavy braking, really slow corners and then launch off the corner, where here it’s just all about momentum, so this is definitely a tricky place. The inner loop plays a big factor in that because you can make up a ton of time in the inner loop. I remember when I first came here in an XFINITY car trying to get through the inner loop was a struggle, and then when I started coming here in the Cup car Marcos Ambrose was my teammate at Petty’s and I learned so much from Marcos just watching him and talking to him and getting feedback from him. He was very helpful in helping me get up to speed. I still wasn’t up to Marcos’ speed, but up to competitive speed.”

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WILL WE SEE HIGHER SPEEDS WITH MORE DOWNFORCE, AND WHAT KIND OF IMPACT WILL THAT HAVE? “I think it’s gonna have a big impact. I’m anxious to see when we get going here in practice. I think at Sonoma we had a fair amount more grip. You couldn’t compare lap times because the course was changed at Sonoma, but I know coming down the esses at Sonoma the cars were a lot more in the race track than the used to be. It felt like we had more grip and had less tire fall off also because of the downforce, so I expect the same here. I expect we’ll have more grip. I expect going up the esses will still be a challenge, but not as challenging, but I better be careful to speak too soon. It still might be a pretty big challenge, but I think the increased downforce is going to decrease tire fall off like we saw at Sonoma, which is gonna make track position even more important than it already has been here.”

IS THERE A SENSE OF RELIEF TO HAVE THE POINTS ADVANTAGE YOU HAVE FROM THE CUTOFF? “Not at all. I’ve learned in this sport that you can never be too comfortable. Really, there are so many people hovering right around that cutoff line and right around that cutoff line that can win on any given weekend. I know it might not appear that way, it appears that the same cars typically and often win, but everybody in this sport is too good and on any given weekend things could just line up for those guys and they’re talented enough, their teams are good enough, their cars have got decent speed to where they could pull off a win and the next thing you know instead of having 90-something points that we have, the next thing you know you’re looking at a 60 or 50-point gap, and if one more guy wins, you’re looking at a 20 or 30-point gap and that can go away in one race. So I’m always mindful of that and I’ve learned never to be too comfortable.”

DOES IT CONCERN YOU THAT YOU ONLY HAVE ONE TOP 5 FINISH THIS YEAR? “Yeah, it has. Obviously, we talk about that and look at that internally at the organization, the race team and we’ve had opportunities to run top five and haven’t capitalized on them, but, quite honestly, on a consistent basis we haven’t been where we were last year. I think last year you look back a lot of the races and Kevin won nine races last year, Clint won three I think, and Kurt won around this time last year at Bristol. We were running 1-2-3-4 a lot throughout races in the summer months and you saw last weekend at Pocono at times Gibbs went 1-2-3 or 1-2-3-4. We had that dominance as an organization last year. We don’t have that right now. We just don’t, so we’re still working on it. Everybody is working really hard and still trying to put all the pieces of the puzzle together and I think we’re collecting more notes and more information and more data and trying to put all that to use and continue to make our program better. So I’m very hopeful that as we go into these races coming up after we leave the Glen that we’ll get on pace where we need to be going into the Playoffs.”

HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT MICHIGAN NEXT WEEK? DO YOU FEEL CONFIDENT GOING THERE KNOWING YOU GOT A TOP 10 LAST YEAR? “Yeah, Michigan is a weird place for me because, in my mind, I feel like I run good there. I won a Truck race there years ago and from that point forward I just always loved going to Michigan. My wife’s family is from Michigan, so I go to Michigan with such a great attitude and I’m so happy about going to Michigan. In my mind I really do. I feel like I run well there, but then when you look at the results or the stats they don’t back up the way I feel about it, so that’s an interesting place for me. I feel like this past race earlier this year we had a lot of speed. I think we qualified on the front row and ran in the top five a lot of it, and there at the end of the race I had a restart where I restarted third and got loose in the middle of one and two and fell back to 11th and immediately the caution came out and then the next restart I went from 11th to 14th and I think I ran the rest of the race I think I finished about there in 14th or 15th, something like that. I feel like that was just circumstantial. I feel like we had a top five car there at Michigan and didn’t execute and things didn’t go our way with the restarts and I didn’t get the result, but I’m excited about going back. I feel like we ran really well and had good speed, and going to Michigan there’s always a lot of pride for the manufacturers and stuff, so I’d love to go there and keep the trophy in Ford’s backyard.”

DO YOU FEEL SHR HAS RECOVERED FROM BEING OFF AT THE START OF THE YEAR OR ARE YOU PAST THAT? “We’re certainly more fluid with race car builds and things now. The beginning of the year is crazy tough because you have to build up your inventory before you ever leave to go to Daytona, so that is a challenge. I think now we’re in the normal routine of racing cars, taking them back, cleaning them up, cutting them up, re-preparing them and getting them ready for their next race, and I feel like we’re on track and I feel like we’re constantly learning. We’ve got a lot of smart people. We’re spending a fair amount of time in the wind tunnel and all the things that we need to do to try and get better, and it’s just about putting all those parts and pieces together and figuring out the puzzle, and that’s the hardest thing to explain about this sport to ordinary people that don’t know a lot about this sport is just how incredibly competitive it is. I think people misunderstand or underestimate how competitive it is and you see teams in this sport go in cycles. I remember it wasn’t that long ago, three or four years ago, where Gibbs only won a couple races, and then they come back from that and challenge to win championships and win a bunch of races. Last year, Stewart-Haas Racing, I don’t remember the exact number, but 14-15 races as an organization we won, and then now a new year, new car, new rules and Goodyear brings new tires to the race track – it’s just everything always changes and it’s constant evolution and you’re always, no matter if you’re the best team in the garage or you’re a little bit behind, you’re constantly working your guts out to try and find speed and find that edge, and it just makes it incredibly competitive.”

HAVE YOU HAD TO BE MORE OF A JERK ON RESTARTS THIS YEAR TO TAKE OR PROTECT POSITIONS? “I don’t even consider it being a jerk anymore, it’s just racing, right? We all know that it’s really challenging to pass when we get strung out with the increased downforce on the cars we’re making a bigger wake coming off of our cars, so the trailing car is having sometimes more of a challenge to pass when the cars get strung out, so the restarts are the most opportune time, and now that the cars have less horsepower at a lot of these race tracks we go to, momentum is such a key, so on the restarts if a couple cars get bottled up and they have to check up out of the throttle and their momentum gets killed, the next thing you see is four and five-wide, they’re splitting those guys and those guys lose a lot of spots. So you have to be aggressive and you have to try and keep your momentum up and take every hole there is. You can’t check up out of the throttle. If you check up out of the throttle, you’re going to lose multiple spots.”

SO HOW DOES A RESTART HERE WORK? “I think here at Watkins Glen will be very similar to what we always see. I think Watkins Glen and road course racing in general has been very track position sensitive and when you go back and look at past races the first few rows kind of dive off into turn one side-by-side, and from there back there are guys bonzai-ing down into turn one, trying to make a move, trying to gain spots and that will be the same. That’s no different, and we have more downforce here than we’ve had in the last few years, but the horsepower is pretty close. I mean, we have a little less horsepower than last year, but not a lot less, so I think that doesn’t really change anything.”

HOW WOULD YOU FEEL IF NASCAR WENT TO A PODIUM FINISH WITH THE TOP THREE FINISHERS ON STAGE? “I don’t know, that would take some getting used to. All the racing that I’ve done growing up, go-kart racing and all those things, the winner got celebrated with a trophy and that was it. Short track racing, the winner stops in victory lane, they might stop a couple of the other cars for interviews, but there’s no per se podium in all the circle track racing that I’ve done. The winner is celebrated. The winner gets to take his picture in victory lane. The winner gets the trophy and they’re the ones that celebrate and everybody else has to watch and be jealous. So I don’t know. That would take some getting used to.”

COREY LAJOIE, No. 32 Samaritan’s Feet Ford Mustang – CAN YOU TALK ABOUT THIS PROGRAM AND WHAT SAMARITAN’S FEET IS ALL ABOUT? “It’s been a crazy week. It’s all kind of combined. There’s like two heads to the thing. I met Manny about a month ago, right before Daytona, and I’ve always admired Samaritan’s Feet from a distance. I’ve always felt called to provide shoes for those in need. I’ve been to several mission trips to third world countries and seen first hand the overwhelming poverty that nobody in this room could ever imagine, unless you go there and see it with your own eyes. We went to Haiti last year, Kelly and I did, and we saw the need there and I’ve always kind of had this feeling that my nickname is Supershoe, so it’s a natural fit to provide shoes, right? But I’ve never really had a shoe charity that I could fully buy into that was really pulling at my heart strings until a good friend of mine, Lucas Beatty, from Thrivent Financial asked me what was near and dear to my heart and I said, ‘Man, I want to provide shoes.’ And he said, ‘Have you ever heard of Samaritan’s Feet?’ And I said, ‘Yeah.’ I didn’t have a contact and he goes, ‘Well, I’ve got Manny right here, let me call him up.’ So he called him up and the next day what I thought was going to be a 30-minute meeting turned into probably a three-hour discussion sitting there talking about ways to use our platforms to put shoes on feet. The other charities that I’ve worked with they’re all great causes, but none of them were really God-centered, and I feel like that’s why I’m so drawn to this. God’s in the center and we’re putting shoes on feet and telling people – Manny is – I’m just a vessel here. So when I met Manny it was perfect timing for their Hope Givers yearly campaign, so they’ve had 10 people be a Hope Giver. When you sign up to be a Hope Giver you commit to try to raise $20,000 from August to November, so Kelly and I figured let’s just jump on that boat and try to do that. So we signed up for that and we were trying to figure out some very small ideas, just scraping the surface on how we could raise some awareness, whether it be designing a pair of shoes we could auction off or doing a helmet like thinking this big, and then about a week goes by and we couldn’t find a sponsor for the Watkins Glen race for the team, and I was trying to find some tire sponsors, round up $5000-$6000 here and there, and it was about midnight one night – Monday – and it wasn’t like a vision or like a dream, I just had this thought pop in my head of a Samaritan’s Feet car. I was like, ‘OK, how are you going to pay for it?’ Because it’s expensive. Racing is expensive, so then it was like clear as day I felt like, ‘Hey, you’ve got to call Archie and ask him if he would not pay your salary for a month if he would put Samaritan’s Feet on the car.’ And my salary isn’t what covers his not to go to the race track, but he’s sacrificing a lot on his end, but I’m sacrificing a lot on my end, too. So I texted him at 11:30 at night and asked if he was up and sure enough it pops right back up with a ‘yep.’ So I called him and told him what I was thinking and the charity I’m working with – Samaritan’s Feet is a great cause and I asked if he would be open to doing this. He said, ‘Sure, let’s do it.’ He was like, ‘Are you sure?’ And I said, ‘Not really, but let’s hang up before I change my mind (laughing).’ I went back to sleep and slept like a baby and it’s really been head-on since then. Kelly and I were at dinner the other night trying to figure out some ways to best push this thing and she had the idea of whoever donates to our Hope Givers Fundraiser page, no matter if it’s $1, $10 or $100 we’re writing their name on the car. I thought that was a fantastic idea, so I thought we might raise $15,000, $20,000 — $84,000 later and 1,035 names that I last saw before I walked into the media center and my hand is starting to cramp up a little bit because not only do I have to write it on the car, I’ve had to write it from the email to this little book that I’m keeping, so I didn’t physically write every name on the car because I had to bring in some extra help from Mason and Ryan and a couple other guys to help write, but I have written every single name in my book. The average spend was $80 on our page and every name on the car is gonna be putting shoes on the feet of three kids, so the 1,000 people that gave and sacrificed to be on the car, those are gonna be putting shoes on the feet of three kids that probably never had shoes in their entire life. I don’t want to keep rambling because I want to get Manny talking. This is probably the nicest guy you’ve ever met in your entire life, so I’ll let him talk.”

DR. EMMANUEL “MANNY” OHONME, Founder, President & CEO, Samaritan’s Feet – “For those that don’t know much about Samiritan’s Feet we are a global humanitarian organization that is headquartered in Charlotte, North Carolina. Our vision actually was to help inspire hope among some of the world’s most impoverished and the journey started for us actually over thirty-some years ago a little boy, even as I sit here today, I just got to turn and say ‘pinch me’ because I must be dreaming. For a kid that used to sell water and soft drinks in Africa, just like a kid you’d watch on Discovery Channel, I was selling water one day and a group of missionaries came to teach African children how to play basketball. I showed up there that day never knowing what was gonna happen. I got a chance to enter into a basketball contest. They said the prize to win is gonna be a new pair of shoes. I ended up winning the contest and became the first person not just in my family but in my entire community to own a pair of tennis shoes. It changed my life eventually coming to America on a basketball scholarship and now to think I’m sitting next to Corey LaJoie. To see what he’s doing is bigger than just helping us provide awareness – that’s put shoes on the feet of kids. We serve probably over seven million children now. We work in over 108 countries, 369 U.S. communities. People don’t realize 1.5 billion people in the world are affected by diseases because they have no shoes. In the U.S. over 13 million, about 13.5 million kids struggle because their parents can’t afford a new pair of shoes. Many of them are taking shoes that are hand-me-down or have holes on their feet, but the reality that you can meet somebody that’s actually well entrenched and knows what they’re here to accomplish and say, ‘What can I do to help make a difference and use my platform to help impact and change the world.’ So it’s amazing to see what’s happen. What we do is bigger than just the shoes because when we give these kids shoes we literally have to wash every kids feet and look those children in the eye and remind them that they can help change the world, so this guy right here is a world-changer and I’m excited to see what can happen from here.”

WHAT COUNTRY DID YOU LIVE IN AND HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN IN THE U.S.? I was born in Lago, Nigeria. I came here now about 30 years ago on a basketball scholarship. It’s funny, crazy. I didn’t know much about America. I knew about New York, Los Angeles and Houston, Texas, so I said I’ll pick the school with the best-looking brochure and I ended up showing up in North Dakota and I’m still learning from that experience. That got me in the software business. When my father passed away in 1997 I had to go back to Africa to bury him and that’s when I walked into that place and saw the need. It was unbelievable. I couldn’t even use the bathroom in my house and I had to go across the street and when I saw those children with no shoes I said, ‘Somebody ought to do something about that.’ At that time I didn’t realize that somebody was gonna be me. So I came back five years later and started Samaritan’s Feet with the vision to go put shoes on the feet of 10 million kids and said, ‘We don’t want to just give them shoes, we want to create a platform that creates an opportunity for leaders to serve and then be able to inspire hope in the hearts of children.’ And now 7.1 million kids later in over 108 countries now for kids that didn’t have shoes, we now manufacturer our own line of world shoe to help eradicate food born diseases. It’s just amazing and a testimony that dreams still come true, which is an amazing thing what we’re doing here. And it’s not just overseas. Many kids in the Uniited States, I mean right now in the heart of our back to school, where we’re serving kids, we’ll probably about 60,000 kids in the next two months and many of them will be because of the generousness that comes through this. So we’re excited that today we’re gonna serve some kids here and then we’re also gonna get to serve some kids later on in the year, so this guy is truly a gem.”

WHAT IS YOUR WEBSITE? “, but if you want to help Corey we want to get to $100,000, so maybe somebody is listening that can do something. You can go to to help us support his Hope Giver campaign as well.”

COREY LAJOIE CONTINUED – “If you donate to that, that’s when you get your name on the car. And even after the race is over we’re trying to figure out some stuff to do – maybe the same kind of thing at Charlotte – so anybody that gives after the race, they’re still gonna be catalogued and if we can put it together for Charlotte, we’ll put their name on that car as well. So it’s not just after Sunday we’re done doing this thing. It’s from August-November, but after November it’s still a need that we can probably never reach, but it doesn’t mean we can’t stop trying. I just feel a calling to do this. What I sacrificed and what the team sacrificed was to put shoes on the race car. That was to get the race car here to physically get on the race track, but what those 1,040 people that donated to the car, they’re actually putting shoes on the feet of kids that are in need. There has been sacrifice all around, but that’s what it takes to make a difference.”

DR. OHONME CONTINUED – “The beauty is it’s bigger than shoes. I tell people all the time that we’re one of the largest footwear humanitarian organizations in the world that has very little to do with shoes. Yes, the shoes that we give them is very important to protect them from the ailment and to let them be able to go to school, but it’s actually a much powerful platform that allows them to speak hope in these kids’ lives, and the way we do it when we serve them and wash their feet and hug them and remind those kids that they are special, when they leave that place they never forget you. You’re looking at one of them in front of you today that somebody impacted their life over thirty-some years ago, now putting shoes on millions of kids. So if you’re watching this and wonder ‘can I be used to make a difference?’ Here is a perfect story that your yes can create a ripple that can help change the world.”

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