Corey LaJoie Thankful For Hendrick Motorsports Opportunity at Gateway

Corey LaJoie is filling in for Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Chevrolet this weekend as he serves a one-race suspsension for intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin at Charlotte.
Corey LaJoie, Hendrick Motorsports at Gateway
Corey LaJoie, Hendrick Motorsports at Gateway

Before NASCAR officially suspended Chase Elliott from this weekend's event at World Wide Technology Raceway, Corey LaJoie was ready to fill in. He got a text on Tuesday night saying that if Elliott were to be suspended, LaJoie would be in the car. Less than 24 hours later, it was announced and the 31-year old finally had his golden opportunity.

It was only three years ago that LaJoie penned Rick Hendrick a hand-written letter expressing his interest in driving for the team three years ago, when Jimmie Johnson announced his retirement. Although it didn't pan out, LaJoie said he probably wasn't ready for that opportunity back then.

"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 taken six years of grinding and stacking pennies to feel confident enough to be able to plug into this 9 car and run it to its true potential."

Hendrick remembers the letter, and said it had a lasting effect on him. "That was the first time I’ve gotten a letter from the heart," he said. "I’ve gotten letters and phones calls, usually from agents. It was really a heartfelt letter and it was really personal. I was impressed with him before and am more impressed after."

The Spire Motorsports driver has improved dramatically since then, and is having a career-year this season in the Cup Series. LaJoie is averaging five positions better than any other season at NASCAR’s top level. His career-best result (4th) at Atlanta is among his eight top-20 finishes on the year, which already exceeds half of his personal-best single-season total (15). The Kannapolis native has already spent more laps inside the top 15 this season than he did in all of last year.

Filling in for Elliott this weekend has a familiar feel. Corey's father, two-time Xfinity Series champion Randy LaJoie, drove in nine Cup races for Hendrick in 1998, where he recorded three top-tens and one top-five finish.

The third-generation racer will become the 51st different driver to race for Hendrick in a Cup race. It is an incredible opportunity - one that he almost missed. "I missed the call from Mr. Hendrick and 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 the level of perfection that those guys expect is really cool to see."

While Corey was quick in practice, qualifying did not go so well. He got loose on corner exit during his run and tapped the outside wall. That resulted in him having to start from 30th position tomorrow, but he knows the team is not expecting him to win the race. That takes away some of the pressure, but just being in the car this weekend is such a special opportunity, and one that he fully grasps.

"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."

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