Corey LaJoie will make his Hendrick Motorsports debut on June 4 when he takes over the No. 9 Chevrolet for a suspended Chase Elliott. This is a major opportunity, and it only highlights his NASCAR “video game” life.
LaJoie made the comparison during a press conference on June 3. He explained how he missed a call from Hendrick Motorsports owner Rick Hendrick that paved the way for his start. LaJoie then explained how the younger version of him received similar calls, albeit in digital form.
“I was thinking about this — there’s a couple young people in here that might have played NASCAR video games growing up,” LaJoie said on June 3. “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.”
Of course, the opportunity in 2023 is wildly different than that in the video game. He could potentially change the direction of his career with a strong performance in place of Elliott.
LaJoie’s Opportunity Comes Years After ‘The Letter’
LaJoie’s name has been tied to Hendrick Motorsports for multiple seasons. Though it has been for a unique reason. He actually wrote a letter to Hendrick expressing an interest in taking over one of the championship-winning cars after Jimmie Johnson announced his retirement.
LaJoie hand-delivered the letter to Hendrick, but he did not get an opportunity to fill an empty seat. Instead, HMS brought Kyle Larson in for the 2021 season to fill out the four-car lineup.
Years, later, LaJoie now gets his opportunity with Hendrick Motorsports. It’s not in the way that he had anticipated, but it’s at a better point in his Cup Series career.
“I’m glad that call didn’t come a couple months after that letter because I wouldn’t have been ready for it,” LaJoie said. “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.”
LaJoie Will Have To Strike a Balance
LaJoie has a major opportunity ahead of him. He will be in the best equipment of his career, and he will have a chance to see the inner workings of a championship-winning organization. This will only benefit him and Spire Motorsports by extension once he returns to the No. 7 Chevrolet.
With this opportunity comes the potential for danger. LaJoie has to strike a balance while trying to deliver a strong performance in a race-winning car. He can’t push too hard and wreck early in the race, nor can he commit speeding penalties on pit road.
LaJoie came close to the danger zone during qualifying. He brushed the wall on his warmup lap and then he smacked it during his qualifying lap. He lost precious seconds and ended the session with the 30th-fastest lap at 33.442 seconds.
LaJoie will have to attempt to work his way through the field, and he will have to do so without making any mistakes. This will not be a simple task with all of the attention on him, but he has faith in his abilities to achieve this goal.
“Once you put the helmet on — the talking and all the things that come along with that, all the interviews, that’s the noise,” LaJoie said. “But the noise stops whenever you put the helmet on and you just drive it no different than I would the No. 7 car.”