Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – MADISON, IL – David, meet Goliath.
To say that Corey LaJoie’s first visit to the Hendrick Motorsports campus was an eye-opener is a colossal understatement of the case.
LaJoie got the word on Tuesday that he was team owner Rick Hendrick’s choice to replace Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Chevrolet at World Wide Technology Raceway, after Elliott drew a one-race suspension for wrecking Denny Hamlin in Monday’s rain-delayed Coca-Cola 600.
What LaJoie found at Hendrick was a singular focus and an organization-wide dedication to the pursuit of perfection—and to winning races and championships.
LaJoie drives full-time for Spire Motorsports, which allowed LaJoie to advantage of the opportunity to drive for Hendrick on Sunday. After visiting the Hendrick shops, LaJoie sent a text to Spire co-owner Jeff Dickerson.
“’I can’t believe Spire and Hendrick race in the same series,’” LaJoie wrote.
“We are closer to a good truck team, I think… If that’s what a Cup team is, the holy cow, we’ve got a long way to go. But it’s fun sometimes to carry that chip on your shoulder and try to be the ones that are beating the Goliaths.
“But it’s definitely a cool opportunity and a cool week this week to be one of the Goliaths, sitting in one (of their cars), so we’ll see how it goes.”
LaJoie also believes his one-week stint in a Hendrick car will have lasting value.
“Man, I’ve been here for three days, and my philosophy of how I approach a weekend and how I prepare and how I’m going to engage with my team at Spire going forward is going to change,” he said.
“I think I’m going to be able to come in there and just share and apply some of the things I’ve learned over the course of the week.”
Daytona 500 champion makes his pitch at Busch Stadium
Throwing out the first pitch Tuesday night at Busch Stadium wasn’t a unique experience for Daytona 500 winner Ricky Stenhouse Jr., but it did give the Mississippi driver a chance to perform in front of the team he followed as a child.
“I grew up coming to Cardinals games when I was younger,” said Stenhouse, who also has done first-pitch honors at Fenway Park in Boston. “We would drive up to St. Louis, whether my dad would be racing around here that weekend. We would come up here, I remember, with some cousins and make a long weekend out of it—Cardinals games, watch Ozzie Smith play back in the day at the old stadium.
“It was really cool. It was really special to go out and do that. It wasn’t my best performance. I definitely threw a better strike at Fenway, but I guess you can’t throw all strikes.”
Stenhouse and his No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Racing team come to World Wide Technology Raceway riding a streak of seven straight races with finishes of 15th or better. After last year’s dismal 32nd-place finish at Gateway, Stenhouse is determined to do better this year.
“This weekend was the toughest weekend that we had last year,” he said. “The car—driving and speed—it just wasn’t what we needed it to be. So we’ve really focused a lot on getting the car right.
“I felt like we learned some stuff at Phoenix earlier in the year toward the end of the race that picked up the performance. So hopefully that will pay off when we get here this weekend. This place is just tough.”
Stenhouse qualified 12th in Saturday morning’s time trials.