Corey LaJoie is about to get the opportunity of a lifetime. LaJoie will drive the number 9 car for Hendrick Motorsports this weekend at World Wide Technology Raceway in place of the suspended Chase Elliott. To LaJoie, this could be considered a delayed answer to a letter penned three years ago.
The LaJoie Family and Hendrick Motorsports
LaJoie comes from a racing family. His father Randy won 15 career Xfinity Series races including the 1996 and 1997 series championships. However, in 1998, Rick Hendrick needed a substitute driver for the injured Ricky Craven.
Randy was tabbed to run nine races in the No. 50 Budweiser car. Despite his success in the Busch Series, he had not gotten a Cup Series top-10 in sporadic starts between 1985 and 1997. In his second race for the team, he would finish 10th at Bristol, with his best finish of fifth coming at Martinsville.
Randy would go on to be named one of NASCAR’s 75 Greatest Drivers this year for his successes. However, he also had some success as an owner as well, as his son, Corey, began his racing career.
Corey’s Early Success and a Hopeful Letter
Corey started his NASCAR career early with his first K&N Pro Series start coming at the age of 17. In 2012, LaJoie won five races and narrowly lost the series championship to none other than Kyle Larson. LaJoie beat out current Cup Series drivers Chase Elliott, Bubba Wallace, and Daniel Suarez in the final standings.
After three ARCA wins in 2013, Corey worked his way slowly up into full-time NASCAR Cup Series competition. In 2017 and 2018, he ran 55 races for BK Racing and Bryan Smith before nabbing his first full-time ride for Go Fas Racing to replace Matt DiBenedetto.
During his time with the team, arguably the best ride in NASCAR opened up with Jimmie Johnson announcing he was retiring after the 2020 season. Corey thought, “Why not me”, and he sent a letter to the car owner who had given the elder LaJoie a chance two decades prior, Rick Hendrick.
According to Zack Albert on NASCAR.com, Corey handed Hendrick the letter at the 2020 Hall of Fame Induction ceremony. The letter was even handwritten. LaJoie mentioned that the letter was a way for him to stand out.
“I have nice cursive handwriting, so I figured why don’t I just pen this guy a letter.” LaJoie told Albert, “I don’t think that I should be necessarily the leading candidate, but I would like to think I’d be on the list because just the experience and all the stuff I’ve gained by doing it the hard way. I think I can kind of fit in their mold pretty well.”
The seat ultimately did not go to LaJoie. Kyle Larson was the driver who was signed on to replace Johnson’s spot on the team. Larson would drive the No. 5 car while Alex Bowman would move to the No. 48 car, but LaJoie was not forgotten by Hendrick.
Corey Gets the Opportunity of a Lifetime
In 2021, LaJoie did find a new ride, this time with Spire Motorsports. He would quietly provide consistent performance for the team. At the same time, Spire started working with Hendrick Motorsports.
Spire began running a part-time Craftsman Truck Series entry in 2022, and, with sponsorship from HendrickCars.com, won its first Truck Series race with Hendrick Motorsports Cup Series regular William Byron. Larson would take the second race win for the team at North Wilkesboro in 2023.
While LaJoie was enjoying the best season of his Cup Series career in 2023, Hendrick Motorsports was in the midst of one of its most turbulent – with two drivers missing multiple races due to injury. Following the Coca-Cola 600, another problem came to the team as Chase Elliot was suspended for one race after intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin.
Who could Hendrick call-up? Super-sub Josh Berry and his JR Motorsports teammates were all out because of the Xfinity Series being on the other side of the country in Portland for a road course standalone race.
Who better to call-up than the Spire Motorsports driver Corey LaJoie? LaJoie talked about what it was like to get that call on his podcast “Stacking Pennies”.
Three years after sending a letter to Rick Hendrick saying he would be a good fit, Corey LaJoie is getting the chance to drive for Hendrick. This has taken a lot of hard work and a lot of time, but LaJoie is finally getting a long-awaited opportunity.