Corey LaJoie appreciated the opportunity to drive for Hendrick Motorsports at World Wide Technology Raceway on Sunday but said he was left unfulfilled by his performance.
“It was definitely a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and experience here this week, just obviously disappointed in the overall result,” LaJoie said Tuesday while co-hosting on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “But (I’m) not disappointed by my effort and the all the things wrapped up in it. Obviously, the sentimental value was high, but at the end of the day, the expectations were higher leading into the event than what we executed.”
A seven-year Cup Series veteran, LaJoie substituted for the suspended Chase Elliott in the No. 9 Chevrolet. It was the first time LaJoie had driven something other than a Spire Motorsports car in the series in over two years. But LaJoie overdrove the car in practice and then hit the wall in qualifying to roll off the starting grid 30th. He finished 21st in Sunday’s race – the highest he reached all afternoon in the running order – and averaged a 27th-place running position.
“We missed it a little bit,” LaJoie said. “I missed it a little bit; just couldn’t quite get settled into that NAPA Chevy. It was just different. Your switches are in a different spot. Your sightlines are a bit different and the car reacts differently.
“I don’t want to shy away from it. It wasn’t what the fans wanted to see. I wasn’t what I expected or what I thought I was capable of when that call came. But I’m not embarrassed by it. I’m not upset by it. I’m just disappointed.
“I didn’t leave (Hendrick Motorsports) Monday after those meetings thinking I couldn’t do it. I actually left thinking that, OK, there’s a ton of value in continuity and a ton of value in just relationships within an organization. Where over the course of a weekend that driver/crew chief communication of trying to get that balance, trying to get it perfect for the driver’s style, we just didn’t have that opportunity. So, we missed the balance a little bit.”
Without much experience at World Wide Technology Raceway, since he failed to finish the inaugural event last season, LaJoie said he, crew chief Alan Gustafson and the rest of the No. 9 group looked for a Chevrolet partner to lean on and hedged on Ross Chastain’s setup.
“We just looked at his averages and thought Ross’s style and my style are somewhat similar, and we got our stuff laying over the 1’s pretty close, and I ran 21st and he ran 22nd,” said LaJoie. “I think we just didn’t start with track position, we couldn’t really get it, we didn’t really attempt to do the two-tire strategy that a lot of guys did that some were able to maintain and some weren’t.
“It was an experience, and I thought that I was ready, and I still think and know that I am ready, and I’m also ready to accept, hey, sometimes you get kicked in the nuts, and you got to freaking up, and you get back to work, and you figure out areas what you’re weak in.”
LaJoie admitted he learned a lot about himself through the experience. And he was also appreciative of the fan support and those around him who matter, such as feedback from his peers in the garage.
After it was over, Lajoie said his Spire Motorsports crew chief, Ryan Sparks, made him feel a little better by showing how history had repeated itself. LaJoie’s 21st finishing position in Elliott’s car on Sunday was where Elliott finished last year. Furthermore, LaJoie’s regular car with Carson Hocevar at the wheel failed to finish the race, just as LaJoie had experienced last year.
“It was definitely a really cool, cool opportunity to just see how those guys operate and the level of which they approach a weekend and how structured it is and how refined that process is,” LaJoie said. “It’s pretty clear why they have sustained success. It was cool to be a small part of that process this weekend.”