This week’s spending at Hendrick Motorsports has proven to be eye-opening for Corey LaJoie.
He will drive Chase Elliott’s No. 9 car today at World Wide Technology Raceway after NASCAR suspended Elliott for one race for vandalizing Denny Hamlin at last week’s Coca-Cola 600. This gives LaJoie the chance to ride in the best equipment of his career.
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Working with Elliott’s team has also given LaJoie a glimpse into what makes Hendrick Motorsports so successful.
“I thought I knew what we didn’t have at Spire Motorsports, but I had no idea,” said LaJoie, who started 30th after hitting the wall on his qualifying lap. “There are tools that those guys have, intellectual properties that are specific to Hendrick Motorsports, that even some of the other teams don’t have.
“But what struck me most were the people and the attitude of striving for perfection. All major partner teams from all (manufacturers) all have the same data, but (Hendrick Motorsports has) an incredible way of delegating it, taking it, compressing it and just making it palatable — whether it’s for a driver, an engineer, a crew chief is .
“I think the fact that they have four incredibly strong teams individually raises the tide for those guys because if you’re in the simulator and William Byron ran a 33.20 (seconds for a lap)…if you run a 33.35 with the same setup, you know you’ve got a tenth-and-a-half up your ass and you have to go find it And then if I’m going to run a 33.20 William will want to run a 33.19 next time.
“There is always a constantly raised watermark on the driver’s side. There is always a constantly raised watermark with the crew chiefs building the best setups and the engineers trying to find the best strategies.
“The competition within the team is one of the biggest things, and I think there are several teams that have… the healthy ones are definitely evident. But it’s just the general structure. We have a Hawkeye (camera-based inspection stations used by NASCAR on the track)…all things that do the same thing as Hendrick Motorsports, but the depth of people, collective focus of the target and mission is noticeable and clear. It’s a different world.”
It would be easy for LaJoie to get overwhelmed in this situation. His career was marked by underfunded rides and attempts to get the most out of his equipment. He is having his best season in the Cup this year. LaJoie is 19th in points heading into today’s race.
LaJoie acknowledges the opportunity he has, but he can’t let it change his focus either.
“It’s been a wild week,” he said. “I can get all sentimental… (about) my dad filling in for Ricky Craven in 1998 (for Hendrick Motorsports) and all that stuff. But at the end of the day, when I’m in that thing, I don’t know that NAPA is on it, or that number 9 is on it.
“I’m going to drive it like I drove the No. 7 Chevy and put that thing in 19th place in points. It’s been a super fun, successful year so far and we still have a lot of work to do and things to accomplish there.
Returning to his Spire Motorsports ride after today’s race, LaJoie admits this weekend’s experience with Elliott’s team will help him with his own team.
“How I prepare, how I interact with my team at Spire Motorsports will change in the future,” LaJoie said. “I think I can get in there and just apply and share some of the things I’ve learned over the week with (crew chief Ryan) Sparks and the number 77 team, too, and I think we’ll get there will all become stronger.”
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Corey LaJoie learned in his week with Chase Elliott’s team and originally appeared on NBCSports.com