Monday, May 27, 2024

Elliott penalty produces Gateway musical chairs

While Chase Elliott is barred from racing Sunday’s NASCAR Cup Series event at World Wide Technology Raceway at Gateway as he serves a one-race suspension, Hendrick Motorsports cannot turn to their usual substitute driver Josh Berry as he is competing in the Xfinity Series at Portland.

Instead, the team will entrust Corey LaJoie with Elliott’s #9 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Gateway. LaJoie arrives from technical ally Spire Motorsports, and his #77 will be filled by Cup newcomer Carson Hocevar.

Elliott was suspended for Gateway after his Coca-Cola 600 on Monday ended in a wreck with Denny Hamlin on lap 185. Analysis of the contact’s telemetry, provided in public by Hamlin, revealed Elliott had turned hard left into Hamlin’s right-rear bumper, shooting him into the frontstretch wall in what Hamlin called an “Absolute left hook. Cranked the wheel 4X harder left than he did making any corner through the whole day.”

He is the first Cup driver of 2023 to be suspended for on-track conduct and the first since Bubba Wallace did the same at Las Vegas the previous year. Elliott remains eligible for the playoffs via waiver, but only has eleven more races to win and guarantee himself a spot in the postseason after missing six rounds due to a broken leg.

In the meantime, LaJoie takes over the #9 and sits nineteenth in points with a best finish of fourth at Atlanta. LaJoie had frequently made his interest in racing for Hendrick public, having written a letter to team owner Rick Hendrick; ironically, he opined Elliott should not have been suspended for the Charlotte wreck.

LaJoie’s father Randy raced for Hendrick in nine races in 1998, incidentally also in substitute duty for the injured Ricky Craven.

“We’re always happy to help our friends at Hendrick Motorsports and couldn’t be prouder to see Corey LaJoie get the opportunity of a lifetime to race a Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet,” said Spire Motorsports co-owner Jeff Dickerson. “When we were approached by HMS, it was really an easy answer. Our entire organisation and the whole team at Schluter Systems are on board and thrilled to see Corey realise an incredible opportunity.”

Meanwhile, Hocevar arrives in the Cup Series as a major prospect in the Craftsman Truck Series, where he sits eighth in points with a victory at Texas and riding a three-race top-five string. He made his Xfinity début at COTA in March before joining up with Spire’s new programme in the series for the past two rounds, scoring top tens in both.

He finished fifteenth and eighth in his first two Truck attempts at Gateway, while his 2022 race there ended with a crash.

“Carson has proven to be more than capable and he’s done a great job in our #77 Premier Security Chevrolet in the NASCAR Xfinity Series,” Dickerson continued. “This is a win for everyone involved.”