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Why Did Rick Hendrick Choose Corey LaJoie and Not Josh Berry to Replace Chase Elliott at the Gateway

Published 06/03/2023, 8:27 PM EDT

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Things could not be more heated up at the camp of Hendrick Motorsports. Troubles are yet to subside for the most successful team of the Cup Series. Although HMS had a great start to the season, after the snowboarding accident and sidelining of their golden boy, Chase Elliott, things seemed to have gone for a toss. And to add to the pain of the team, Alex Bowman also suffered from a fractured vertebra in a sprint race.

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While the team was still recuperating from all the injuries, its ace driver got embroiled in an ugly controversy after wrecking the defending Coca-Cola 600 champion Denny Hamlin. As a result of which, the #9 Chevrolet driver was dished out a one-race suspension.

In the tumultuous situations that the team faced earlier, it was the substitute driver Josh Berry who filled in the big shoes of these two drivers. But things are not the same for the substitute driver this time around as the Cup Series paddock lands at the World Wide Technology Raceway.


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Hendrick Motorsports picks Corey LaJoie over Josh Berry as a substitute for Chase Elliott

With the sidelining of Elliott and Bowman in two different accidents, things could not have been worse for Hendrick Motorsports. But it was Josh Berry, the substitute, who stood up to the expectations of the team and delivered favorable results. 

Driving for the #9 and the #48 teams, Berry had eight race starts and secured three top-10 finishes, with his best coming at the Richmond Raceway, where he finished second. 


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The JR Motorsports driver also qualified for the million-dollar All-Star Race at the North Wilkesboro Speedway after winning the All-Star Open. Even racing for HMS was not an easy job for the driver, as the team was often in disarray due to multiple penalties and wrecks. But Berry’s dexterity lay in the fact that he could capitalize on the situation and be appreciated by rivals.

Owing to this fact, Josh Berry should have been the obvious choice as a replacement for Chase Elliott even for Sunday’s race at WWTR. But Rick Hendrick had different plans set for the team. To everybody’s surprise, it was Corey LaJoie of Spire Motorsports who was declared as the replacement for the #9 Chevrolet driver.

However, the question that arises at this juncture is: why the authorities at HMS decided to part with Berry and choose Corey LaJoie as a replacement, despite Berry delivering stellar performances?

Why did Hendrick Motorsports replace Josh Berry with Corey LaJoie as a substitute?

Well, there are several vantage points from which one can look at this.

1) Josh Berry drives full-time in Xfinity Series for JR Motorsports and is not eligible for Drivers’ points in Cup Series

2) Moreover, even if he were granted permission to drive at the Gateway, he would have to miss out on the Xfinity race as it is logistically impossible. While Cup Series is being held at World Wide Technology Raceway in Illinois while the Xfinity is being hosted at the Portland International Raceway. JR Motorsports would not want one of its star drivers to miss out on the race. 

3) A more crucial reason could be the fact that Josh Berry is rumored to be joining Stewart-Haas Racing once Kevin Harvick retires from professional racing. The driver seemed to have fanned those speculations in an interview with CBS News where he revealed, I think for us now, that was a great experience, and looking forward I want to compete and hopefully win the Xfinity Series championship this year and then have my eye on being in the Cup Series next year.”

Moreover, Clint Bowyer also hinted that Berry will possibly be joining the SHR stable next year during the broadcast of a race.

It is possible that Berry being slated for a rival team and rival manufacturer, the personnel at HMS and Chevrolet might have had reservations about him joining the garage. It is likely that this is a reason why Rick Hendrick did not favor Berry for the race.

4) Since its debut in 2019, Spire Motorsports has enjoyed a healthy relationship with Hendrick Motorsports. Firstly, they share the same manufacturer. Former HMS crew chief Steve Letarte serves as a consultant for Spire Motorsports. Moreover, sponsors Spire’s #7 team in the Truck Series. On the back of such a mutually beneficial relationship, it makes sense for HMS to hire the services of Lajoie. 

Note: These are all part of speculations that are brewing inside NASCAR circles. The primary reason for snubbing Berry can only be confirmed by HMS personnel. 

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Could Lajoie outdo himself in the #9 Chevy on Sunday?

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Nevertheless, as Corey LaJoie is set to replace the #9 for the weekend race at World Wide Technology Raceway, excitement is running high for the driver. As the #7 driver for Spire Motorsports, he has had a fairly good season. He sits 20th on the points table. Moreover, LaJoie is on the verge of driving one of the most coveted cars in the Cup Series arena. Driving an HMS car for a change is likely to result in a favorable outcome.

As Lajoie enters the race as a replacement for Elliott, Carson Hocevar of Niece Motorsports from the Xfinity Series is set to race as a substitute for LaJoie and also taste the pressure of competing in a superior format and superior machinery.


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It remains to be seen what awaits these drivers at the Gateway on Sunday. The debutant Hocevar would surely try to make the best of the opportunity to race in the Cup Series. Meanwhile, Josh Berry has secured a fourth-place finish in the Xfinity race in Portland.

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Ayantika Maitra

526 articles

Ayantika Maitra is a NASCAR Writer at EssentiallySports. It was initially Formula 1 that made her fall in love with the world of motorsports. But quickly, the raw and unfiltered nature of NASCAR is what led her to build an affinity for the Stock Car Racing Series.

Edited By: Nischal Kandpal