Corey LaJoie is an unlikely wild card heading into Sunday's Enjoy Illinois 300 at World Wide Technology Raceway.
While he's a very respectable 19th in the Cup Series standings with the No. 7 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet, LaJoie is a sudden popular choice to be running toward the front on Sunday. That's because he will be filling in for Chase Elliott, who will be serving a one-game race ban for intentionally wrecking Denny Hamlin during the Coca-Cola 600.
LaJoie's fill-in ride comes three years after he approached Hendrick Motorsports team owner Rick Hendrick with a longshot question about succeeding Jimmie Johnson as he prepared to retire from full-time racing.
"The last 24 hours have been surreal," LaJoie, 31, said Wednesday. "Despite the circumstances, I'm very appreciative of Mr. Hendrick for the opportunity to fill in for a championship team and driver. I also can't thank my Spire Motorsports family for working with Hendrick Motorsports to make it come to fruition."
Craftsman Truck Series driver Carson Hocevar will race in LaJoie's place for Spire Motorsports on Sunday.
The Place: World Wide Technology Raceway, Madison, Ill.
The Date: June 4, 3:30 p.m. ET
The Distance: 600 miles (400 laps)
Defending Champion: Joey Logano
Cup Series Leader: Ross Chastain
Radio: SiriusXM NASCAR Radio
Kyle Larson (500 at BetMGM)
Larson enters in 11th place in the series standings despite a pair of wins through the first 14 races. That's because he leads the Cup Series in DNFs with five, and Larson started a multi-car wreck in the Coca-Cola 600 that resulted in finishing 30th.
William Byron (700)
Byron leads the Cup Series with three victories and has climbed back into third position in the standings despite a pair of DNFs through 14 races. He also leads the series with seven top-5s, 8 top-10s and in total laps led with 687, so you have to consider him a serious threat entering any race. Byron is coming off a runner-up in Charlotte.
Joey Logano (1000)
Logano won the first Cup event at World Wide Technology Raceway and has a win among six top-10s so far this season. However, he is mired in a mini-drought with no better than a 10th in his past three races and no top-5s since finishing second at Martinsville seven races ago.
Ryan Blaney (1000)
Second in the standings, Blaney has eight top-10s this season and is trending upward as he comes off a win in Charlotte. He has six top-10s in his past seven races, including a trio of top-5s.
Kevin Hamlin (1000)
Hamlin will be seeking a bounce-back week following the wreck that landed him in 35th last week. After a win in Kansas, he has not produced a top-10 in the past three races, dropping Hamlin into seventh in the standings.
Corey LaJoie (2500)
Who else? LaJoie has an opportunity to jump in an elite car, and his odds have shortened from opening at 3000 as he is second with 11.9 percent of the money backing him. LaJoie, who is also third with 7.8 percent of the total tickets, is BetMGM's second-biggest liability this week.
"The level of preparation and expectations to succeed are everything I expected them to be," he said. "I was able to spend time with (crew chief) Alan (Gustafson) and the No. 9 guys at the shop, and the pursuit of perfection is evident the second you walk through the door. I'm ready to climb through the window and get to work."
--Field Level Media