For the better part of a decade, followers of NASCAR racing have thought that Daniel Hemric was a highly talented driver who was on the cusp of a major breakthrough season. That big win or that groundbreaking moment was due at any time was the belief of many. But when the Kannapolis, North Carolina driver landed a full-time ride in the NASCAR Cup Series in the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in 2019, the results fell short of expectations.
Hemric’s one and only full season at the top level of the sport netted no wins and only one top-5 and two top-10 finishes on his way to a 25th place effort in the final Cup Series standings. Following that disappointment, Hemric returned to the NASCAR Xfinity Series where he had produced solid results in 2017 and 2018 which had ended with fourth and third-place showings respectively in the final standings.
Prior to entering competition in the Xfinity Series, Hemric had posted top-10 finishes in the final NASCAR Camping World Truck Series standings in both 2015 and 2016.
Still, Hemric had not won a single race in either of NASCAR’s top-three divisions. But surely that would change during the 2021 campaign as the promising driver would sit behind the wheel of a NASCAR Xfinity Series Toyota prepared and maintained by powerful Joe Gibbs Racing. However, no wins came through the first 32 races on the schedule. A run of solid consistency, though, had earned the No. 18 team 14 top-5 and 20 top-10 finishes going into the final race at Phoenix Raceway and had kept their hopes of a championship alive in the NASCAR Xfinity Series Playoffs hunt.
Ultimately, that promise many had seen for years was realized in Phoenix as Hemric banged sheet metal in the last turn on the final lap with Austin Cindric to claim his first race win at one of the sport’s top levels and the series title.
The 31-year-old Hemric will join forces with Kaulig Racing in 2022 to drive that company’s No. 11 Chevrolet in search of more wins and his second NASCAR Xfinity Series crown. This will be the fourth organization he has driven for in what will be his fifth season at this level.
Hemric recently made an appearance in a NASCAR Media availability to discuss both his past and future endeavors.
“It took about two weeks before I had a chance to go back and watch the entire race,” he replied when asked how many times he had watched the final lap of last year’s Phoenix race. “As far as re-watching it, it’s more so you go onto social media knowing it’s going to come up and I’ve seen it and watched the last ten or fifteen seconds a handful of times. It’s funny because that moment obviously gets brought up to me more and more every time I see people for the first time since Phoenix and it’s funny to hear their own take on it all and where they were at and how they celebrated. I’ve been letting everybody else do the viewing of it for me and not necessarily myself.”
The 2013 Southern Super Series champion is guarded when it comes to thinking about the past. He indicated that celebrating his triumph with his Joe Gibbs Racing team was something he wanted to do, but not overdo.
“The more time you spend looking back, the more somebody else is working to make sure you don’t enjoy it again,” he explained. “I spent what I felt like was adequate time celebrating with that group and re-living that. But in the grand scheme of things, the page turned and it’s time to figure out how to prepare for what’s ahead. I guess as we get into the season, if there’s down days or times when you need a little pick me up, it’s always there to pull it up and watch it if it comes to that but I’m just focused on what’s ahead.”
But that Phoenix win and the championship that came with it did serve a significant purpose for Hemric.
“For me, it was personal validation,” he stated. “‘You can do this, you did not forget how to do this’. It made me, for sure, want to experience more of it. It’s about having fun and getting to do the thing I love for a living. I’m looking forward to just going out and having some fun and enjoying this new ride with Kaulig and this new race team.”
Initially, Hemric’s deal with Kaulig was only meant as an Xfinity Series opportunity. That has since been altered as that operation has decided to race with one full-time and one part-time effort in the NASCAR Cup Series.
Justin Haley will take the wheel of the No. 31 full-time Cup ride with Hemric sharing the No. 16 part-time car with A.J. Allmendinger and Noah Gragson. Veteran road racing ace Allmendinger won the Cup Series race last year on the road course at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for Kaulig Racing.
Hemric has been chosen to wheel the No. 16 in the season-opening Daytona 500.
“When I signed my contract with Matt Kaulig(Team Owner) and Chris Rice(Team President), that was for Xfinity only,” Hemric pointed out. “I never thought I’d have the opportunity to drive a Cup car for them, it wasn’t even talked about. But as the progression of things happened, next thing you know, I’m going to be lined up and running my second Daytona 500. It’s an exciting time, because quite frankly, it’s a new car and new state for our sport. You don’t want to miss out on that. It is extremely welcomed on my part and I’m looking forward to taking advantage of it.”
As for his first chance at the Cup level, Hemric doesn’t believe the RCR team provided the best fit for him at that time. As a result, his self confidence was shaken.
“I don’t think I was in the best spot halfway through my initial Cup season and was extremely hard on myself,” he recalled. “I feel like I valued my personal self based off that past weekend’s results. I’d like to think I’ve grown personally in my mental state. I’ve learned that’s not everything. Of course, it matters and that’s important but it’s not your full value as an individual.”
As for this new opportunity in both Cup and Xfinity competition, Daniel Hemric looks forward to the challenge.
“I welcome the pressure. Pressure is a privilege and that’s the way I’m inviting everything this year and I’m looking forward to the task at hand.”
Scott Bloomquist looks forward to March return to racing at Bristol
Richard Allen has been covering NASCAR and other forms of motorsports since 2008.
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