I know you’re all expecting it, so I’ll just get it out of the way right off the bat: Daniel Hemric is winless no more! The 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion finally checked that box with his incredibly exciting last-lap pass for the lead in the season finale at Phoenix. I am personally glad that he was able to finally get his win for a number of reasons, but mainly because of this: it was far too often lost in the cloud of that winless streak just how GOOD Daniel Hemric is, and has been throughout his racing career. He’s been the picture of consistency, and deserves recognition for that. As he moves on to Kaulig Racing next season, let’s take a look back at the career of Daniel Hemric, and how he was able to shape himself into a NASCAR champion.
A native of one of the most famous NASCAR towns in the country – Kannapolis, North Carolina – Daniel Hemric started racing at just five years old, running go-karts at Concord Speedway for several years. After winning a number of races and a track championship over the course of five years, he moved up to racing Bandoleros at age ten (essentially miniature stock cars if you aren’t familiar), doing backflips after wins, a la Carl Edwards. Eventually he moved to Legends at age 16 where he really started to make his name.
In 2008 and 2009, Hemric won back-to-back Legends Car Pro Championships. In 2009 specifically, he made 80 Legend Car starts, and of those 80 starts, he scored…get this… 60 wins. A full three quarters of the Legend races Hemric entered in 2009, he won. Those wins propelled Hemric into the National Legend Car Pro championship, and the Summer Shootout Series championship at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Between 2010-2012 Hemric also got his first taste of NASCAR affiliated racing, making select starts in the NASCAR Whelen Modified & Southern Modified Tours, running 12 races across the two series. Though his numbers were not mind-boggling – six top-tens across the two series – his foot was in the door of the NASCAR world.
Expanding his repertoire further, Hemric began running late model races & super late models. By the end of the 2013 season, he picked up two championships in late models – the 2012 Champion Racing Association JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour, and the Southern Super Series in 2013 – and even managed to pick up a third Legend Car title in 2012 by winning the Summer Shootout Series. Hemric had established himself as an exceptional talent, and was ready to make the jump to NASCAR.
That jump would take place in 2013, where he would run two truck series races for Sharp-Gallaher Racing. His debut was an issue-plagued 32nd place, but he followed it up with a respectable 13th place run in what would be the second to last race in Sharp-Gallaher’s team history. The following season in 2014 Hemric ran one Truck Series race – the season finale at Homestead – for NTS Motorsports, for whom he would run full-time in 2015.
Hemric’s first full time season in NASCAR was marked by consistency. With only one DNF all year in the season opener at Daytona, Hemric only had four finishes outside of the top-20 in 2015, and racked up 13 top-tens and four top-fives, finishing his rookie season for the small team seventh in points. Those results were good enough to earn a spot with Brad Keselowski Racing in 2016. His numbers improved, with 17 top-tens, and 11 top-fives, but that was only good for a one spot improvement in the final standings to sixth in what was the first year of the Truck Series playoffs. One could argue that 2016 is where the proverbial “winless monkey” climbed onto Daniel’s back, with him bringing home nine finishes inside the top-three, but no wins.
Regardless of not winning in 2016, his numbers were very impressive and he showed exceptional consistency – good enough for him to land an Xfinity Series ride with Richard Childress Racing, where he would run full-time in 2017 and 2018. Hemric again showed great consistency in both of those campaigns, earning ten top-tens and seven top-fives in 2017, and an impressive 23 top-tens, 16 top-fives, and four poles in 2018. He would make the Championship Four in both of those seasons despite not securing any race wins, but was unable to bring home a title, finishing 2017 & 2018 fourth and third in the standings respectively.
Again, even though a win had not yet come, Hemric showed exceptional consistency, and proved that he was capable of running for a championship. That consistency helped bring about his…I suppose you could say “infamous” 2019 Cup Series promotion, where he would run full time for Richard Childress Racing driving the #8 car.
In races where he was able to avoid trouble, Hemric generally did about as well as could be expected for a rookie in a second RCR car at the time. However, the driver of the #8 found himself in trouble far more often than he was accustomed to. On the year, Hemric collected two top-tens at Talladega and Pocono, a pole award at Kansas, and 16 top-20s. However, he also racked up an uncharacteristic ten finishes of 30th or worse, with five DNF’s. While certainly not the kind of results that would generally be expected of him, it was good enough to win the 2019 Cup Series Rookie of the Year, beating out Ryan Preece by 23 points. A Rookie of the Year award to start off your Cup Series career would generally be any driver’s best case scenario.
However, Rookie of the Year or not, RCR had seen enough. They announced that despite signing a two year contract, Hemric would be replaced in 2020 by two-time defending Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick. Over the course of a year Hemric went from being the picture of consistency, to out of a job.
Fortunately, Hemric was able to land on his feet, securing a part-time ride with JR Motorsports in 2020, where he ran 21 races. It was a feast-or-famine season for Hemric, that saw him collect 12 top-tens & seven top-fives…to go with a career high seven DNF’s. He was pushing the car for everything it had each race, sometimes a bit too hard, trying to prove that he belonged after his ill-fated Cup Series stint. To that end, he also had four more top-three finishes, including three in his final five races, continuing to narrowly miss out on his first career win. This was when the real narrative around his winless stretch started to appear.
Following the 2020 season, it was announced that Hemric would drive full time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series in 2021, marking a huge opportunity for him to both prove that he belongs in NASCAR, and finally get the elusive win. 2021 was a season of great consistency for Hemric, where he was able to rack up 15 top-fives and 21 top-tens. He qualified for the playoffs, despite still not being able to lock up a win , where he was exceptional. During the playoffs, Hemric was able to finish in the top-five in every race save for one, narrowly missing out on wins at Martinsville and Texas, and advanced all the way to the Championship Four.
In the Championship Four, while it isn’t the rule, it is generally assumed that the eventual champion will have to win the race. Daniel Hemric, who had never won a race in NASCAR and had amassed a record-tying ten runner up finishes without a win, ran his usual clean, consistent race at Phoenix. Coming to the final turn on the final lap he found himself in second place running just behind defending series champion Austin Cindric. Hemric’s only hope to win both the championship and his first career race was to drive it in deep, and hope it’d stick. So that’s exactly what he did….and well, you know the rest. Hemric made contact with Cindric, completed the pass, and secured both his first career win, and the 2021 Xfinity Series title in one of the most thrilling finishes in the sport’s history. He finally got to do his signature backflip as a NASCAR winner.
In 2022 Daniel Hemric will be on yet another exceptionally competitive team, Kaulig Racing. Now that he’s proven he can win in NASCAR, there is no reason to believe that Hemric won’t be able to compete for more race wins, and ultimately another championship this season.
Featured image by John Harrelson.