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Hemric’s Journey Ends With Trophy

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 9 2021

Daniel Hemric won the 2021 Xfinity Series championship on Saturday in Phoenix. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

Ever since childhood Daniel Hemric possessed an intense desire, a hunger to race in NASCAR’s top three series, but he quickly realized the path to his goal would be more reminiscent of those who built the sport instead of the one followed by many young drivers today.

Hemric had no family money to finance his racing. Instead, the Kannapolis, N.C., native had to build and work on race cars, and find people who believed in him and his talent. Despite the odds and at times self-doubt creeping into his thoughts, he kept showing up and racing. 

On Saturday at Phoenix Raceway, Hemric’s determination finally paid off. Headed to the checkered flag he muscled his way underneath Austin Cindric and edged the defending NASCAR Xfinity Series champion for this year’s title. In Hemric’s third trip to the championship four, he finally broke into the winner’s circle. That first career NASCAR victory ended a string of 10 second-place finishes in the Xfinity Series over a four-year period. 

“The hunger to feel this is what impacted me tonight (Saturday). It’s impacted me my whole life,” Hemric said. “It’s the matter of getting an opportunity and seizing it.”

Hemric began seizing those opportunities at age 5 when he started racing go-karts. Five years later he switched to Bandoleros. He remained in that division until he was a teenager. Hemric’s family couldn’t help him advance, but Tim Ladyga saw his potential. Ladyga sold one of his personal muscle cars so he could finance the 14-year-old Hemric in a Legends car. 

“That was the first time I realized the work that really had to go in,” Hemric said. “It was all on my shoulders to figure this out. He (Ladyga) stuck his neck out so many times for me.”

Hemric didn’t let down the man who always bragged on him as if he were his son. In Legend cars Hemric won the 2009 national championship in addition to Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Summer Shootout Series title. The following year he received another boost to his fledgling career, capturing CMS’ 2010 Legends Million, which produced a $250,000 paycheck. 

“I pulled in there (CMS) in a ’95 Honda Civic (and) literally ran out of fuel,” Hemric recalled. “(I) win the race (then I) pump fuel out of my race car into my Honda Civic to get me home because I don’t have enough money to buy gas to get home. I’ll never forget laying out at a Steak n’ Shake, (my) head on the table (while) all of our group of supporters are eating. I’m just tired. We prepared 12 cars (for that race).”

About that same time Hemric decided to venture into racing Late Models and Modifieds. Even though he never recorded a Modified victory, he produced three top-five and six top-10 finishes with 2012 being his best season in the NASCAR Whelen Southern Modified Tour. Then in 2013 Hemric claimed the Southern Super Series championship.

Two years later, Hemric built a Super Late Model, towed it to the Nashville (Tenn.) Fairgrounds Speedway and won the prestigious All-American 400.

“That was huge to build my own car and go win with it,” Hemric recalled. “Without a doubt, that was the biggest win of my life (at the time) because I didn’t know what was next in life.”

Hemric made his NASCAR Truck Series debut in 2013, but he didn’t run a full season on that circuit until 2015, the same year he chased another title in the Southern Super Series. That created at least one hectic weekend for Hemric when he had to compete in a Texas Truck race and a Georgia Super Late Model event within a 24-hour period. Hemric accomplished the feat by flying to Texas with his truck team, spending the night after the Friday night event and then taking a 5:30 a.m. commercial flight to Atlanta on Saturday. After his Carswell Motorsports team picked him up at the Georgia airport, they drove for two hours to Watermelon Capital Speedway in Cordele, arriving just as the gates opened at noon. That night he defeated then NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Chase Elliott and 14-year-old Harrison Burton, who finished fourth behind Casey Roderick.

Four years ago Hemric joined Richard Childress Racing where he spent two years in that organization’s Xfinity Series program before being elevated into the Cup Series in 2019. However, midway through his first full-time Cup season things began unraveling when Hemric learned he wouldn’t return to NASCAR’s top series with RCR. Hemric felt his entire world was crumbling around him and he lost faith in himself, but his wife, Kenzie, understood his struggles. Throughout the time they dated, Kenzie raced, too. The Oklahoma native was the first female to win the U.S. Legends Car Asphalt National Championship. She was named to the NASCAR Next program and drove for Ben Kennedy Racing in the NASCAR’s K&N Pro Series East.

For 2020, Hemric landed a limited Xfinity Series schedule with JR Motorsports, but he still felt everything was falling apart. He was “compounding one mistake after another.”

“It just wasn’t working out. That was incredibly tough,” Hemric said. 

This year he bounced back fulltime with Joe Gibbs Racing and rewarded the Huntersville, N.C.-based organization with its third NASCAR Xfinity Series driver championship. It was a season in which crew chief Dave Rogers constantly pushed Hemric to focus on becoming a better race car driver, “reacting strictly off instinct” now that he didn’t have to work on his cars, drive his truck and trailers to the track and worry about every part and piece of his car.

“I knew he had it in him. We just had to show everyone he had it in him,” Rogers said. “I think Daniel Hemric is going to be a completely different driver from today forward just because of the mental aspect. Daniel Hemric is going to have a lot of confidence, and he should have a lot of confidence.”  

Hemric will defend his series title next year with Kaulig Racing.

Many of those who helped the 30-year-old Hemric develop his career were in Phoenix for the Xfinity Series season finale, including Ladyga. Hemric viewed his Phoenix success as validation for Ladyga and himself. He also recalled that Ladyga once told him to remember that “the destination is all fine and good, but the journey is everything.” 

“The journey it took us to get here today, it’s something you can’t make up,” Hemric said. 

Hemric will be honored during NASCAR’s Championship Week scheduled for Nov. 30-Dec. 2 in Nashville, Tenn. 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Tuesday, November 9 2021
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