Daniel Hemric has been close to his first career NASCAR national touring series victory many times in 2018. But as we all know, close only counts in horseshoes and handgrenades.
Hemric, 27, is in the middle of his second full season in the XFINITY Series driving for Richard Childress Racing. Compared to his rookie campaign, the No. 21 team has been stronger, coming up a bridesmaid twice, with six additional third-place efforts.
Consistency is keeping Hemric in the hunt.
“I think we’ve done a lot of things really well as a whole on the No. 21 team,” Hemric told Frontretch of his 2018 season. “There’s weekends where we don’t feel like we’re hitting on everything and not really being productive, and we’ve had a couple of those weekends. We’ve got to minimize those in order to feel like we’re championship-caliber ready.
“I think we’re doing so many things so much better than the 2017 season, as a driver, from the chew chief side with Danny Stockman. We feel like we overcame a lot last year, but we have more speed this year, and that’s what is allowing us to have better finishes.”
Through the opening 21 races of the season, Hemric is tied with Elliott Sadler for second in the championship standings, 17 markers behind Christopher Bell. Whoever finishes first following Las Vegas Motor Speedway in early September will be awarded 15 playoff points. Thus far, the No. 21 team has just two, winning a pair of stages.
After leading 174 laps and still coming up short in the win column, Hemric has pinpointed what his team needs to take that next step.
“We’ve got to work on execution,” Hemric said. “It’s the common word that we use and something that can’t be overstated because that’s literally what determines our finishes. The execution level has to be at its highest form, especially today in this sport, to be able to get the results you want.”
Consistency is what’s gotten Hemric to second in the championship standings. In 12 fewer races from what he competed in 2017, the No. 21 car has three more top-five efforts (10). His average finish is 8.9, up four positions from his rookie year.
However, his closest competition is racking up trophies. Bell leads the series with four wins, while Justin Allgaier is right behind with three. But the old adage is a driver must consistently run in the top five before they can compete for wins. And at one point this season, Hemric had six top fives in an eight-race span.
So a victory is right around the corner, right?
“Usually in these situations, they [wins] come when you’re least expecting it,” Hemric said. “Everybody said for so long ‘you’re so close,’ but I promise you the closer you are the further away you feel like you are because it’s hard to do everything at the level you have to do it and put yourself in position to win races. I’ve been fortunate enough that we’ve been in somewhat of a position, but obviously, we haven’t been able to put it all together yet.”
There have been a few instances this season where Hemric felt a victory slipped away. Heading into the race at Kentucky Speedway in July, he believed it was the best car Stockman had prepared for him in their time working together. Meanwhile, the No. 21 team had to settle for a disappointing second-place finish, despite leading eight circuits.
“I could have made a little different decision on a restart that would have put me in a different lane,” Hemric said of Kentucky. “I feel like, given that lane, I got the best restart I could, but it’s looking at those situations and building that notebook. Whenever it does work out, it’s going to be all of those moments that I did not execute or didn’t feel like I executed — all of those little things add up to allow me to put the whole weekend together.”
So, how does Hemric close a race and finally get that alluded victory? Closing a race.
“I think what makes somebody a closer is when they don’t have that race-winning race car and have ran eighth or ninth all day, and the next thing you know, they finish second, third, fourth — whatever that is, and make more out of what that day has been given to them at that point,” Hemric said.
While Hemric looks to be on his way to that first victory, he believes Richard Childress Racing scaling back to three teams helped from a personnel standpoint. In 2017, the team ran five full-time teams, which saw the No. 21 car make the Championship 4 at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
And though Hemric made it to Homestead last year, he can make a statement by winning before the playoffs begin at Richmond Raceway. And if he does, what a celebration it would be, as the North Carolina native can do a standing backflip.
“I don’t even let myself think of that side of it,” Hemric said of the proposed celebration. “But I can remember growing up and racing, it was you’d win, and you didn’t have time to celebrate because when you go to the racetrack that’s what you expect to do, and you’re going to the racetrack the next day. There wasn’t no fallback time like you have in this sport.”
- There are 40 teams entered for this weekends Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway. Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson, Joey Logano, Chase Elliott, Ty Dillon, Ross Chastain and JJ Yeley will be pulling double duty.
- Elliott Sadler announced he will retire from full-time NASCAR competition following the 2018 season. The Virginia native has three wins in 438 career Cup starts, while victorious 13 times in XFINITY, with four ruuner-up finishes in the championship.
- Over the past couple weeks, there has been speculation of Daniel Hemric and/or Ryan Preece moving up to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series full-time in 2019 for JTG Daugherty Racing. Through 23 races this season, the Cup teams sit 24th and 25th respectively in points.