The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series silly season has been pretty steady over the last couple of weeks. Last week, it was announced that Matt DiBenedetto will drive the No. 21 Ford in 2020, and this week it was announced that Daniel Hemric will not return to the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet next season. The odds-on favorite to replace Hemric appears to be his fellow RCR stablemate and defending Xfinity Series champion, Tyler Reddick. That got us thinking. After just one season in the Cup Series, should Richard Childress Racing be showing Hemric the door so soon?
He Deserved Another Year
Sometimes the business of this sport really stinks. I certainly felt that way when I saw the news that Hemric would not be back in the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing in 2020.
Things got off to a rough start for the Kannapolis, North Carolina native in his rookie campaign this year. After the first eight races of the season, he was a very disappointing 29th in the standings. Bad luck had plagued the team. Most of what happened was not Hemric’s fault. Everything that could have happened, happened to the No. 8 Chevrolet early in the year. Either way, it was a miserable start to his rookie season. But things have turned around a little bit since then.
I believe that Hemric deserved another year to prove his worth in the Cup Series. I never like replacing a driver after one season with a team, especially a rookie driver with little to no Cup experience. Everything is new for a rookie driver, and at times they can find themselves a bit in over their heads. Look at how many talented drivers have failed to win races in their rookie season. It’s an extremely long list and that’s not a coincidence. They are going against drivers who have been in the series for over a decade and know how the cars handle on every racetrack.
However, most of the rookie drivers who fail to win are given a second year to show that they have made progress on the racetrack and prove that they can run with the big boys. Unfortunately for Hemric, that is not going to happen.
There is no question about it — we’ve seen the team struggle at times. However, we’ve also seen the team have some nice flashes of consistency. A stretch in the middle of the season saw the team record eight top-20 finishes in 10 races. Hemric jumped all the way to 24th in the standings at one point. Since then, things have settled down and he sits 25th, but inconsistency is part of a rookie season. I think it’s expected.
It’s not like his teammate Austin Dillon has set the world on fire. Richard Childress Racing has struggled as a whole. Dillon is in his sixth full-time season in the Cup Series and sits 21st in the standings. Couple that with the bad luck Hemric had in the beginning of the year and you could argue Hemric has been pretty on par with his teammate.
Hemric also leads the Rookie of the Year battle against Ryan Preece and Matt Tifft. Both Tifft and Preece have trailed Hemric pretty much all season long, and Hemric currently leads Preece by 29 points and Tifft by 118 points with nine races to go in the season. Even if he wins it, it will be a pretty impressive win considering he is now a lame duck driver that had some rotten luck earlier on.
Overall, I think Hemric has done a decent job in his rookie season. I feel it’s very unfair to expect a driver in his first season to outrun his team and his teammates, and it looks like Richard Childress Racing was expecting him to do that. He has raced pretty on par with his teammate Dillon, and I think that is about all you can expect from him. – Clayton Caldwell
A Throwback Path to Career Progression
It was announced on Tuesday by Richard Childress Racing that Hemric would not be back in the No. 8 Richard Childress Chevrolet for 2020. His one-year stint in the No. 8 car (formerly the No. 31) following Ryan Newman’s departure leaves Hemric with an uncertain future. Presumably, his replacement will be 2018 Xfinity Series champion Reddick, joining Dillon in the two-car RCR stable next year.
Reddick left JR Motorsports following his 2018 Xfinity Series championship at the end of last year, specifically because it provided him a clearer path to the Cup Series. While it is unfortunate for Hemric — if not a bit unfair given the lack of consistent speed shown by RCR outside of superspeedway tracks — Reddick is the natural choice to move up to the Cup Series.
Reddick has followed what once was the natural career progression in NASCAR since becoming a full-time Truck Series driver in 2015, after running the majority of 2014 season. He looked to be on the fast track as a Ford development driver, piloting Brad Keselowski’s F-150s to wins at Daytona and Dover, coming up just 15 points short of Erik Jones for the championship. He won one more race in 2016 before Keselowski shuttered his Truck Series operation after he reported he was losing over $1 million that year trying to keep the team viable. Reddick then joined the Chevrolet ranks winning with Chip Ganassi Racing. Following his move to JR Motorsports in 2018, Reddick won a pair of races and the championship.
This year he’s been on fire, winning his fifth race of the year in a fuel-saving strategy affair, going over 70 laps on a tank of fuel (plus the requisite burnout) to win at Las Vegas. It was a nice setup to clinch the regular-season championship having to save a significant amount of fuel to do so, prior to the announcement that would come a couple of days later, and further justification for the move. It was a Cup Series-level driver move to be sure. Speaking of Cup Series, he’s made a couple of starts this year for RCR as it is, finishing ninth at Kansas in just his second start — and the Chevrolet teams weren’t exactly killing it on downforce tracks five months ago when he did it either.
Reddick has now won with three different teams in four full-time NASCAR seasons, including a championship. While Hemric has always been a solid performer, he has still yet to win a single race in Trucks, Xfinity or the Monster Energy Series.
That isn’t to say it’s even Hemric’s fault. Comparing his stats to teammate Dillon this year, it’s hard to find fault with how he’s performed. Dillon has four top 10s in the No. 3 RCR Chevrolet with an average finish of 20.2. Hemric has a top 5 and two top 10s and an average finish of 22.7. Taking a look at how their strategic partners run at Richard Petty Motorsports with Bubba Wallace (24.1) and Ty Dillon at Germain Racing (20.7), he’s pretty much right on par with everyone driving similar equipment as he is. That goes to say that other than superspeedways or solid runs by these teams at Pocono and Indy, they have all been a bit off the Chevrolet benchmarks of Hendrick Motorsports.
If Reddick is able to do markedly better it would be surprising — but he has no doubt earned the opportunity to try.
For those who bemoan what NASCAR has become, with drivers who have graduated to top-tier rides simply based on having sponsorship or other ancillary funding to buy a seat (then crashing said seat), this is a throwback to the way it used to be. A driver would prove himself in a lower series, then get the opportunity to move up to the next level, and then after winning races or a championship, the call would come to land a seat for one of the most storied organizations in NASCAR history. Well that call came through for Reddick, and he’s more than qualified to answer it. – Vito Pugliese