Did You Notice? …. Daniel Hemric never won a NASCAR race? That’s the tough answer for critics crying foul over Richard Childress Racing’s decision Tuesday (Sept. 17) to release Hemric from his Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series ride at the end of the season.
That’s a hard pill to swallow for a personable, energetic 28-year-old driver who’s currently leading the Rookie of the Year race. Hemric may only have just one top-five finish this year but that’s one more than teammate Austin Dillon. RCR as a whole has had a down year across the board on the Cup side; no one using their chassis or engine combination made the postseason. The best average finish for any RCR-aligned driver is Dillon with a mediocre 20.2.
The problem for Hemric is there’s one shining star within the whole RCR organization right now: reigning NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Tyler Reddick. Reddick enters the postseason in position to deliver a second straight championship, earning five wins and 20 top-five finishes in 26 races. It’s a resume that’s Cup-level ready, growing within an organization that can’t afford to lose him.
But RCR’s awful 2019 has made finding additional sponsorship a virtual impossibility. As it is, longtime backer Dow Chemical hasn’t been seen on its No. 3 car in months. (The team insists they’ll be back at full speed come February 2020). So faced with the prospect of three drivers battling over two Cup seats, it comes down to a comparison between Hemric and Reddick.
That’s where Hemric’s resume, as heartwarming a story as it may be, falls short. He’s now had 145 career starts across NASCAR’s top-tier divisions, many of which came in equipment capable of winning. He’s earned a respectable 39 top-five finishes along with two Championship 4 appearances in the Xfinity title chase.
But none of those starts in Trucks, Xfinity or Cup ended in victory lane. In Hemric’s entire career, he’s led 662 laps across the board; Reddick’s led 719 laps in Xfinity alone the past three seasons. Hemric’s expected replacement in the No. 8 Cup car for 2020 brings that perfect blend of consistency and winning pedigree RCR’s been looking for. Heck, he already has a top-10 finish in Cup this year driving a part-time schedule.
It’s a tough break for Hemric, a driver who really deserved a second year to sharpen his skills in Cup. But a NASCAR garage built on fleeting financial support these days doesn’t allow for the type of patience given to other drivers as recently as 10 years ago. Consistency can only do you so many favors in middle-tier equipment, especially when a win earns you an automatic playoff berth.
That’s where the focus is these days, on the championship, and it’s clear Reddick gives RCR a better chance to deliver on that goal year in and year out.
Did You Notice? … Contact has been a part of some of the biggest moments in NASCAR? You have the 1979 Daytona 500, where Donnie Allison and Cale Yarborough banged fenders on the final lap before crashing in a heap of metal on the backstretch. There was the 2003 race at Darlington in which Ricky Craven and Kurt Busch used every ounce of their race cars in a finish that was settled by inches. As recently as last summer, a battle between Kyle Busch and Kyle Larson became the most talked about ending in the history of Chicagoland Speedway.
The problem is, too often these days, contact is causing unintended consequences. Take last week’s wreck at Las Vegas Motor Speedway between Kurt Busch and Martin Truex Jr. A little bit of fender-rubbing on a restart between them caused Busch to slam into the wall with a flat tire just a few laps later. The type of racing that would cause cheers from the grandstands ruined a race driver’s day instead… and became a lesson for other playoff drivers not to try it.
“Everyone wants to try to get in the middle and that’s where you make up the most spots,” Kurt Busch explained afterwards. “Truex and I were going for the same piece of real estate.
“It’s unfortunate that you just barely touch somebody and you have a flat tire,” Chase Elliott told NBCSN after the race. “But that’s the box that we’re in. That really needs to be addressed… it’s hard to be aggressive and not make a little mistake here or there.”
Those little “mistakes,” the kind the sport was built on may have kept Kurt Busch from advancing in the playoffs, potentially ruining an impressive year for him at Chip Ganassi Racing.
It’s an issue one can only hope the new Gen-7 chassis is attempting to address.
Did You Notice? … Quick hits before taking off….
- I wouldn’t write Erik Jones off just yet. A mechanical failure at the worst possible moment, in the playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, leaves him 26 points behind the cutoff line for the Round of 12. But the Charlotte Roval is the most unpredictable race in the postseason, even more so than Talladega Superspeedway, and Jones remains one of the hottest drivers on the Cup circuit. Two top-five finishes combined with stage bonuses would still get the job done.
- Speedway Motorsports, Inc. is closing in on the finishing touches of a deal that would take the company private. The big question now is what happens next? Will they package it up and sell it to NASCAR as consolidation continues? Will they try to buy more racetracks? Are they going to use their leverage against Daytona Beach long-term if the 2021 schedule doesn’t go their way? Remember, SMI has about a third of the race dates on the Cup slate for 2020.