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2021 NASCAR Top Storylines: Daniel Hemric Ends Drought, Crowned Xfinity Champion

On Nov. 6, 2021, Daniel Hemric had made 119 NASCAR Xfinity Series starts, 50 NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts, 38 NASCAR Cup Series starts and three playoff appearances.

And the 30-year-old Kannapolis, N.C., native had yet to win a race, much less a partridge in a pear tree.

It was 2021, and Hemric had spent nearly nine years grinding away in NASCAR’s top three divisions, starting off with Truck competition. He made his way up to Xfinity after several years, then to Cup, then back down to Xfinity, where he was picked up by Joe Gibbs Racing for its No. 18’s 2021 campaign.

With over 207 starts to his name, Hemric held 12 second-place finishes across the lower two series, including three in 2021.

It had almost become joke for those online and a cruel, cyclical, never-ending Shakespearean tragedy for Hemric. Every week, fate would deal him a new hand of rotten luck, be it a crash, something beyond his control or simply a car faster than his. Two of his three runner-up finishes in 2021 came behind non-points competitors.

On Nov. 6, all of that came to a head in the final race of the 2021 Xfinity campaign.

Prior to the title race, Hemric led more than 500 laps before the playoffs, including 105 at Charlotte Motor Speedway — more than half the race — before he crashed out. He then rarely faltered throughout the postseason, reeling off finishes of fifth, fourth, third and second in order throughout the first four events.

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Kansas Speedway featured the No. 18’s one playoff anomaly, a 15th-place result after an incident, but Hemric bounced back to finish third at Martinsville Speedway and subsequently set his sights on Phoenix Raceway.

Hemric and defending champion Austin Cindric were wheel-to-wheel most of the night, finishing 1-2 in both stages; Cindric won the first, Hemric the second. Cindric kept getting the better of Hemric on a rash of late-race restarts as the laps wound down, until a lap-195 incident set up an overtime restart.

Cindric took the outside, Hemric the inside. The No. 18 stayed alongside or on the No. 22’s rear wheel for the majority of the first lap, nearly making contact in turn 4 as the pair went wide. Cindric cleared him exiting turn 2, but Hemric dove to the inside and got a run out of turn 4, allowing him to draw alongside Cindric and make contact. The two cars traded paint and fenders as they crossed the finish line, Hemric ahead by a nose to claim his first-ever win and championship.

In one fell swoop, the season, the race, the championship battle and Hemric’s losing streak all reached their ends.

“I felt like I blacked out, to be honest,” he said after the race. “I don’t want people to think I’m not emotional, because I’m probably one of the most emotional guys there are. […] I think back immediately, honestly, to 2019 when I lost my ride. I felt like my life was unraveling before me.”

Hemric’s career began in humble fashion, driving the No. 6 truck for Eddie Sharp Racing in a pair of inconspicuous 2013 starts. One more appearance came the following year, this time for NTS Motorsports at Homestead-Miami Speedway, followed by a full-time ride with the stable in 2015. An impressive 13 top-10 finishes and seventh-place effort in the standings later, he became more of a household name in 2016 when Brad Keselowski Racing tapped him for the No. 19 truck.

Paired with fellow eventual Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick that season, the duo put up impressive numbers, though wins eluded Hemric. He moved up to the Xfinity Series when Richard Childress Racing signed him to drive the No. 21, and in his rookie season Hemric advanced all the way to the Championship 4. He did the same the following season, finishing a place higher in the standings and also making his first Cup appearances in the No. 8 for RCR.

A disappointing rookie season in Cup later, Hemric found himself without a full-time ride, though he put up solid numbers with JR Motorsports in a part-time role in 2020. Gibbs then came knocking, and Hemric fought tooth-and-nail throughout the 2021 season en route to his third Championship 4 in three full-time seasons and, eventually, the title.

The title-winning season was capped off with a Hemric backflip from the roof of the No. 18, something the NASCAR world hadn’t seen in five years since Carl Edwards’ retirement. The flawless backflip and beaming Hemric, backed by a deafening roar from the stands, summed up the long, strange journey Hemric had been on for nearly a decade.

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“We work our asses off for an opportunity like this,” he said. “This is what it’s all about, winning at the second-highest level in all of motorsports.

“Unbelievable,” he added. “I’d do it all over again. I’ll take all the heartbreaks again to live this right here.”

Hemric now moves to Kaulig Racing for the 2022 season. While Justin Haley and Jeb Burton departed the team’s Xfinity stable after the recently concluded season, Haley for Kaulig’s Cup ride and Burton for a to-be-determined seat, Hemric and Landon Cassill will fill those slots, with holdover AJ Allmendinger remaining in the third.

And a full-time Xfinity ride isn’t the only thing in the cards for Hemric: he’s also set to pilot Kaulig’s second Cup car in select races alongside Allmendinger and Noah Gragson in 2022.

The 2021 champion is among more veterans than ever and is now teammates with two very similar drivers. Cassill has more than 500 starts across NASCAR’s three series without a win, while Allmendinger made well over 100 before he won his first sanctioned event.

Kaulig’s lineup is now made of three journeymen who have persevered through ride-searching, close-but-no-cigar moments and spent nearly or more than a decade in the ranks of NASCAR. Hemric is among his ilk and the trio might just be the stable to beat in 2022.

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