By Dustin Albino
Over his years in NASCAR, Daniel Hemric has made friends with some of the top Toyota drivers. Boy, is he glad he did.
Hemric, 30, has earned plenty of opportunities throughout his eight-year NASCAR career — or even prior, running at the local level — but it’s been a grind. That’s something he enjoys.
“I tell everyone I love the grind as much, if not more than anyone,” Hemric recently told Jayski.com. “That‘s why I feel like I‘ve been able to sustain. Even when people count you out, as long as you‘re doing your part, opportunities will come up and you have to keep putting the work in.”
But one thing that remained the same over those eight year time: Hemric has remained winless. Even so, he got the nod to run for Cup Series Rookie of the Year two years ago for Richard Childress Racing, which he accomplished, despite a disappointing 25th-place finish in points. For the 2020 NASCAR season, RCR called upon the hotshot, two-time Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick to replace Hemric in the No. 8 Chevrolet, and Hemric landed a part-time opportunity with JR Motorsports.
In 21 races last year, Hemric was inconsistent, much not of his own doing. He went winless, though ended the season with four top-five finishes in his final five starts.
However, a call with Joe Gibbs Racing last fall changed the game, and possibly the course of Hemric’s career.
“I‘ve been fortunate to have some support from some of the guys within the JGR camp for a while,” Hemric said. “[I’ve] been friends with a few of them and been in constant contact and building up those relationships over the last four to five years, and things just never would come to fruition for whatever reason.
“The way it all shook out the timing was right where they had an opportunity and I had folks that were willing to step up bigger than ever from the sponsorship side. The timing was right. Keeping those relationships going over the last couple years is what led to an easy phone call.”
Hemric noted within a month and a half of first connecting, he had a deal to drive the No. 18 JGR Toyota in the Xfinity Series for 2021. His primary sponsor, Poppy Bank, has stepped up greatly, making it an easy decision for JGR to slot the North Carolina native into the No. 18.
For someone whose been put through the ringer over the past two years, it’s an opportunity of a lifetime.
“There‘s really no words to describe it other than ready to go to work,” Hemric said. “Knowing that having to go from the full-time Cup deal to part time last year, trying to build back to the moment of being full time in one of the top three series, there‘s so much more that goes into that then just words.
“A ton of people have helped keep me going, keep pushing me to continuing to live out the dream that I set out to do, really, 25 years ago. This is an opportunity like no other.”
In the past, Hemric has been quoted of saying whatever he stepped into was not winning equipment from the start. In 2017 and 2018 combined, RCR scored just one Xfinity victory, virtue of 2013 series champion Austin Dillon. In 2019, he went to a struggling RCR Cup program, where its best team — or affiliate — finished 21st in the championship standings.
But not winning races isn’t an option at Joe Gibbs Racing. Last season alone, the team won eight times in Xfinity. 2019? Chalk up 13 checkered flags. 2018 was much of the same with nine wins. The success is undoubted, making this is a dream opportunity.
“I know for a fact that they‘ve won races early and often every season over the last couple of years,” he added. “Because of that, it gives you a little different mindset coming into it.
“This is an opportunity that I‘m going in, and I expect it to be race winning, contending stuff right off the bat, and that‘s what we want to do. We want to win early, we want to win often and we‘ve got 10 months to build ourselves into champions.”
Though winning is expected inside the doors of the JGR Xfinity program, Hemric stated that puts no additional pressure on him. He believes that aforementioned grind has prepared him for such an opportunity.
“I am ready to seize this moment, and everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing is giving me all the tools to do just that,” Hemric said. “It doesn‘t give you a chip on your shoulder, it just gives you confidence to seize the moment and make the most of it.”
Internally, Hemric believes he must win. In fact, he has a number in his head that he’s using as internal motivation and won’t say aloud. But to be a hot prospect, you’ve got to show success, quickly.
Hemric said, “I don‘t know what the future holds past this year. I know the ball is in my court to go do, not only what is expected of me but what I expect in myself and what we as a group expect in each other. To me it‘s pretty black and white of what we‘ve got to go and do.
“If there‘s ever a spot to have a one-year deal at, I feel that this is the spot.”
Admittedly so, Hemric’s short-term goal is to return to Cup. He believes wholeheartedly that’s where he belongs, among the top 40 drivers in NASCAR.
But dropping down to Xfinity, much like Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler and Michael Annett have in the past, isn’t a bad option either.
“If I had to make a living and it‘s going to be competing for race wins week in and week out, sign me up,” Hemric said. “Honestly, at any level. That‘s what got me opportunities growing up. That‘s what got me opportunities to be a part of NASCAR in itself, and I look forward to reestablishing that.”
Last week at Daytona International Speedway, Hemric was in the mix, though finished ninth after getting caught up in a late-race incident. Now he goes into the Daytona road course this weekend hoping to improve on his 37th-place finish just six months ago.