When looking at Daniel Hemric‘s Xfinity Series statistics, you will find a lot of near wins. Thirty-one times, he‘s finished on the podium, with just one of those being a victory — albeit a massive triumph, when he nudged Austin Cindric out of the preferred groove coming to the checkered flag in the 2021 championship race. Hemric has a whopping 12 runner-up finishes and 18 third-place results. That stings for a driver who knows he can get the job done when the pressure is on.
“That‘s almost a whole season when you think of it with second and third,” Hemric told Jayski.com last weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “It‘s good to be mad to run second.”
Hemric‘s most recent encounter with a tough defeat was less than two weeks ago at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Kaulig Racing controlled the race, combining to lead 85 of 169 laps. A late caution created an overtime restart, where Justin Haley had the option to push the No. 11 car past John Hunter Nemechek on the final lap. Haley said his car stumbled on fuel, thus moving to the inside of Hemric.
Hemric finished second. Again.
“Because we didn‘t bring our team owner Matt Kaulig a trophy,” Hemric said of the Atlanta frustration. “He had three bullets in the gun there and we weren‘t able to pull it off.”
Hemric followed up the Atlanta performance with a fourth-place finish at New Hampshire. In a race filled with attrition, the No. 11 car managed its speed deficiency and powered on to another solid finish. It‘s the first time he has consecutive top-five finishes since joining Kaulig Racing at the beginning of the 2022 season.
“I think we stole one last weekend, so I look at that as needing to have speed at New Hampshire,” Chris Rice, president of Kaulig Racing, said. “He‘s just there at the end, and the key is to be there at the end when the pay window opens.”
Coming close to a plethora of checkered flags has affected Hemric‘s mindset. On paper, it proves he can be a contender. But Hemric doesn‘t think that appeals to the masses.
“They are good days and we‘re thankful for those days, but good days don‘t keep you in this sport long term, at least for not a long time,” Hemric said. “I‘m thankful that I‘ve withstood the storm for as long as I have. But our sport is within a model that we have to — there‘s no bigger emphasis on winning and contending for wins than now.”
Many of those close calls came in 2017 and 2018, driving for Richard Childress Racing. Compared to now, he felt unprepared and didn‘t know how to react in certain situations. Now in his sixth season where Xfinity competition has been the focus, he knows how to mentally prepare for situations so that the moment isn‘t too bright for him.
“I think over the course of all those second and third places, the years of having opportunities to drive racecars and having to put myself through my own mental strain and evolution of trying to be a better version of myself,” Hemric added. “I‘ve learned how to cope with all of that.
“If it was easy, everybody would do it. I‘m just thankful to have done it for as long as I‘ve done it.”
Fortunately for Hemric, Kaulig has found its stride during the 2023 season. In what Chris Rice considers a down year, even with AJ Allmendinger‘s six wins last season, the three-car powerhouse struggled to find consistent speed across the board. One of its full-time drivers, Landon Cassill, missed the playoffs entirely when experiencing a mechanical woe in the regular season cutoff race.
When NASCAR implemented a change in rear skew to the Xfinity Series chassis for the 2023 season, Kaulig felt it might have an advantage. After a late January test at Charlotte Motor Speedway, it soon found out that it could be an uptick in speed and mechanical grip of the car. That‘s what the team liked, and the speed that they lacked in 2022 was found for 2023.
“I think the test was big, but the rule changes fit what we do here in Welcome, North Carolina,” Rice said.
When Hemric heard about the rule changes, deep down, he felt it would make a difference. At times last year, when he scored a career-low in top fives (three) and top 10s (14) for a full season, he had to find different ways of handling the emotional side of racing. To see an uptick in speed is a welcoming sign for him.
“The more speed you have built into your racecars, the easier it is to make everything around you slow down on the racetrack in relation to the competition,” Hemric said. “I think the speed lets us get ourselves out of bad situations and makes you not be on the edge to make outright speed, which gives you more tools in your toolbox as a driver to go find that little bit more without overstepping it.
“A lot of our consistency comes back to a little better decision making, which I attest to faster racecars.”
With the consecutive top fives, Hemric has matched his total from last season with 15 races remaining in the season. The No. 11 team‘s average finish is up more than two spots as well.
Should Kaulig find that next notch of speed, Hemric could be a sleeper in the postseason, as he gained 30 points on the cutline last weekend.
“It‘s kind of like any season, you strap into the roller coaster and hope you spend more time at the top than the bottom,” Hemric said of the 2023 season. “We‘ve had some lower moments, but from a consistency standpoint and raw speed standpoint, we‘ve enabled ourselves to have more opportunities.”
And while the last 18 months at Kaulig have provided more challenges than expected, Hemric believes he‘s currently the best version of himself. Admittedly, he had to mentally find another gear over the offseason to keep going.
“I told myself the last 18 months that there‘s a reason this is happening and the season of life of some of the struggles is preparing me for something,” Hemric said. “I‘ve tried to keep that mindset of coming out on the other side of the tough year last year.
“Mentally and physically as a racecar driver and as a person, I think I‘m as good as I‘ve ever been. Just trying to continue that evolution of being the best version of myself.”