By Toby Christie (Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie)
For Daniel Hemric, 2018 was a season chuck-full of close calls. The driver was on the verge of his first-ever NASCAR Xfinity Series victory. Even though Hemric didn’t visit victory lane he still had the most successful season of his young career.
Hemric, 27, started the 2018 campaign with a pole at the season-opening event at Daytona International Speedway. The pole would be the first of four poles on the year for Hemric.
After a couple of rough races to start the season, Hemric began to heat up. The North Carolina native became the model of consistency as he racked up eight-straight top-10 finishes (including six top-5s) from Dover in May to Kentucky in July.
In all, Hemric had four runner-up efforts throughout the NXS season, but the most bitter defeat came at Kansas in the fall, when he started from the pole and led a race-high 128 laps only to finish one spot shy of the victory.
“Unfortunately, I was just unbelievably loose that whole last run. That was the loosest I had been all weekend or at any mile-and-a-half we’ve been to in a couple of months,” Hemric anguished. “I’m not sure what happened, it just wasn’t meant to be, I guess. We did a lot of things well, way more things well than bad. I am proud of that. I’m proud of our effort, proud of our pit crew and the things we did. I don’t know. I just have to have faith that it will all work out the way it is supposed to when it is supposed to, just not today.”
Hemric would make the Championship 4 in the Xfinity Series and he would be a contender for the title all race long at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Unfortunately, the driver and his team came up a little bit short as they finished fourth overall and third in the final championship standings.
Still, it was an impressive season for Hemric.
In 33 races, Hemric racked up 16 top-5 finishes and 23 top-10s. He set or tied his best season marks in every statistical category as well.
Hemric’s strong performance in 2018 has led to Richard Childress Racing to tab the young driver for their new No. 8 team in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2019.
“Growing up in Kannapolis, it was all about racing,” said Hemric. “I always dreamed of having the opportunity to drive for RCR and for Richard himself. Now, two iconic numbers, the 3 and the 8, are going to be under one roof. I know it makes Richard happier than anybody, just understanding what that means for the sport of NASCAR and how our fans are going to be able to connect with that.”
Hemric will join Matt Tifft and Ryan Preece for what should be a great battle for Rookie of the Year.
He is a well-rounded driver and should immediately make an impact in the Cup Series. Hemric secured top-10 finishes at every style of race track in 2018. He was especially impressive on 1.5-mile to 2-mile ovals and short tracks.
Hemric dipped his toes into the Cup Series in 2018 as he ran two races for RCR. Hemric’s best finish was 23rd at the Roval in the fall, but as he gains more experience in the Cup Series he should be vying for top finishes in no time.
There will be no shortage of sponsors for the No. 8 team as Caterpillar, Bass Pro Shops, Liberty National Life Insurance, Cessna and VF Work Wear will fill the slate. Luke Lambert will turn the wrenches for Hemric this season and he will look to rekindle the magic that helped guide Ryan Newman to the Championship 4 with the organization back in 2014.
I expect Hemric to capture the 2019 Rookie of the Year title, and he could eventually be the face of helping turn around the Richard Childress Racing Cup Series program which has been stagnant for the past few years.