In the Hot Seat with Daniel Hemric

While Daniel Hemric's future looks bright for 2022, his present day focus remains as radiant. (Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

While Daniel Hemric’s future looks bright for 2022, his present day focus remains as radiant. (Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

Daniel Hemric may be a young, 30-year-old driver from Kannapolis, North Carolina. However, he’s a talented, experienced stock car talent who delivers consistent results.

After a partial schedule in 2020, Hemric took the reins of Joe Gibbs Racing’s No. 18 Toyota Supra this season. By and large, Hemric proves dependable on scoring top five and top 10 finishes on a consistent basis.

Moreover, Hemric knocks on the door for that maiden NASCAR XFINITY Series win. Although his bids prove a bit frustrating, it does not stop the optimistic, driven North Carolinian from battling for stock car success.

In his third NASCAR XFNITY Series Playoffs in his fourth overall season, Hemric seems poised for a genuine championship run. With veteran crew chief Dave Rogers atop the No. 18 Poppy Bank Toyota Camry pit box, Hemric may be ready to be a champion if he plays his cards right.

Recently, I caught up with Hemric as we discussed his team’s performances, racing for Joe Gibbs Racing, and being a family man. Now, in an in-depth, heartfelt interview, let’s get “In the Hot Seat with Daniel Hemric” on The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson : Congratulations again on making the NASCAR Playoffs. First of all, you parlayed consistency to make your third playoff appearance. And I know it’s kind of going off what Marty asked earlier about, you know, getting to win a race. But how significant would it be for you to get your first race when and possibly winning your first championship?

Make no mistake that Daniel Hemric wants to win races and championships in his final starts with the No. 18 team. (Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

Make no mistake that Daniel Hemric wants to win races and championships in his final starts with the No. 18 team. (Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

Daniel Hemric : Yeah, I mean, it’s, you know, you try to use, any at all, past experience to prepare you for what’s next. And I think, you know, being in the situation, it doesn’t give you an advantage, but it definitely makes you understand what’s to come and what being in this moment is like. Yeah, I mean, it’s an incredible opportunity.

I said, even back when I signed my deal with JGR, that, you know, it was a, it was not only myself going all in, but it was Poppy Bank going all in on me to try to give me the best opportunity to prevail and push my career forward. And I feel like I’ve had that opportunity to do what you’re asking. And that’s win races and compete for a championship all year.

We tried to build our race team around myself and Dave Rogers as a whole to be ready for this moment. And we are. And because of that we know those opportunities are going to be there to win. We know if we do our jobs, that there’s no reason why we can’t be there in Phoenix in seven weeks race for a championship

But, you know, we got the one foot in front of the other and take the eight obstacles thrown at us one at a time and know that, you know, the matter how it works out, or if our backs up against the wall at any point that you know, we’re ready for the task at hand. And that’s all you can do is be prepared.

Tiongson : And that’s definitely been one of your trademark qualities. And to kind of go along with that question. You know, what has Joe Gibbs Racing provided to you that you feel has made you a better person and a racecar driver?

Hemric : The simple answer to that is everything. I feel like JGR provided me with the people, the personnel and resources, as well as TRD. And, you know, everyone at the Toyota Racing family really kind of welcomed me with open arms and provided me, whether it be personally on the physical side of things with our training center that we have to work on our mental and physical strength to the simulator, in our Toyota that we have a ton of access to.

And then you know, just everything inside of the JGR campus that makes JGR so successful year in year out. It’s been a pleasure to be a part of that this year. And I look forward to taking all those resources and make something.

Tiongson : You’ve had dazzling performances last year with your part-time schedule, but now you’re racing full-time for Joe Gibbs with the No. 18 ride for this year. What does it mean for you to race in the Xfinity Series and battle for wins and the championship this season with Joe Gibbs?

"It’s incredibly humbling to be back in it full-time." - Daniel Hemric (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

“It’s incredibly humbling to be back in it full-time.” – Daniel Hemric (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Hemric : Yeah. I mean, first off, gotta reminisce a little bit, and count your blessings every day. After spending some time out of the sport from a full-time perspective, having an opportunity to come back and run full-time, it truly is a blessing, and even more so to be a part of the Joe Gibbs Racing family.

I’ll tell you, I’ve been incredibly impressed with the people, with the equipment, with the resources, and honestly, everything that Toyota Racing has provided myself and all the drivers with inside of TRD to be better on the racetrack and off the racetrack. And I’ve for sure missed being in a seat full-time. That grind every single week of preparation and turnaround and doing it again. It’s incredibly humbling to be back in it full-time.

Tiongson : You’ve got a lot of great competitive teammates at JGR. You’re going to be working with Brandon Jones and Harrison Burton, and you’ll also have an experienced crew chief like Dave Rogers who’s atop your team’s pit box. I know it’s only been three races in, but how has it been working with them, despite the limitations presented by COVID-19 in terms of trying to fit in with the team and collaborate on ideas when you can during these first three races of the season?

"I’ve never driven these vehicles. I’ve never driven these Toyota Supras at any of these racetracks." - Daniel Hemric (Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

“I’ve never driven these vehicles. I’ve never driven these Toyota Supras at any of these racetracks.” – Daniel Hemric (Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

Hemric : Yeah. I mean, it for sure has been a bit of a challenge, right, because you don’t have your practices and whatnot to work through. So it makes any face time that you are able to have so much more valuable. In the past, if myself, or any driver, for that matter, was trying to explain what the racecar was doing, even if the crew chief wasn’t fully on the same page, you could go through a couple practices and be like, “Oh, okay, yeah. I know what he’s talking about yeah,” or, “Okay, yeah, I know what the crew chief meant when he said I should feel this or this.”

So it makes that face time so much more valuable, and it also makes that connection and that relationship, really, you build with your teammates that much more important, right? I’m coming in, I’ve ran Xfinity cars and been a part of this series for a couple of years, but on the flip side, I’ve never driven these vehicles. I’ve never driven these Toyota Supras at any of these racetracks, right?

So I’m leaning on them heavily as far as what the characteristics are, what to look for, how to improve the program. And, yeah, it just really makes any kind of prep you do so much more valuable. And you have to know what’s good energy you’re spending on good information, and what’s wasted. You don’t have time to be wasting energy worrying about things that’s not going to make your race team better, which is where Dave comes in.

I think he’s incredibly, incredibly sharp. He’s been in the sport so long and been so successful with so many different drivers. That gives us a lot of confidence in one another. I know he’s the guy for the job, and he can feel with me that he knows I’m the guy for the job, and because of that, I feel like our team has a lot of opportunity over the next 10 months to go do really good things together.

Tiongson : It has to be really awesome to know that after validating yourself during most of last year when you could in your limited schedule, to have this amazing opportunity. It’s like you’ve hit the lottery, if you will. But you’ve always had this talent to back up the opportunities that you’ve had in your career, so it’s certainly well deserved for you to have this chance to go be in a competitive ride in the Xfinity Series, and that leads me to my next talking point.

You’ve had your fair share of ups and downs in NASCAR. How have you balanced the highs and lows that come with being a competitive racer in NASCAR?

In the words of Toad the Wet Sprocket, Daniel Hemric "will not take these things for granted." (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

In the words of Toad the Wet Sprocket, Daniel Hemric “will not take these things for granted.” (Photo: Michael Guariglia | The Podium Finish)

Hemric : Yeah. I think you just gotta really, really love the grind. I actually read something that Keselowski had posted or whatnot, I believe it was last year leading into the championship weekend at Phoenix. And that’s what he was talking about, very similar things, the grind of what it takes to be successful, stay successful, and even the days where you’re not successful, to get up the next morning and keep striving for that. And really, I’d say that’s been my mindset from day one is knowing that the good days are great, but you’re really tested on the days where it’s not that great.

And because of that, having to go through a lot of those… and I’m not the only one that’s been through stuff, or going to continue to go through stuff, right? But how you react to that stuff, I think, is a key role for that, and you’ve got to love what it takes, getting up and giving all of yourself every single day just to be the best you can be, and I’ve never lost sight of that. I’ve never lost sight of what it feels like to compete at a high level and strive for victory, and I think having that burning desire is what’s kept me relevant and kept me in front of people enough to give me an opportunity.

Tiongson : You’re basically the epitome of who Brad was talking about in his tweet, and I do recall that, because it’s true. Of course, as racecar drivers, you make a lot of sacrifices just to get to be in a position to be successful, or to be in a competitive ride. But if you love what you’re doing, of course, as challenging as it is, it won’t feel like a job. It’s something you’ll have fun doing, even if you only get three hours of sleep in a day, so. Certainly, I bet you can attest to that notion, for sure.

Daniel Hemric lives for the stock car grind. (Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

Daniel Hemric lives for the stock car grind. (Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

Hemric : Oh, without a doubt. Especially coming up through the ranks, right? We’ve all had sleepless nights and sleepless weeks where you’re just doing all you can to get to a racetrack, period, whether it’s prepping a car, or driving all night to get to another racetrack. Whatever it is, I’m sure everyone’s got their stories of doing those kinds of things. And the flipside of that is, when you get to this level, not that it’s any less work, it’s just a different kind of work.

And then you also have to do all the other stuff, whether it’s your training, your nutrition, your little things that do make a difference. And laying it out in front of you, knowing that you’re sitting there… when nobody’s watching, what are you doing, right?

That’s the difference maker. That’s what I mean by the grind, and being able to continually do that stuff day in and day out. And, yeah, the repetition can be boring, but I think that’s what separates a lot of folks.

Tiongson : It almost sounds like you’ve read my next talking point for you, because my next question is really… you’re one of the young drivers still in the sport. You’re still carving your path in NASCAR. You kind of touched upon it a little bit, but what do you feel separates you from your peers in terms of your traits and outlook with life at and away from the racetrack?

Hemric : Yeah. I mean, you never know what other people are dealing with, or their mindsets, right? So you control what you can control, and that’s yourself. I’d like to think that… just growing up in general, right? I mean, there’s thousands of us racers that strive to be able to make a career out of this and make a very successful career out of this. And doing that’s fine and good, but then… the talking part’s easy. It’s actually waking up and doing it every day. That becomes the grind.

When I look at that side of it… I mean, as far as back as I can remember, even 10, 12, 15 years old, you’d see three or four guys a year, or three or four drivers a year, just decide that it’s not the path for them, or it gets too hard, or whatever the reason is, they get out of the sport. And I feel like, time and time again, as I’ve went through the NASCAR ranks over the last five to six years, I’ve seen a lot of the trend in attrition. It creates the same situations. It’s pretty simple, right?

You don’t accept that it can’t be done. You continually give all of yourself, every day. And when you do that, it’s funny how things tend to work out.

Tiongson : Absolutely. Just putting yourself in the position to be there, just being there, really, that’s half the battle in terms of whatever you put your efforts into with life, so. That’s definitely a situation all of us can relate to, no matter if it’s racing or any walk of life, for sure.

To kind of touch upon a really neat part of your life as of late, I have to imagine that you and your wife Kenzie are still over the moon about being new parents and raising your baby girl, Rhen. How enjoyable has fatherhood been for you, especially as her first birthday is around the corner?

Hemric : Oh, my gosh. It has been single-handedly the best thing that’s ever happened to both my wife and I. You think about what it’s going to be like. We knew we wanted a child one day, or multiple children one day. We didn’t know when it would be, and then obviously we thought the time was right. But I guess what I’m saying is through all that, you think about, what’s he or she going to be like? What’s their personality traits?

What’s it going to be like being a parent? Still need to think about all that, but until they’re actually here… to have little Miss Rhen there back last May, and to know that everything we thought about going into it, we could never have guessed. Everything has been an incredible blessing to share with her.

Every day has been new. It’s been so much fun to be a part of that process. It’s not easy, by no means, as every new parent knows. But it’s been ever-changing in our lives for the better, and we’re so fortunate to be able to spend the time we get to spend with her and see her grow and change every single day.

Tiongson : And I’m sure she makes life in general so much better. If you come home and you’ve had a really good race, of course, it’s just the best feeling in the world. But if you had a really bad day, I’m sure being around Rhen, she puts things in perspective for you.

"Every day has been new. It’s been so much fun to be a part of that process." - Daniel Hemric (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

“Every day has been new. It’s been so much fun to be a part of that process.” – Daniel Hemric (Photo: Josh Jones | The Podium Finish)

Hemric : Yeah. I’ve told anyone I’ve ever worked with, and my wife knows me the best, is that I’m always, at fault, judge my entire life, where I sit in life, based off how I’m performing at a racetrack. And I know that’s probably not the most healthy thing, but that’s what was kind of burning my brain since I was a child. So yeah, it made the good days really good, and it made the bad days extremely rough. It’s easy to get in a bad spot.

I’ve noticed the change in myself, and my wife noticed the change in me, when we actually had our little girl, and to have some of those tougher days, and to come home and just… so much weight off your shoulders when you do walk in the door. You still have your own problems. You still have to deal with things, or why the weekend didn’t go the way you wanted it to. But also know that there’s going to be tomorrow to handle that.

Right now, it’s all about spending time with her, both my girls, my wife Kenzie and Rhen, and really put that in perspective for me. So yeah, just trying to embrace that, and really take every moment you have with them and know that it’s very special.

Tiongson : Absolutely. Now, I have seen you interact with fans during the race weekends over the years, and you’ve always been so courteous to each of them, but you certainly make sure to thank those who have or do serve for our country’s military. How moving is it to meet those brave women and men who have done those extraordinary things?

Hemric : Oh, yeah. That’s one of the greatest honors as a racecar driver. You get the opportunity to meet folks and families who have had family members pay the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom, and allow us to go and do what we love to do every single week, week in and week out.

Honestly, some of the hardest-hitting deep in your soul conversations you’ll ever have are with those individuals, but also some of the most memorable ones you’ll have and the most special ones you’ll ever have. So yeah, it’s a huge honor to just be in the presence of them.

Tiongson : Yeah, for sure. And I’m sure when things eventually get back to normal, it’ll be a welcoming sight to have, not only the fans back, but people from the military back at the track to interact with and just show them a good time after what they’ve done for us.

We know that you’re a very talented racer, and you’re obviously a very good family man. But what are three unique things about you that you think your fans would be surprised to learn about?

"I played backyard football and played just sports around the house, but literally did not do anything but race." - Daniel Hemric (Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

“I played backyard football and played just sports around the house, but literally did not do anything but race.” – Daniel Hemric (Photo: Landen Ciardullo | The Podium Finish)

Hemric : Oh, gosh. That’s an in-depth question. I’m not sure. I think for the fans that would be curious to know that honestly, I grew up only racing. Yeah, I played backyard football and played just sports around the house, but literally did not do anything but race. So I never had any other hobbies. I never had anything that… I didn’t go fishing. I didn’t go hunting. I didn’t go do all these other things that most people experience as a kid.

So I remember my first year of full-time truck racing that I was told by a lot of folks, “Hey, you’ve had to spend so much time worrying about how to get to a racetrack, worrying about your next move in life, worrying about all this stuff. Find you something to do on the side. Take up something.” So I started dabbling in golf, started dabbling in fishing, and just a couple of outdoors things to really separate the daily grind and also find some time for just yourself.

Yeah, so I feel like people find that interesting. It’s something that I’m still trying to figure out. But, yeah, that’s a very interesting situation, I feel like, if I’m looking at it from a fan’s perspective.

Tiongson : I think you’ve learned how to live life the other way around versus… you knew about those things as a kid, or at least as a teenager. But it’s understandable because of the fact that racing is a very intense sport to be invested in, and of course it requires all your focus. So I can understand for sure why you learned those new hobbies, if you will, in your later years in life.

Now, kind of sticking to the fun theme, of course, if you could choose any song from any music genre that serves as the definitive Daniel Hemric theme song that plays each time you’re at the racetrack, what song would you choose, and why?

Hemric : I remember one of my first couple times ever on the racetrack as a kid, the “Eye of the Tiger” song was always in my head, right? Just constantly the grind of it. You’ve heard me say it a number of times now. But I always thought that was funny. That’s right where my mind went when you asked me that question, so I guess I’ll answer with that.

Tiongson : No, that’s a good song, and it’s definitely… even though it’s a very popular song, it’s something that I think all of us can definitely enjoy and get down to when we’re not worried about our work, for sure. My last question for you for this round of interview would be kind of a fun one, putting you in the shoes of a NASCAR executive. Let’s just say they put you in charge of the Xfinity schedule. What tracks would you want to add to the series that you feel would be a win-win for everybody?

Will Daniel Hemric and his unmistakable No. 18 Poppy Bank Toyota Supra take it to another level in the Playoffs? (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Will Daniel Hemric and his unmistakable No. 18 Poppy Bank Toyota Supra take it to another level in the Playoffs? (Photo: Stephen Conley | The Podium Finish)

Hemric : Oh, without a doubt, Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. I mean, one of the best… one of the best, hands down, race tracks in America. Hopefully, sooner or later, we’ll actually get to add it to the schedule. I’ve seen a lot of rumblings about it. But just one of the most fun places.

There’s such an interesting dynamic to getting around that place, and tire management, and all the things that the fans always like to see anyways, they end up at a short track. So, yeah, that’s for sure the one that would be on my list.

Editor’s Notes

Special thanks to Daniel Hemric for taking the time to talk with us ahead of the Playoffs. Also, thanks to Tyler Overstreet and Joe Gibbs Racing for their assistance with this latest interview on The Podium Finish. You can keep track of Daniel Hemric on his Facebook and Twitter accounts, his official website and here on TPF.

Rob Tiongson

Rob Tiongson is a 30-something motorsports journalist who enjoys sports like baseball, basketball, football, soccer, track and field and hockey. A Boston native turned Austinite, racing was the first sport that caught his eyes.

From interviews to retrospective articles, if it's about anything with an engine and four wheels, it'll be here on TPF, by him or by one of his talented columnists who have a passion for racing.

Currently seeking a sports writing, public relations, or sports marketing career, particularly in motorsports. He enjoys editing and writing articles and features, as well as photography. Moreover, he enjoys time with his family and friends, traveling, cooking, working out and being a fun uncle or "funcle" to his nephew, niece and cat.

Tiongson, a graduate of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication, pursues his Master of Arts in Digital Communications at St. Bonaventure University. Indeed, while Tiongson is proud to be from Massachusetts, he's just as happy to be a Texan.

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