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In the Driver’s Seat with Daniel Hemric

All things considered, 26-year-old Daniel Hemric’s journey to NASCAR resembles that of an old school racer.  Gritty, tough, but appreciative, the Kannapolis, NC native has made a name for himself throughout his career.

Moreover, Hemric’s humility matches his intensity and competitiveness behind the wheel of his No. 21 Blue Gate Chevrolet Camaro.  Presently, he drives for the storied Richard Childress Racing, competing in his rookie NASCAR Xfinity Series campaign.

Above all, Hemric’s determination has paid off with a pair of top-fives and five top-10 finishes. Ranked fourth heading into this Friday night’s race at Daytona, the best has yet to come for this bunch.

Recently, I caught up with Hemric during the June race weekend at Michigan International Speedway. No doubt, this young man expressed his utmost confidence and excitement with the progress of his team.

Ultimately, Hemric’s perseverance in climbing the racing ladder has paid off.  Competing in one of the top NASCAR divisions with a renowned organization, the future looks bright for the North Carolinian.

In the meantime, it’s time to get “In the Driver’s Seat with Daniel Hemric”, only The Podium Finish!

Rob Tiongson :  Daniel, this is your rookie year in the Xfinity series, but you’re having a very terrific season. You’re in the top-five in points heading into Michigan.  You’ve got two top-fives and five top-10’s.  What’s been the biggest challenge in terms of the transition from Truck racing to the Xfinity Series?

Hemric's adjusting to life in the NASCAR Xfinity Series by ranking fourth heading into Daytona. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Hemric’s adjusting to life in the NASCAR Xfinity Series by ranking fourth heading into Daytona. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Thompson)

Daniel Hemric :  I’d say probably the biggest challenge is just the people and managing the situation you’re in week to week.  With the Truck Series schedule in the past, you run, what, 10 less races. Your weekends are more spread out between working and preparation, and you have more time.

So the weeks having a lot quicker turn around, it’s part of the managing the people and resources I have to deal with. I feel like we’ve done a pretty decent job of that.  Probably not taken full advantage of some of the days that we could have had better finishes than what we had to show.  But I’m really proud of our guys and how far we’ve come in such a short time.

RT :  For sure, and your racing pedigree is pretty diverse.  You’ve raced go-karts, bandoleros, and Legends down in North Carolina.  How has that helped you with making the transition up to NASCAR? Would you say that, for younger drivers, it’s pretty much the right path to make it into this sport?

DH :  Yeah, I mean, that’s the cool thing about NASCAR currently is there’s no direct path of how you have to do it, but it’s kind of however you have to do it and do it right.  I’ve been fortunate to be in a lot of different vehicles that have taught me different disciplines and whatnot. Whether it’s…you touched on the Legend cars and whatnot.

That was kind of like the stepping stone to super late models and open-wheel tour modifieds.  I’d say the modified direction was something that wasn’t kind of planned; it’s just the way it happened.

So, it kind of goes back to do it however you’ve got to do it, and doing it right.  I’ve taken something away from all those vehicles that put me in the situation I am today to make the best decisions I can.

RT :  For sure.  And it’s your first year also with Richard Childress Racing, a really prominent NASCAR team.  How’s it been working with them and collaborating with crew chief Danny Stockman?  What’s it like to work with teammates like Brandon Jones, the Dillon brothers, and Brendan Gaughan?

DH :  Yeah, it’s been great.  That’s the cool thing about RCR, especially this year, is their depth of not only teammates and people, but the quality of people. Richard Childress is very big on the quality of people he has underneath his banner. That’s why his name’s been in our sport and been so iconic over the years.

So, it’s really cool to be able to say you’re part of this team, this family.  And having a leader like Danny Stockman with our No. 21 group has been second to none.  It’s been something that, not only that I personally asked for, I was excited to see it actually come to real life here and have him leading our group week in and week out.

But I’ve known Danny for a little while based off of his success with Austin, and the little bit he worked with Ty. Growing up, being friends with Austin and Ty, Danny was their leader at this level. To be able to take that trend and have Danny as my guy is something I was really pumped up about.  So, it’s cool to know that it’s all come full circle and hopefully we can take advantage of it.

RT :  And it’s been a very good track here for you, Michigan.  You’ve had two top-10’s, including a terrific top-5 last year with the truck team with Brad Keselowski.  So from your perspective, what’s the key to success to having a winning day at this track?

Hemric's been more keen to watch other races thanks to the new stage and points formats.

Hemric’s been more keen to watch other races thanks to the new stage and points formats.

DH :  I think, you look back at the Xfinity race last year, and there is no direct key.  Obviously, the first thing that comes to mind is speed, you’ve got to have good speed.  But I’d say the difference of qualifying second the first time I came here in a Truck and not having the best finish, was based off how I ran third last year, was off having a little bit more drivability in the draft as you get in traffic.

So, I think these Xfinity cars are going to be even more crucial to that.  You’ve got to make sure your car drives good in dirty air and has decent speed by itself, but the drivability in dirty air is going to be key, I think, and also that we’ve done the right things to make sure that happens for us.

But the racetrack itself is a place that I enjoy coming to.  All racecar drivers like going fast, and having to do it at a methodical level, you have to do it here in the Xfinity series week in and week out as something that’s a new level. So, just trying to keep it up.

RT :  I would say that you’ve considered yourself an old school driver, of sorts.  You come from Kannapolis, which is obviously a stock car capital, per se.  How important is it for drivers like yourself to connect with the older fans? At the same time, how do you resonate with the younger fans so that it’s appealing to everyone during the year?

Hemric wants to reassure fans that all will be right with NASCAR's future.

Hemric wants to reassure fans that all will be right with NASCAR’s future.

DH :  Yeah, absolutely.  First off, connecting to the older fans is something that is key.  I think NASCAR’s done an even better job as here of late to make sure that, as these older fans have their drivers retiring, that that’s not the end of world. It’s not the end of NASCAR, and there’s younger talent coming up.

And oh yeah, by the way, here’s a couple guys from your area.  I think that’s kind of been the promotion that NASCAR’s taken that’s helped myself and a lot of us young drivers build our fan base quickly.  As well as the younger crowd, right?  They’re the ones that are going to be the face and the supporting fan base of our sport moving forward.

So to know that we can connect with them at an early age, whether it’s stopping to sign an autograph here in the garage for a three- or four-year-old kid, that moment may be something that carries them into a huge fan as of late. Not only are we trying to build our personal driver fan base, but trying to build NASCAR’s fan base, and that’s what the objective is here of late.

RT :  Given the new stage and points formats that you have experienced, how would you say they’ve played out?  Do you think it’s doing what NASCAR’s designed it to do? Could there be more to add onto the excitement level?

DH :  I think it’s been pretty incredible how the stage racing has affected our sport as a whole.  Being this many races in, if NASCAR could do some things maybe a little differently, or change some of the lengths of the stages to make other parts of the race more exciting, they would.

But just when you feel like that’s the answer, you go to a place like Dover, where everybody gets off strategy. The top 10 of a Truck race ends up being top 10 you never would have thought of at the beginning of the race. That’s what’s cool about it.

There’s a lot of unknowns, and even unknowns weigh into the race before you see the whole thing unfold. The Xfinity race and the Cup series has had the same thing happen week in and week out.  Especially these bigger race tracks where the fuel mileage comes into play and tires aren’t as big of a deal, everybody short pits. It just changes and shakes up the whole race.

So I know, as a fan, for myself, I’m even more tuned into the Truck races and the Cup races to see how it affects us. I feel like there’s little tidbits of information you can pick out as a driver that may help that communication when I get back in the seat the next week.

Like, “Hey man, did you see how they went about that?” or whatnot.  So, that’s been cool from my side.  I think it’s made its purpose for what it’s intended to do, and I think it’ll only be perfected as we go.

RT :  With this being Father’s Day weekend, how special is it for you to race at Michigan?

Hemric chuckled about his role as a dog father.

Hemric chuckled about his role as a dog father.

DH :  Yeah, it’s so special to be able to do something like this with my dad, and my stepdad, and my grandparents. Everybody that’s been that father figure in my life have helped put me in this situation.  It’s cool to be able to race on Father’s Day weekend. That’s what it all started with, with those guys, to get me to this point.

I’m only a father of my dog, that’s the only father I am in this world right now!  (laughs)  It’s been cool to experience this crazy life that I’ve lived in the last 20 years here. I’ve been trying to get to this level and do it with all the father figures in my life along the way.

Author’s Notes :  Special thanks to Daniel Hemric and Richard Childress Racing for this great opportunity to talk racing at Michigan.  If you’d like to learn more about Daniel and his No. 21 team, “Follow” them on Twitter, “Like” their Facebook page, and “Visit” their official website!

Rob Tiongson is a sports writer and editor originally from the Boston area and resides in the Austin, Texas, area. Tiongson has covered motorsports series like NASCAR and INDYCAR since 2008 and NHRA since 2013. Most recently, Tiongson is covering professional basketball, mainly the WNBA, and women's college basketball. While writing and editing for The Podium Finish, Tiongson currently seeks for a long-term sportswriting and sports content creating career. Tiongson 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 is an alum of Southern New Hampshire University with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and St. Bonaventure University's renowned Jandoli School of Communication with a Master of Arts in Digital Journalism.

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