Fans of Daniel Hemric know a lot about their driver, but two things stand out. First, he has a great personality. He is down-to-earth and easy to speak with. Secondly, he loves what he does. This is obvious as he races each week with heart and passion.
November 2020 brought the announcement that Hemric would be racing full-time for Joe Gibbs Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series. After a few seasons of uncertainty and waiting, he landed at a place he could call home and make some noise.
I caught up with the driver of the No. 18 Toyota Supra for a more laid-back, off-the-cuff interview with the goal of capturing that personality and on-track passion. We talked dirt racing, rain delay antics, season goals, and I even asked if we would see Hemric and his wife on track together sometime soon.
Let’s take a Hot Lap with Daniel Hemric!
Terra Jones: First, let’s look at the Bristol Dirt Race. Unfortunately, Xfinity got left out of the fun and chaos. Were you jealous about that or happy to sit back and watch that weekend unfold?
Daniel Hemric: At first, it was fun to sit back and watch the Truck guys and the Cup guys go at it. But the racer in me was like, “Man! I wish we had a shot!” (laughs) I’ve also been very hands-on in my own equipment in the past. I know that we’d go to a place like that, the race would unfold and, when you’re running those dirt shows, there’s not a lot left in any vehicle that goes there that doesn’t get thrown away.
So, from the team side, it was probably a good thing we didn’t do it. But from the driver’s standpoint, I was really looking forward to it. Hopefully, we get the chance to run some dirt shows in the near future!
Jones: That was actually a question I had! Say NASCAR came to you and asked, “Daniel, where are we headed?” What is one track not currently on the Xfinity schedule you’d like to see added?
Hemric: Yeah, I was excited to see them put Knoxville on the schedule. That’s a place I would pick. I didn’t grow up in a dirt racing family, or really around any kind of true dirt racing, but over the years I’ve become a fan of it. To watch Knoxville Nationals and see the facility there, I’ve thought, “If we’re going to run any kind of Stock Car, that’s the place to do it.” So yeah, that’d be my choice!
Jones: Hopefully in the future, we can see that happen! And speaking of Bristol and Knoxville, we were going to see Jessica and Stewart Friesen race each other at Bristol, and we will get another chance at Knoxville. But, any chance we’ll see you and Kenzie on track together at some point?
Hemric: I doubt that! (laughs) I think those days have come and gone! I actually still have a couple of race cars that I own that are just sitting. Maybe one day she’ll get in and go run a race here or there for fun, but right now, it’s all focused on our little girl, my career, and our time together as a family. She still loves it and misses it, but I think the days where we compete against each other have come and gone.
Be the Change
Jones: Now, I was perusing your social channels and saw your ‘Be the Change’ Scholarship. Could you share a bit more about that?
Hemric: Yeah! Thank you for bringing that up! The ‘Be the Change’ scholarship was something we started with Rowan–Cabarrus Community College. It started from getting my opportunity at the Cup level. That was the first time I felt I could do something of that magnitude. And being from this area, if racing hadn’t worked out, I may have had to go to RCCC to learn a trade to go and be successful in the workforce.
Now, we have that chance to give back to our community and hopefully change some lives as years go by. We hope for the scholarship to carry on well after we’re gone. It’s cool to know we’ll have that effect and hopefully be able to better someone’s life.
Jones: That’s really awesome. I’m sure that will benefit many students over the years.
Shifting gears, the big news as of late has been NASCAR’s plan to re-open the garage to sponsors for the first time in over a year. Personally, what is your comfort level with that, and at what point would you be ready to reinstate meet and greets with fans?
Hemric: It’s a bit of a double-edged sword for me. First off, I think NASCAR has done an incredible job of getting us to this point where we are making the adjustments to allow sponsors, individuals, and folks back at the track. So much of what they invest in the drivers and teams is based on business-to-business and the relationships they can have and carry out at the track and on race weekends. So, it’s a big deal to have them back.
And, meet and greets. Hopefully, we can phase some of that in safely. Whether that’s masks or whatever has to be done to keep that safe. Obviously, my main goal is to contain the spread. But, end of the day, if you want to get down to the nitty-gritty, it’s making sure I don’t bring something home to my family. They’re not traveling with me now, and I want to make sure anything we do, however we go about it, is keeping my family and myself safe.
I think NASCAR is for sure going about it in a slow, but productive manner in order to make us all feel comfortable. Eventually, we’ll get there! It’s just being patient in the process.
Jones: I’m sure it’s a tough balance for everyone. I’m glad I’m not the one having to make those decisions!
Hemric: (laughs) You and me both!
Jones: For the second half of this conversation, we’ll focus more on the track. Looking at your stats over the years, your success hasn’t come on just one style of track. You have top 5s and 10s at all track distances and layouts. So, which race do you have circled this season and why?
Hemric: I think in the past, my answer would have been a certain track or a certain style. But when I was able to make this shift to Joe Gibbs Racing, I think you would say the same thing about their stats. They don’t have a weak point. And because of that, as a driver, you literally show up, knowing that you’re going to have a shot, week in and week out. No matter what the surface, no matter the length or style of race track.
That makes every week an incredibly exciting time from the driver’s seat. As we go and the confidence builds within myself and our race team, that only continues to go up. So literally, every weekend, I feel like it’s an opportunity and a race that’s circled for myself and my team, especially Dave Rogers (crew chief).
Jones: I want to look back at Martinsville with the multi-day rain delay, as well as the vast changes in track and weather conditions. Obviously, you didn’t struggle too terribly much – you came back and won stage two when the race resumed on Sunday. But talk through the mental aspect of managing the delays and changes, and how you keep that momentum going from one day to the next.
Hemric: It’s for sure something you have to learn how to balance. I think over time, you learn how to make the most of your time in those situations. Obviously, at Martinsville, we had the chance to welcome more fans back – and you hate to watch them sit in the rain till about midnight that Friday night! But it seemed like NASCAR did a great job scheduling the race far enough out, and not rushing the teams home and back early the next morning.
So mentally, first, calm down! Then reflect, then fire back off. But it (Martinsville) was a very smooth operating plan, I thought. It gave myself, and my team in particular with no practice this year, a chance to sit down and talk about the car, about some changes we wanted to make once we did get back going.
It really kind of slowed the event down for us, in a good manner. And I really feel like that’s why we were able to come back and have success.
Rain Delay Antics
Jones: I feel the mental aspect of the sport gets looked over so often, so thank you for sharing that.
Speaking of delays, what is the craziest or funniest thing you and your team have done to kill time during a lengthy rain delay?
Hemric: (laughs) Oh my gosh! Obviously, it’s different this year because of the “bubble” we’re in, we’re not really around our guys. I’m not hanging out with them during rain delays like in the past. And, it’s a completely new group for me. So I don’t have anything good for you specific to this most recent rain delay we went through.
In the past, I’ve been part of some interesting rain delay conversations. A couple of years ago at RCR, one of my pit crew guys, who is actually a JGR employee now, went by the name Special Greg. Come to find out, he’s family of Travis Pastrana and he had invented a flip on a bicycle! So, stuff you would never have known had you not had time to sit down and have the conversations. There are always interesting tales of the past that you’d never have the chance to indulge in.
Jones: I always enjoy jumping on social media to see what the teams are doing in the hauler during delays. Most vivid for me was seeing a crew playing poker with lug nuts and bolts. You definitely have to get creative!
Hemric: For sure!
Settling In at JGR
Now, these last two are a bit more serious. You’ve had quite the emotional roller coaster ride in recent years as you awaited a landing spot. How much does it mean to not only have a full-time racing home but one at a renowned organization such as JGR?
Hemric: You’re right. It’s a very comforting and exciting feeling. When you have the opportunity to drive a Joe Gibbs Racing Supra, it’s unlike anything you can ever dream of. You can dream of the situation, but you think that’s all it’ll ever be. And now to be living that? I’m just incredibly thankful.
And honestly? It’s a huge bet on myself, and Poppy Bank, our sponsor, of not knowing what’s next. But it just felt like the moves were to potentially set ourselves apart from others, and I think so far, we’re doing a really solid job of that, with a ton of room for growth.
I touched on having the opportunity to go win, week in and week out, but that’s also away from the race track. Having a mentor like Joe to be able to lean on, to have a chance to lean on the folks that have made his organization so successful – those are all assets that come with being part of the Joe Gibbs Racing family.
I’m just truly thankful and trying to make the most of the situation from all aspects. It’s been a fun ride so far and I know we’ve got a lot of good things to do together in the future.
Jones: Finally, you’re off to an incredible start already. You’ve led nearly 150 laps in seven races. You’ve compiled six top-10 finishes, four of those being top 5’s. Currently, you’re sitting second in Driver and Owner Standings. So, let’s talk about goals for the season. Getting that elusive first win tops the list, I’m sure. But, what else do you and your team hope to accomplish in 2021?
Hemric: Winning races is for sure one of the goals, but the ultimate goal is to give ourselves the opportunity to lock into the Final Four as the Playoffs wind down and the season comes to a close.
Then, going to Phoenix, hitting a home run, and winning a championship for Joe Gibbs Racing. Between them, the tools that Toyota and Toyota Racing provide us in the driver seat and the team in general, that’s what they deserve. They deserve the opportunity to go run for a Championship and hoist one up when the season comes to an end. That’s the ultimate goal.