Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – HAMPTON, GA – Daniel Hemric was poised for a top-five finish in his second race as a full-time Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver—until his fortunes changed dramatically in the closing laps of Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500.
Hemric had his No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet in fourth place on Lap 309 of 325 and was closing on third-place Kurt Busch when his right front tire deflated, forcing him to bring the car to pit road for an unscheduled stop.
The Sunoco Rookie of the Year contender lost a lap and finished 20th, a far cry from his running position a few laps earlier.
“What a day,” Hemic said. “It’s kind of heartbreaking for these guys we couldn’t get a solid top-five finish. I said I wanted to have an uneventful day and have a solid finish, and it was good to see that we were going to be able to run top-five there—just had a right-front tire come apart.
“I made a lot of mistakes on pit road today that I’ve got to get better with, just made a lot of mistakes.”
But there was a silver lining. Hemric passed 97 cars under green-flag conditions, second only to Kyle Busch’s 110.
“The good thing is I feel like it put a little motivation in everybody here at RCR,” Hemric said. “That’s the kind of race cars we have to have at the race track every week to give ourselves a shot. It was fun to drive, fun to pass people, and look forward to next week (at Las Vegas).”
If Hemric felt disheartened by his finish, what about fellow Sunoco rookie Ryan Preece, who was running in the top 10 when his race came to an abrupt end on pit road. Preece was exiting his stall on Lap 273, looking down at his tachometer, when BJ McLeod slowed in front of him, looking for his pit stall.
Preece’s No. 47 JTG-Daugherty Chevrolet slammed into the back of McLeod’s No. 52 Camaro, damaging Preece’s car beyond repair. He was credited with a 35th-place finish on a day that had gone much better for the majority of the race.
“I was just trying to make sure I wasn’t speeding,” Preece explained. “And when I looked up, he was coming in the pits. So it’s a mistake. What are you going to do? It’s just unfortunate for us, because we were having a really good run.
“Like I said, we’re going to have some good cars this year. So if we can keep that up, we’ll be really good at Vegas, and I’m just really proud of everybody with JTG and Kroger. There’s nothing else you can do other than that. So I’m looking forward to next week.”
SPEEDING PENALTY RUINS POTENTIAL WIN FOR KYLE LARSON
Throughout much of Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kyle Larson had the car to beat.
Larson too the green/checkered flag to win the race’s first stage. He led a race-high 142 of 325 laps and battled Kevin Harvick for the top spot throughout the second stage before trailing Harvick to the finish line.
But Larson was guilty of speeding on pit road under caution on Lap 224. Sent to the back for the subsequent restart on Lap 228, Larson struggled in traffic with the new 2019 higher-downforce, lower-horsepower competition package and could only climb to 12th in the running order before the laps counted down.
“Yeah, I had a good day going until I sped,” Larson said. “My car handled really good, and then once I got where I had to restart in the back, I was just really tight.
“Yeah, I mean, clean air is even more important nowadays than in the past I think, at least at a track like this. That was a little disappointing, but more just upset at myself for making a big mistake like that.”
KYLE BUSCH COMPLETES BACK-TO-FRONT TOP-10 EFFORT
Before finishing sixth in Sunday’s Folds of Honor QuikTrip 500 at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Kyle Busch got a good look at both ends of the field.
The 2015 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series champion started from the rear in a backup No. 18 Toyota, thanks to an accident in Saturday’s final practice session. Running the high line in a manner that resembled that of another Kyle—Larson—Busch worked his way forward, running as high as second after passing race runner-up Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 193.
During that green-flag run, however, Busch scraped the outside wall between Turns 1 and 2. On Lap 222, his right rear tire went flat, causing the fourth caution of the afternoon. Busch stayed on the lead lap but restarted at the rear and worked his way forward for the second time.
He was running sixth at the finish, having made a race-high 110 green-flag passes, according to NASCAR’s loop data.
“I got in the fence just a little bit in the center of (Turns) 1 and 2,” Busch said. “Just touched it and then kind of smelled some smoke and never saw any and thought we’d be OK. Overall, it just must have rubbed it and cut it down. Fortunately, we got a caution there. Caught us a break and was able to get tires on the thing and pull it back out and go back after them.
“What a hell of a weekend for all of our guys on this Creamy Snickers Camry, it was just evil tight all day long. We just couldn’t get the tight out of it. We were battling and running the wall all day long, and that’s where I needed to be in order to make up any time. Doing that, you run close to the fence, and you run into opportunities to get yourself in trouble. Overall, salvaged a decent day, I guess. We can move on out of here with some positives.”