Column By: HOLLY CAIN / NASCAR – AVONDALE, AZ – Daniel Hemric will concede the start to his official rookie season hasn’t resulted in jaw-dropping, headline-earning finishes, yet. Yet.
But the driver of the Richard Childress Racing No. 8 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 remained upbeat and optimistic talking about his chances this weekend in Sunday’s TicketGuardian 500 at ISM Raceway (at 3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
The former NASCAR Xfinity Series championship contender has endured a rather “rookie” start with finishes of 34th, 20th and 23rd as he shows up in Phoenix. But his optimism about the season comes with good reason.
With new technical packages on the cars – a different variation in three of the opening four races this season – and the natural adjustment of competing in a higher series, Hemric still manages to smile about his outlook and expectations.
“Well, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind of emotions I feel like,” Hemric said. “First off to take part in my first Daytona 500 with Richard Childress Racing at the Cup level and have all the things that happened throughout that event and then be running inside the top 10 inside of 25 to go and obviously get caught up in it all.
“And we had glimmers of hope and the biggest things I took out of the first race was knowing our communication was where it needed to be. All the things we had done throughout the off-season to prepare as a group and try to get over the hurdles that you face throughout the first two to three months of a year, I feel like we had already overcome a lot of that stuff before we got to Daytona. That was a positive and that showed when we got to Atlanta.”
Hemric, 28, finished top-five in the two Xfinity Series championships (2017-18) he competed in – including third place last year. And the North Carolina native had top-10 title runs (2015 and 2016) in the NASCAR Gander Outdoor Truck Series too. He conceded however, that it has been a brand new game in the elite Monster Energy NASCAR Cup level. As he expected.
“Honestly, I don’t think the challenge of the driving has been the biggest challenge,” Hemric said. “I think it’s been processing all the people and data and outlets you have for resources. That is the biggest thing from any level I’ve ever been a part of to the Cup level.
“And then knowing that because you have those avenues you can take a lot off of yourself and lean on those guys, lean on the data and stuff that you have to kind of decipher through throughout any given race week. I think I will just get better at that whole process as this whole deal goes because it’s just something that is new and you’ve got to get comfortable with.
“The challenge of the cars themselves, everybody is gouging and trying to do the best they can with what they’ve got. It’s all the little details that make or break you. Hopefully, we are honing in on what we need.”
With a strong fifth-place qualifying run last week at Las Vegas, Hemric was insistent on Friday afternoon in Phoenix, that speed is definitely not a problem for this team.
“It’s not that nobody wants their cars to be as fast as ours,” he said with a slight smile. “We have done an incredible job with the package of figuring out what it needs by itself to make that raw speed which is something that as a company we haven’t been able to do in the past.
“Yeah, we may have been too far on our own island, where you may have never been able to achieve the balance to make it race and I think we are trying to do the things we can to back pedal, but the good thing is we have that little bit of buffer that we can confidently give up and still put some more drive ability into these race cars, but know that we know how to make them go fast.
“It is more frustrating when your car drives great and you have no speed. We have been on both sides of it, I have, at certain points in my career, so that point I feel fortunate to have. The guys at ECR, Chevrolet and everyone back home are doing the things we need to get to that point. We’ve just got to figure out for a balance what we have to have to race better.
“Austin and myself both are working as hard as we can from simulator stuff to hand in hand with the guys each and every day on our builds trying to make sure we are targeting the right things because this early in the year if you get behind it’s going to be hard to get caught up. We think we are on the front side of the speed, we just have to get a little bit more on the other side of the drive ability.”
Hemric certainly can be encouraged about with his history at Phoenix. He was runner-up in the most recent Xfinity race there last November and scored another top five in 2017.
And the finish statistics in his first three Cup races this year do not reflect the effort, he reminded.
“I think we have been put through a lot of different things already as a group, but we have been able to overcome and continue to smile and put our heads down and work and that is what is going to keep us moving forward,” Hemric said.