Daniel Hemric did something Saturday night at Phoenix Raceway that few people thought possible. After making it to the Xfinity Series Playoffs on points, which is not uncommon, he managed to make it through to the season finale with a one-in-four shot to become a champion.
Daniel Hemric will turn 31 in January and has been around various levels of NASCAR for more than a decade. His resume is chock-full of top-fives and top-tens, but in 224 previous starts, his win column has been stuck at zero. That was, until he went door-to-door with reigning Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric on the final lap, pushing ahead at the checkered flag by a minuscule 0.030 seconds to end his career-long win drought.
Daniel Hemric almost let it get away
One of the first things Daniel Hemric addressed after climbing out of his car was the last lap:
“I’m blacked out. Blacked out. Just knew I had to be the first one to the line. I thought I let him (Cindric) get too much of a run off of four. Drove into one, knew I was close not to completely use them up, but we work our a**es off for an opportunity like this. Excuse my language. This is what it’s all about, winning at the second highest level in all of motorsports. What an honor. Unbelievable. I’d do it all over again. I’ll take all the heartbreaks again to live this right here.”
The first half of the race was relatively clean, with just one incident-related caution. It was a different story over the last 100 laps, however, as the yellow flag came out seven times. Despite numerous restarts, Austin Cindric was a man on a mission trying to become just the seventh driver in series history to win consecutive titles.
On the final restart, two of the championship contenders, Noah Gragson and AJ Allmendinger, were no longer in the picture with just two laps to run in overtime. Cindric and Hemric were on the front row, and each would nudge ahead for a moment, with the back and forth continuing until the white flag came out.
It was still a clean run for the checkers until the final quarter-mile, when both men got their elbows out and banged doors the rest of the way, much to the delight of fans watching. Said Cindric:
“If everyone in the stands enjoyed it, it’s good racing. I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to race on such a big stage. The opportunity to race for Roger Penske and represent Ford Performance, our companies and all of our sponsors that have helped us this season. It would have been awesome to finish this out. I felt like we had a dominant race car. I felt like we did everything right. Come up a little bit short. Sometimes it’s like that way.”
Cindric now moves on to the Cup Series to take over the Team Penske No. 2 Mustang vacated by Brad Keselowski, who is leaving to join Roush Fenway Racing. But he isn’t leaving the Xfinity Series without a parting gift for his owner, Roger Penske. His second-place finish locked up the owner’s championship.
The 2021 NASCAR season wraps up Sunday afternoon at Phoenix Raceway with the Cup Series finale.
NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Race Prerace notes
• Championship 4 starting grid: Austin Cindric, pole (Car #22 – Team Penske), Daniel Hemric, P4 (#18 – Joe Gibbs Racing, Noah Gragson, P7 (#9 – JR Motorsports), and AJ Allmendinger, P12 (#16 – Kaulig Racing). Allmendinger was the Xfinity Series regular-season champion.
• Stages set for 49 / 90 / 200. Each team was allotted five sets of tires.
• Cars to the back: Harrison Burton (tech infraction), David Starr (unapproved adjustments), and JJ Yeley (backup car).
• Dylon Lupton (#26 – Sam Hunt Racing), Sage Karam (#31 – Jordan Anderson Racing), Joe Graf Jr. (#17 – SS Green Light Racing), Matt Mills (#5 – BJ McLeod Motorsports), and Harrison Burton (#20 – Joe Gibbs Racing) claimed the final five starting spots of the 36 car field on owner points.
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• Landon Cassill (#4 – JD Motorsports), Stephen Leight (#13 – MBM Motorsports), Spencer Boyd (#90 – DGM Racing), Ryan Ellis (#74 – Mike Harmon Racing), Timmy Hill (#61 – Hattori Racing), and Joey Gase (#52 – Means Motorsports) failed to qualify.