From winless to champion, Daniel Hemric breaks through with first career victory

From winless to champion, Daniel Hemric breaks through with first career victory
Courtesy of Toyota Racing

AVONDALE, Ariz.—Before the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Race went into overtime, crew chief Dave Rogers told Daniel Hemric, “Lay it all on the line.”

Hemric did just that.

Coming through the final turn on the final lap, he bumped race leader Austin Cindric then squeezed the No. 22 Ford just enough to take the lead by just .030-seconds at the start-finish line.

“You got it, you got it, bud,” spotter Tony Hirschman told his driver.

“How about that champion,” Rogers added. “You’ll never have to hear that stupid question again.”

“Never again,” replied Hemric, who entered Phoenix Raceway with a record of 0-119 and left not only a race winner but a champion.

The 30-year-old from Kannapolis, N.C. celebrated his first-career NASCAR win and title by executing a back flip from his steaming No. 18 Toyota after a celebratory burnout on the front stretch.

“I’ve been waiting a long damn time to do that,” Hemric said. “Unbelievable. These guys right here have asked me all year how bad do you want it? We gave away one here in the spring. I felt like we had to give one up last week to get here. We were not going to be denied.”

Cindric, the defending series champion who led a race-high 113, finished second followed by Harrison Burton, Riley Herbst, Justin Haley, John Hunter Nemechek, Brandon Jones, Brett Moffitt, Justin Allgaier and Sheldon Creed.

“I know my left-rear bumper cover is as vulnerable as ever,” Cindric said. “Obviously, Daniel was in position to be the advocate of that and he certainly used it and he’s the champion because of it.”

Although Cindric lost the driver's championship, he won the sixth owner's title for Team Penske.

Cindric won the first stage after the first 45 laps. Hemric took the lead out of the pits on the Lap 53 restart. Although Nemechek passed him 18 laps later, Hemric came back to win Stage 2 on Lap 90 and held serve through the fifth caution on Lap 107 when Matt Mills and Sage Karam came together in Turn 1.

Noah Gragson, who developed handling issues early and needed extended service, pitted during the caution and dropped to 25th. Hemric held the point for the restart but two laps later, Cindric came from the bottom lane to take the lead. Stefan Parsons' engine blew on Lap 125 and his car became engulfed in flames as it came to a rest on the front stretch.

A rash of cautions continued to slow Cindric's progress. Jade Buford triggered the seventh caution with a spin in Turn 2 on Lap 135. Gragson recovered to fifth for the restart. After repeated complaints of a vibration, title contender AJ Allmendinger, who was running sixth at the time, spun in Turn 2 on Lap 181. After coming to the pits, Kaulig team president Chris Rice confirmed his right rear tire was loose. Allmendinger would settle for a 14th-place finish in his first final-four appearance. He apologized to Cindric in post-race for erasing his two-second lead.

Gragson tagged Hemric on the Lap 188 restart but Cindric wasn’t able to set sail due to Sheldon Creed sending Jeb Burton into the spin cycle in Turn 4 on Lap 189. Gragson tagged the wall on Lap 193 in turn and dropped from third to sixth. He would fall to 12th at the finish. Buford and Josh Williams ignited the 10th and final caution in Turn 3 to send the race into overtime.

Cindric had the lead and took the high lane for the final restart with Hemric on the inside. The drivers battled side by side to the white flag before Cindric extended his advantage out of Turn 2. Coming through Turn 3 and into 4, Hemric performed a bump-and-run on Cindric for the lead and the win.

“Thank you Dave Rogers, Bill and Cindy Gallagher, everyone at Poppy Bank, Will Gallagher. They took a chance on me in 2015 in some form or fashion,” Hemric said. “They stuck with me through times they probably shouldn’t have to be honest with you. Thank you Joe Gibbs, everyone at TRD, Toyota, Bell Helmets, everyone here that makes this program what it is. People doubted me. I would do it all over again for a night like this.“

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