Daniel Hemric doesn’t let himself think about taking the green flag in the Daytona 500 until someone else brings it up. The Feb. 17 race will be Hemric’s first in the prestigious event, which also kicks off his rookie campaign in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
And how fitting it takes place in Daytona — not far from his first-ever race in the Sunshine State.
“It’s incredible to think about,” Hemric says. “I made my very first start in the state of Florida in a go-kart right across the street at Daytona Municipal Stadium in the World Karting National Championships, back in 1999 or 2000. I remember it being 4 a.m., standing in the ticket line looking at the lights of the big track across the street and thinking, ‘Man, that’s got to be the greatest thing ever.’
“Now, fast-forward to this year coming up, I’m going to have the opportunity to take the green flag in the ‘Great American Race’, that’s something you only do once, and I’m looking forward to making the most of it.”
Hemric, who turns 28 next month, climbs the final rung of the career ladder after two full seasons in the Xfinity Series. While he went winless in 66 starts, Hemric routinely carried the banner of the championship-contending Richard Childress Racing drivers, and made back-to-back Championship 4 appearances.
Coming into the offseason with the security of a job and knowledge of what’s ahead, Hemric says it’s easier to relax and live in the moment.
“It’s extremely humbling,” Hemric said. “That’s the first word that comes to my mind. I think about those nights working in race shops, not only on my own race cars, but building cars for other drivers so they could go to the racetrack. Hey, I didn’t have money or a ride at the time, so I did what I could to one, put food on my table, and two, keep myself immersed in the sport.
“Lo and behold, here we are knowing I get to make that step that I feel like I’ve worked my entire life for. Many people all around the world will also do the same and fall short, and that’s where the humbling part is – knowing that I’ve been able to get to this point.”
Although he ran two Cup Series races last season – spring Richmond and fall Charlotte – Hemric will not be back behind the wheel until Daytona. Not even for the upcoming organizational test at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where teammate Austin Dillon will be the RCR representative. But Hemric expects to be on hand with crew chief Luke Lambert just to learn, because after Daytona, the second race of the year in Atlanta marks the rollout of the new rules package, which Hemric only briefly sampled during an October test.
“I really like his demeanor and work ethic, and the way he goes about coordinating a race team,” Hemric said of Lambert. “I think those guys on our race team have a huge amount of respect for Luke, and that’s a driving force to being successful.”
Lambert, along with some other members on the No. 8 team, led that October test session before he and Hemric even knew they’d be working together. Since then, the two have been spending as much time as possible together on lunch dates and with race simulation. As race season approaches, that will ramp up.
Other than that? There isn’t much Hemric can do to prepare for February and the Cup Series.
“I think what prepares you is the 22 years I’ve put in to get to this point,” he says. “That’s what prepares you to go Cup racing. It’s an honor to be able to go do that. I think it gets thrown over the shoulder, ‘Oh yeah, I’m going Cup racing,’ but it’s a huge deal and I’m pumped to be one of the guys to make that step along with Ryan Preece and Matt Tifft. It’s a big deal to all of us to come up the way we’ve come, and have that opportunity in front of us.
“The prep moving forward is the races are longer, so we’ve got to make sure we’re in better shape, the communication from how practices unfold over more days [in the weekend] from happy hour to qualifying… all that stuff is different. But at the end of the day, it’s a race car, and I look forward to the challenge of what’s ahead and being a part of the Cup schedule for the entire year. It’s going to be fun.”
“I know one thing for sure: it’s good to have my name on top of a Cup car.”