Daniel Hemric and Richard Childress Racing parted on a high note.
Hemric not only ran one of his best races of the season in the finale Sunday afternoon at Homestead-Miami Speedway, but was also awarded Rookie of the Year honors. A 12th-place finish in the Ford EcoBoost 400 secured Hemric the award over Ryan Preece, who finished 25th.
The final Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series point results saw Hemric score 530 points over Preece’s 507.
Rookie of the Year points are in line with the overall championship standings. Hemric ended the year 25th in the standings, one place ahead of Preece. Matt Tifft, third driver in this year’s rookie class, finished with 352 points (31st in the overall standings) after missing the final three races of the year.
“It’s pretty special, to say the least,” said Hemric of the honor. “I wish we were able to win Rookie of the Year and have a couple more solid finishes throughout the year than what we had, but about five or six weeks ago myself and Preece somehow ended up tied… so we knew we had to buckle down, and really proud of this group for doing that.”
Hemric earned two top-10 finishes this year with one top-five finish and one pole. The No. 8 team’s overall average finish was 22.5 with 22 laps led.
One season at the Cup Series is all Hemric will have – for now. Leading into the weekend, JR Motorsports announced that Hemric, who is being released by RCR, will return to the Xfinity Series with them on a part-time basis. The future of Hemric’s No. 8 Chevrolet team is unknown, as Childress has announced that Tyler Reddick will bring his entire championship-winning group to the Cup Series next year.
Given the circumstances, Hemric said it would have been easy for everyone to lay down. But he praised the efforts put in over the final stretch of the season.
“For the last three weeks, we were able to string three decent races together,” said Hemric. “Just proud of those guys and the heart they continue to fight with. And a lot of really important people in our sport have been able to take these honors home, so I’m going to take pride in the Rookie of the Year title and look forward to the next chapter.”
Little victories serve as the light at the end of the tunnel. For instance, Hemric passed seven-time champion Jimmie Johnson on the last lap of a 60-lap run to finish the race at Homestead. It was a run like last weekend’s that leaves Hemric with the confidence he can compete at the top level. But he also called a spade a spade.
“There’s so many different paths you can go down as a race team from car builds to downforce to drag and all that stuff, and (here) I felt what I needed in the seat of the race car, what I felt like I wanted and I needed week in and week out,” said Hemric. “We brought that particular race car four times out of 36 weeks. That’s frustrating.
“But I’m glad we were able to at least rally and at least stay committed to the path of bringing the best piece possible to Homestead. Those guys could have just said, ‘Hey, we’ve got a car built already with a different body, we’ll come down here and see what happens,’ but that’s not what they did. I hate to whine about that, but I just wish we had a little better fair shake at it, but that’s life.
“Not going to cry about it, not going to lose sleep about it. But that’s just part of it.”