After a nine-year hiatus, the No. 8 will hit the track once again in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series in 2018.
The number, made famous by Dale Earnhardt Jr. during nine seasons competing for his late father at Dale Earnhardt, Inc., will be brought back by fellow Kannapolis, North Carolina, native and current NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Daniel Hemric.
Hemric will make his Monster Energy Series debut in the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 in two events this season, the first coming at Richmond Raceway on April 21. The second on his schedule will occur at the new Charlotte Motor Speedway road course on Sept. 30, the first elimination race of the NASCAR Playoffs.
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“It’s an incredible opportunity with the 8 car coming back into the Cup Series,” Hemric told NASCAR.com. “Richard Childress told me at the beginning of 2017, he said listen, let’s try to build something here, let’s try to make sure we can get you to your goals and let’s try to figure out a way to get you to the top tier of this sport. He’s held true to his word and to everyone who’s backed me and supported me to this point.
“It’s incredible to know not only do I get to do it once, but I get to do it again back in my hometown in Charlotte later in the fall. It’s unbelievable, a little overwhelming and something I’ve dreamed about my whole life. I’m trying to take it all in.”
The golden opportunity is one that holds extra special value for Hemric, being able to follow in the footsteps of his hometown hero and the Earnhardt family, a group he has looked up to his entire life. Hemric’s dream of making it to NASCAR’s top level is one he was reminded of daily as a child riding past DEI’s headquarters.
Now he gets to make that dream a reality in a number he holds close to his heart.
“I drove by DEI every single day. It was a reminder of this guy, Dale Earnhardt, who grew up in this same town, the same area,” Hemric said. “He went from working in the plant, to short-track racing, to become this sport’s icon and here I am driving by his place every single day. It’s a reminder that if you keep working, what you can have out of life. It was very special to have that right here in my backyard and to know I’m trying to make that same mark in this sport.”
Aric Almirola and Mark Martin last drove the No. 8 for DEI for a combined 43 races from 2008-09, but the number has been synonymous with Earnhardt since his rookie year in 1999.
It was Earnhardt’s 17 wins, along with unwavering support from both Junior Nation and sponsor Budweiser, that made the number legendary.
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Hemric, 27, hopes he can win the hearts of those who have long missed Earnhardt in the No. 8 with his own backstory. Dale Earnhardt made Junior work hard to prove he was worthy of a ride in NASCAR’s highest level. Hemric has taken the same road filled with hard work, dedication and grit.
“Making the announcement that I’ll be running the 8 car at Richmond and at Charlotte, that makes it all worth it,” he said. “To have the support from the folks who saw how I was having to do it growing up, without family money, without anything given to me. Having to go work for it, that’s what’s made me the person I am. That’s what I go to sleep at night proud of … how I’ve gotten here and the support group I’ve had along the way.”
The car will be sponsored by Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff, who partnered with Hemric in four Xfinity races last season, including the penultimate playoff race at ISM Raceway where Hemric raced his way into the Championship 4.
Last year’s Phoenix race — where Hemric qualified for a spot in the finale at Miami — also was the first time Hemric was able to speak one-on-one with Earnhardt, an experience that came full circle from his racing in his younger years.
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“As I was racing legends and bandolero cars growing up, I was a really, really young kid and the highlight of our season was racing on pole night at Charlotte Motor Speedway because all the Cup guys were there qualifying,” Hemric said. “Every now and then you got to see your favorite Cup guy and mine was Earnhardt. I’m sitting there and Dale Jr. walks up. All the fans and all the racing kids were just kind of in awe. He’s the guy from our same hometown. That meant a lot to me as a kid.
“But then fast-forwarding to last year at Phoenix, our last playoff race to try and make it to Homestead, we go and make it in. I had never really had that one-on-one time with Junior and after our media deal after the race, he shook my hand and said, ‘Man, that was a hell of a job.’ And that was the first time I really had the opportunity as an adult to speak to him. That meant a lot to me to have a guy like that that I looked up to him and his father and his family my entire life. To have that moment, I thought that was really special.”