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New meets old: Daniel Hemric to pilot No. 8 Chevrolet for RCR

WELCOME, N.C. — The No. 8 is coming back full time to NASCAR’s top division. Fittingly, a native of Kannapolis, North Carolina, is giving it a ride.

Richard Childress Racing announced Friday that rookie Daniel Hemric will pilot the No. 8 Chevrolet in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series next season. The number shifts from the No. 31 that the organization had fielded full time since expanding to a two-car operation for the 1997 season.

“Growing up in Kannapolis, it was all about racing,” Hemric said in a RCR team release. “I always dreamed of having the opportunity to drive for RCR and for Richard himself. Now, two iconic numbers, the 3 and the 8, are going to be under one roof. I know it makes Richard happier than anybody, just understanding what that means for the sport of NASCAR and how our fans are going to be able to connect with that.”

The news broke Friday at a kickoff event ahead of RCR’s 50th anniversary season, with team owner Richard Childress leading the company’s 400-some employees in a champagne toast. The organization also unveiled two special gold car designs for Hemric’s No. 8 and teammate Austin Dillon’s No. 3 Chevrolet for the Daytona 500 on Feb. 17.

RELATED: Other drivers of No. 8

Childress announced Hemric as Ryan Newman’s replacement Sept. 28 — and confirmed Friday that Luke Lambert would stay on as crew chief. The 73-year-old team owner had previously indicated that he was open to changing the car number, saying in September that the team had held discussions about the topic.

The number has long been associated with the Earnhardt family, which has deep ties to the Kannapolis community that Hemric also calls home. Dale Earnhardt Jr. broke into NASCAR’s top series with the No. 8, and his father and grandfather had used the number in several different racing series.

Hemric — who has competed full-time with RCR’s Xfinity program the last two seasons — brought back the No. 8 for his first two Monster Energy Series starts in 2018, using the number at Richmond Raceway and the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course. That will continue into RCR’s golden anniversary campaign, with Childress indicating he wanted to kick Hemric’s premier-series career off with a brand-new look.

“It’s a perfect fitting,” Childress said. “Dale Jr. was his hero back in the day and for him to be able to drive an 8 that’s so iconic for the Kannapolis area, that says a lot. He’s excited, I can tell you.”

Before Hemric’s two-race stint last season, the No. 8 was last used by Aric Almirola at the beginning of the 2009 season, when Dale Earnhardt Inc. merged with Chip Ganassi Racing. Further back still, the number was used for years by the Stavola Brothers operation and before that by driver/owner Ed Negre. It was a Negre-owned No. 8 Dodge that famously gave Dale Earnhardt Sr. his first-ever Cup Series start at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1975.

Childress said he had held the rights to the number for a handful of recent years, asking Earnhardt Jr. and his sister, Kelley Earnhardt Miller, for their blessing. But Childress also revealed Friday that his initial plan was to hold the No. 8 for grandson Ty Dillon, Austin’s brother, upon his arrival in NASCAR’s top series.

Ty Dillon wound up graduating to the Monster Energy Series full time with Germain Racing, which has a technical alliance with RCR, in 2017. He drives car No. 13, the number that his grandfather campaigned in his first premier-series start in 1969.