While Kyle Busch soared to his 102nd win in the Xfinity Series on Saturday afternoon, Daniel Hemric was left wanting for his first. The two were connected as teammates under the Joe Gibbs Racing umbrella, but also by the late-race contact that altered the fates of both at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
Hemric’s strong bid for a breakthrough win was foiled by a crash during a restart just seven laps from the end in Saturday’s Credit Karma Money 250. A forceful push in the low lane by Busch’s No. 54 Toyota turned Hemric’s No. 18 entry sideways into the No. 16 car of AJ Allmendinger and eventually the Turn 1 retaining wall.
Hemric had led 45 of the 164 laps — second only to Busch’s 97 — but was dropped to a 30th-place finish. Neither party said the contact was intentional.
“All he was literally doing was trying to keep our row moving,” said Hemric, who was making his 105th Xfinity Series start. “Just an odd, off-timed location and ended up in the fence.”
Busch apologized over the team radio after the contact, then again after capturing the checkered flag — going so far as to call the victory “somber.”
“People would say I did it on purpose, but what do I need to do it on purpose for,” he said. “Kid’s going for his first win. I’m going for 102. I’ve been there, done that. I don’t need it. It would certainly help him a hell of a lot more than it’s going to help me and give the perception that now I have on that.”
Hemric was a fixture among the top five through the first two stages — both won by Busch — but didn’t rise into serious contention until the final segment of the race. He was able to keep Busch at bay until a caution flag for Carson Ware’s incident on the backstraight triggered a series of late restarts.
Hemric kept the lead after a round of pit stops and a chaotic first restart, but the pivotal reset with Busch thwarted his bid.
The outcome was emblematic of the hard luck that has followed Hemric in his Xfinity Series career. He’s finished among the top three 23 times — a runner-up on nine occasions — without a win. He struck an upbeat note in post-race interviews, adding “our day will come” as a punctuation mark to his air time with NBC Sports.
“What could’ve been, right?” Hemric said. “It’s all you can think about. On the flip side of it, you can’t change it. Obviously, I know it wasn’t intentional by no means. I did spin the tires a little bit, we were on scuffed tires there and thought we got rolling there the best we could, and Kyle just went to push me to help our momentum in the bottom lane. Right when he went to hook on my back bumper, there’s a swell there right before you turn into (Turn) 1. The way the car loads up there, I think it just laid on the left-rear tire and the bumpers didn’t align and it shot me right.
“I know it wasn’t intentional but at the end of the day, I’m sitting here talking to you guys with a torn-up race car.”