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Joe Gibbs Racing’s Daniel Hemric claims first Xfinity Series championship

Daniel Hemric capped his lone season at Joe Gibbs Racing in style by winning the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship on Saturday at Phoenix Raceway.

But like many instances in his career, it didn’t come easy for the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota driver. Hemric started on the inside lane alongside Championship 4 competitor Austin Cindric in an overtime restart. Cindric initially had the edge after the final restart, but a last-ditch effort by Hemric in Turns 3 and 4 coming to the checkered flag saw Hemric nudge the back bumper of Cindric’s No. 22 Team Penske Ford. Hemric and Cindric doored each other to the line and Hemric earned the milestone triumph in a photo finish.

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The championship marks Hemric’s first in any NASCAR national series and is the third for JGR in the Xfinity ranks after Daniel Suarez won the organization’s second title in 2016.

“I felt like I blacked out, to be honest,” Hemric said after earning the title honors. “I don’t want people to think I’m not emotional because I’m probably one of the most emotional guys there are. When you go through as much, I think back immediately, honestly, to 2019 when I lost my ride. I felt like my life was unraveling before me. Everything I build from the time you’re five years old till you’re 27, 28, the next thing you know the decline starts. I was counting it out, especially then.”

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The weekend started off on a rocky note for Hemric when the No. 18 Toyota race hauler broke down in Texas. The team was able to obtain an alternative transporter to get the primary car to Phoenix in time for Friday. They also used Ty Gibbs’ ARCA Menards Series West hauler and operation for tools and other necessities to get the car prepared for technical inspection and Friday’s lone practice session, which they managed to do in time.

The 30-year-old Hemric had a steady regular season with several close calls as he hunted for a first victory. Among his season highlights were a pit road run-in with Gragson in March and then ending up on the wrong side of a battle for the lead with Kyle Busch in July. Coincidentally, both of those developments took place at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

In the playoffs, Hemric elevated his consistency with five top fives in the six races entering Phoenix and an average finish of 5.3 — second-best among the Championship 4 drivers. He had particularly strong runs in the Round of 8 at Texas Motor Speedway (second to teammate John Hunter Nemechek) and Martinsville Speedway (third to Gragson and Cindric).

“Knew that, whatever reason, it was going to work out,” Hemric said. “Even when I felt like I gave one up last week in order to make sure we got here as a race team, I knew there was a purpose. I knew the good Lord had a plan. I promise you there can’t be much more of a testament of continuing to show up when you don’t want to, when you don’t think you can anymore.

“For whatever reason I knew when I had that dream two months ago that it was going to come full circle,” he added. “We didn’t really have a good short run car all night, and Dave Rogers made incredible adjustments to give me exactly what I needed to keep me in sight with an opportunity when we saw the white flag. That’s all I wanted, all I needed.”

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In each of Hemric’s three full-time Xfinity Series seasons (2017-18, 2021), he reached the Championship 4. The first two came with Richard Childress Racing; he ran a partial schedule for JR Motorsports in 2020.

In addition to his Xfinity experience, Hemric spent the 2019 season in the Cup Series driving the No. 8 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing. The Kannapolis, North Carolina, native won the Sunoco Rookie of the Year award in the Cup ranks that season. He also drove two full seasons for Brad Keselowski Racing in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series from 2015-16.

In 2022, Hemric will drive the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet in the Xfinity Series. He will be the first reigning champion to drive for another organization since Tyler Reddick won the title for JR Motorsports in 2018 before moving to RCR the following year.

“It isn’t for all those kids, about racing trying to get to a level, it’s about people in life,” Hemric said. “It’s about coming from nothing and making yourself all that you work for. That’s what it’s all about. This is the American dream, I’m living proof of it. Just unbelievable.”