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Xfinity Series Spotlight: Daniel Hemric on racing his wife, his ‘Alter ego’ and sleepovers with Dillon brothers

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As a kid growing up in Kannapolis, North Carolina, Daniel Hemric spent a lot of time with brothers Austin and Ty Dillon.

Nights were filled with games of hide-and-seek, paintball matches and dreams.

Having first encountered each other on the Bandolero circuit, the aspiring race car drivers would stay up late into the night, fantasizing about their racing futures.

“I remember sitting there talking about ‘Man, what would we do if we ever made to the top of NASCAR? Or just made it to NASCAR?’,” Hemric told NBC Sports. “Here we are trying to figure it out.”

They figured it out together, as the three have risen through the ranks of NASCAR with Hemric usually one step behind the brothers.

Hemric is now teammates with the Dillons at Richard Childress Racing, which is owned by their grandfather. While the Dillons are now both in the Cup Series full time, Hemric is five races into his rookie campaign in the Xfinity Series driving the No. 21. His move comes after two seasons in the Camping World Truck Series (most recently at Brad Keselowski Racing).

Though there are many veteran drivers at RCR he could consult, the 26-year-old rookie usually seeks out the Dillons.

“My crew chief Danny (Stockman) and Austin and Ty have all worked together in the past, so they have a little bit of communication there that helps me break through with Danny,” Hemric said. “Stuff that Danny’s asking or expecting of me is stuff he’s asked of them. It’s easier to go to those guys and really lean on them because they’ve been through the exact situation I’m in.”

That communication led to Hemric, who is seventh in the point standings, qualifying on the front row for last weekend’s race at Auto Club Speedway.

This Q&A had been edited and condensed:

Daniel Hemric with Darrell Wallace Jr. in the garage at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: What was your first car?

Hemric: A ’95 Honda Civic, green.

NBC Sports: What kind of green? There’s good green and then there’s bad green.

Hemric: I’d say it’s probably a mix. I wouldn’t pick it for any other car if I had to have it. My mother bought the car brand new in ’95. She gave it to me, and I still drive it up and down the road. … I’ve upgraded. I have a little nicer car for special occasions, but my little Honda still treats me right.

NBC Sports: Have you ever named a car, whether it be a street car or race car?

Hemric: Absolutely. I’ve had two of those. My Legends car was obviously very special to me, kind of helped me put my name on the map, and her name was Sue. … We had a long-running joke with a guy I was teammates with back in the day, his mom was always a sweet lady. After we named the car, we started winning a lot of races, and it stuck. The other one I had a late model that I had a bunch of guys pitch in and build, a bunch of different owners were involved, and the car was all white, white everything. Ran a couple races, won a couple races with it. Whenever I stripped the car and rebuilt it, went back and everything was exactly the opposite color. Everything was flat-black, everything was black out. It took on the name “Alter ego.” Went on to have a lot of success with that car as well. Maybe that’s the thing, I need to start naming these stock cars.

NBC Sports: If you were to race in the Cup Series night race at Bristol, what would your intro song be?

Hemric: People probably wouldn’t believe me if I said this, but I’m actually into some old-school rap. There’s an old Yung Joc song called “Hear Me Comin’.” I feel like that’s the proper language for a Bristol night race. (Writer’s note: “old school” apparently means 2006 these days.)

NBC Sports: What’s on your bucket list that’s not related to racing?

Hemric: With being more heavily involved in golf and snowboarding, I’d like to go to Vermont or somewhere more exotic snowboarding with a lot of fresh snow, that would be really cool. Playing golf in some really cool places. Pebble Beach. I know a lot of people that have played there, so maybe go play there a couple times is something I’d like to knock off the list.

NBC Sports: What’s the most emotional reaction you’ve had to a sporting event that wasn’t auto racing?

Hemric: Here recently, within the last few weeks, we got to go to one of the top five majors of tennis, and I’ve never followed it, never seen a tennis match, didn’t know the rules. Here we are pretty much sitting front row at this tennis match. To feel the intensity and what these guys are playing for, Roger Federer wound up winning the match, but to be able to all of a sudden go from not a fan, not know anything about the sport to watching these guys do battle … was just an overwhelming experience. These guys laid it on the line. Just pure emotion. I thought that was a really cool experience.

(Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

NBC Sports: Who was your favorite driver growing up?

Hemric: Dale Earnhardt, no doubt. … Being from Kannapolis, North Carolina, it was kind of an obvious pick for me. With DEI being right down the road, with that being the pinnacle of the sport, I didn’t know anything else. My dad was a follower, all my family. It was one of those things that got kind of pushed down. As I began my own racing career and I got to choose a number, the number was three. As I started racing go karts heavily, the guy that I always pulled for, that kind of carried with me growing up.

NBC Sports: Do you remember the first time you saw your face or name on merchandise?

Hemric: The first couple of years of Truck racing, I didn’t have a whole lot of stuff. I had been out of town racing, and I got got back from a Truck race late one night. My wife (Kenzie Ruston), she raced as well, she was coming from a race. We met at our house at like 3 a.m. in the morning, and there’s a box on the porch. And I’m thinking, ‘What did you order now?’ She says ‘I didn’t order anything.’ We get inside and open the box up and here’s a compete (cardboard) standup of myself in this box. I unfolded this thing and it was so random, unexpected. Draw Tite, the sponsor that was a big part of my career at Brad Keselowski Racing, just sent it to me saying ‘We think this is probably the first one you’ve ever had, hope you enjoy it.’ It’s a very awkward tease that we have in our house. We try to put it in the spare bedroom so when people stay over, it tries to spook them when they open the door.

NBC Sports: Your wife races too?

Hemric: Yeah, she grew up racing as well in Legend cars. She ran a couple of ARCA races and super late models (and three seasons in the K&N Pro Series East. She’s a former member of NASCAR Next). She’s kind of on the retiring path currently trying to keep up with me. She’s a heck of a driver herself, that’s how we met.

NBC Sports: You’ve actually raced against her?

Hemric: Yeah, we actually ran numerous races against each other, a couple of times in the super late-model ranks. Her claim to fame is that she was the only female ever to win a super late-model race at Lucas Oil Raceway Park in Indianapolis. I can’t remember how it went down, but I was third, Ryan Blaney was fourth and Chase Elliott was fifth, somewhere in that order. That’s her go-to whenever you ask ‘Have you ever beat Daniel?’

Previous Xfinity Spotlight Q&A’s

Justin Allgaier

Darrell Wallace Jr.

Michael Annett

Ryan Reed

Brandon Jones

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Staff picks for today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway

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Here’s a look at who the NBC Sports staff is picking to win today’s Cup race at Kansas Speedway.

Nate Ryan

Kevin Harvick. His first oval win since Kansas Speedway a year ago validates the team’s 1.5-mile speed in the playoffs.

Dustin Long

Kyle Busch. Mark it down, he wins and advances to the next round to continue his quest for a second title.

Daniel McFadin

Martin Truex Jr. keeps his foot on the throat of the competition and gets his sixth win of the year at a 1.5-mile track.

Jerry Bonkowski

Kyle Larson is starting 13th but expect him to get to the top five within the first 20-30 laps. He needs a strong run to give him momentum heading into the Round of 8 and he gets it Sunday.

Furniture Row Racing crew member dies of heart attack

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas – James “Jim” Watson, a fabricator for Furniture Row Racing, died Saturday night after suffering a heart attack, the team stated Sunday morning. Watson was 55.

A native of Greenfield, Wisconsin, Watson had been a member of Furniture Row Racing since February. He worked for Roush Fenway Racing from 2006-15 and spent last season with HScott Motorsports. He was a long-time racer, competing in dirt late models and asphalt super late models throughout Southeast Wisconsin.

Watson was with the team this weekend at Kansas Speedway.

He is survived by wife Laurie and daughter Brittany.

“On behalf of Furniture Row Racing we extend our deepest sympathies to Jim’s family,” said Joe Garone, president of Furniture Row Racing. “He was an outstanding and talented member of our racing family, whose life was dedicated to racing since his early days as a race-car driver in Wisconsin. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Jim’s wife Laurie, daughter Brittany and to his entire family and friends. Our No. 77 and 78 teams will be racing with heavy hearts today.”

Ryan Blaney ready to prove doubters wrong

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KANSAS CITY, Kansas — Ryan Blaney has a bit of a chip on his shoulder this weekend.

The 23-year-old driver for the Wood Brothers seeks to hold off three former champions today at Kansas Speedway (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) for a spot in the next round of the Cup playoffs.

Even though former champions Jimmie Johnson, Kyle Busch and Matt Kenseth trail Blaney in the points, some say Blaney won’t hold them off and advance to the Round of 8.

“I’ve heard that all week that we don’t really deserve to be here, so that kind of ticked me off a little bit,’’ Blaney said Friday after qualifying.

“They just say we’ve been kind of overachieving or they didn’t expect us to be here. Those little things kind of make you a little bit irritated because our guys do just as good a job as anybody. They deserve to be here. They work their tails off like anybody else. Hopefully, we can prove that Sunday.’’

MORE: Wood Brothers lifeline started with a phone call

Blaney’s job, though, will be more difficult. He will start last in the 40-car field because his car failed inspection after qualifying. Kenseth (third), Busch (seventh) and Johnson (13th) all start in the top 15 and should be able to work their way into the top 10 to score stage points by Lap 80 when the first stage ends. Blaney will be challenged to do so and could see his advantage on each shrink. 

There’s hope for Blaney because he posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s final Cup practice. But he ranked ninth in average over 10 consecutive laps — behind Busch and Kenseth.

“There’s definitely things we can improve on,’’ Blaney said after placing third in Saturday’s Xfinity race. “(In the Cup race) everyone is going to be kind of married to the wall pretty early in a run. It might be hard to pass. Hopefully, we can work the bottom. I think the Cup cars might wear the top out, might over-rubber it where we have to move down a little bit.’’

With starting in the rear of the field, changing weather conditions (the wind is not expected to be as prevalent today as Saturday) and facing an elimination race, it would be easy for the pressure build on a driver and team.

“I really don’t feel that it’s a different weekend,’’ he said, alluding to the battle for the final playoff spots. “More people are paying attention to it because it’s a big deal. There’s four cars pretty much going for two spots. We try to approach it as any other weekend. It will be more challenging coming from the back.’’

Along with starting at the rear for the penalty, Blaney’s team had to pick last for pit stalls for failing inspection after qualifying.

His team would have had the third pick and he would have had an opening either before or after his stall, making it easier to either enter or exit. Now, he’ll be sandwiched between Kasey Kahne and Dale Earnhardt Jr. Provided both stay on the lead lap, Blaney could face challenges squeezing into his stall throughout the race.

“It doesn’t help our situation for sure,’’ Blaney said. “Those are two good cars. We’ll kind of be pitched between them all day. Dale actually sent me a text. Teams work well with each other about that. That will be tough for us. That will be another challenge.’’

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Today’s Cup race at Kansas: Start time, weather, TV/radio info

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It’s once again elimination time in the NASCAR Cup Series.

The playoff field will be cut from 12 to eight drivers following today’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Pole-sitter Martin Truex Jr. will be looking to earn his sixth win on a 1.5-mile track this year. He won the last visit to Kansas Speedway in May.

Here’s all the important info you need ahead of the race, which will air on NBCSN.

(All times are Eastern)

START: Jay Hernandez will give the command to start engines at 3:07 p.m. Green flag is scheduled for 3:16 p.m.

DISTANCE: The race is scheduled for 267 laps (400 miles) around the 1.5-mile oval.

STAGES: Stage 1 ends at Lap 80. Stage 2 ends at Lap 160.

COMPETITION CAUTION: Lap 30

PRERACE SCHEDULE: Garage opens at 9:30 a.m. Driver-crew chief meeting is at 1 p.m. Driver introductions are at 2:20 p.m.

NATIONAL ANTHEM: Angie Rosner will perform the anthem at 3:01 p.m..

TV/RADIO:  NBCSN will broadcast the race at 3 p.m. Coverage begins at 1 p.m. on NBCSN with NASCAR America, followed by Countdown to Green at 2:30 p.m. Motor Racing Network will broadcast the race on radio and at mrn.com, starting with its pre-race show at 2 p.m. SiriusXM NASCAR Radio will carry the MRN broadcast.

FORECAST: The wunderground.com site predicts a temperature of 67 degrees and no chance of rain at race time.

LAST TIME: Martin Truex Jr. led the final 19 laps to win in May. He beat Brad Keselowski and Kevin Harvick. Harvick is the defending winner of this race. He beat Carl Edwards and Joey Logano last October.

STARTING LINEUP: Click here for starting lineup