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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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NASCAR America at 6 p.m. ET: Las Vegas recap

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Today’s episode of NASCAR America airs from 6-7 p.m. ET on NBCSN and will look back at the weekend’s racing at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Steve Letarte will be joined by Kyle Petty and Nate Ryan.

If you can’t catch today’s show on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 6 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

After Las Vegas incidents, Kurt Busch, Kyle Larson look for Richmond rebound

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Sunday’s NASCAR Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas leaves Chip Ganassi Racing with a mixed bag of potential strategies to develop heading into the next race, this Saturday night at Richmond Raceway.

Kurt Busch, the first NASCAR playoff champion in 2004, was involved in a wreck at Vegas with eventual race winner Martin Truex Jr. on Lap 189 that knocked him out of the event, ending with a last-place finish of 39th.

We were trying to go for the same spot in the middle, it wound up four-wide, got a fender rub and our day’s done,” Busch told NBCSN after he left the medical center. “It just happened that fast. Everyone wants to try to get to the middle and that’s where you make up the most spots and Truex and I were going for the same piece of real estate.”

As a result of the poor finish, Busch finds himself in 14th place among the 16 playoff contenders, a distant 63 points behind points leader Truex Jr.

How Busch rebounds at Richmond will go a long way toward determining whether he will advance to the Round of 12 following the Roval elimination race at Charlotte in two weeks. Busch is currently 14 points behind 12th-ranked Aric Almirola, but he is also only 12 points ahead of 16th-ranked Erik Jones.

There’s no question Busch is in need of a big comeback at Richmond, a track that he has had decent success at, including two wins (last time was in spring 2015), seven top five and 15 top-10 finishes in 37 career Cup starts there.

A win would immediately wipe out the Las Vegas nightmare and push Busch into Round 2.

And then there’s teammate Kyle Larson, who had a car that looked like it could challenge for the win at Vegas. But a costly pit road penalty — a behind-the-wall crew member trying to grab tires back over the wall slipped, touching the ground on pit road — pushed Larson back and he wound up playing catch-up the rest of the race. He settled for an eighth-place finish that potentially could have been a top five showing had it not been for the penalty.

Our car was better than what I thought it was going to be,” Larson said. “We were able to battle up front there in the second stage. Then, we had the pit road penalty and had to come from the back.

The restarts were crazy and I was just being safe. It probably cost us a little bit, but we still got a top-10 out of the day and some decent stage points. So, all-in-all, it wasn’t a bad day.”

Busch has one win this season, while Larson is still looking for his first.

Our cars have definitely been good enough to win, we just have to put the whole races together at this point,” Larson said. “We want to win. We’ll keep working at it and hopefully we can knock one out before the season is over.”

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Best of the rest: How non-playoff drivers did in Las Vegas

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The Cup playoffs began Sunday night in Las Vegas, and the playoff drivers made their presence known by occupying every spot in the top 10.

But what about the rest?

The first 16 spots were not filled by the 16 playoff drivers. In fact, playoff drivers only made up 13 positions in the top 20.

Here’s a look at the top-finishing drivers who are not contending for the championship:

Jimmie Johnson – finished 11th

With him not participating in the playoffs for the first time in his career, the spotlight wasn’t focused on Johnson very often Sunday.

But the Hendrick Motorsports driver finally put together his first complete run six races into Cliff Daniels’ tenure as his crew chief.

It was their first race together to not be involved in some sort of incident and it saw Johnson earn his first top-15 finish with Daniels. It’s only his second top 15 in the last nine races.

Austin Dillon – Finished 12th

The Richard Childress Racing driver earned his second straight 12th-place finish and his third consecutive finish of 12th or better.

He’s earned a top-15 finish in four of the last five races. That’s after only having one in a 12-race stretch.

Dillon also finished sixth in Stage 1.

“When the caution came out on Lap 180, we pitted to take another swing at loosening up this Chevy,” Dillon said. “Unfortunately, we had an uncontrolled tire penalty but it did allow us to come back down pit road to top off with fuel and adjust on the car more. We got the car better and made a good strategy to stay out for track position during a late caution to pick up additional spots.”

Paul Menard – Finished 14th

Menard took part in his first race since announcing last week that he would retire from full-time competition after this season.

The Wood Brothers Racing driver kicked-off his final 10 races for the team with his sixth top-15 finish in the last nine races. He finished outside the top 15 just once in his last 11 starts at Las Vegas.

Ty Dillon – finished 16th

The Germain Racing driver earned his best finish at Las Vegas in five starts (previous was 24th).

Dillon has finished 20th or better in six of the last nine races.

Daniel Hemric – finished 17th

The rookie driver earned a top-20 finish after two straight DNFs for wrecks. He has only three top 20s in the last nine races.

“Our handling balance would swing a lot from being really tight and then halfway through the run it was like a light switch and I would get super, super loose,” Hemric said. “We got that better throughout the race and back to where I could run more throttle, which allowed us to move forward into the top 10 and be more aggressive on restarts and make some hay during those time. On that last green flag stop we just got a little too free to where I couldn’t make the most time coming off pit road and just struggled a bit on that last run.”

Chris Buescher – finished 18th

The JTG Daugherty Racing driver extended his streak of finishes inside the top 18 to 16 races. The streak began at Kansas Speedway on May 11.

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Brad Keselowski rebounds to ‘steal’ third-place finish in playoff opener

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Usually when you see a race car on pit road with its hood up in the middle of a race, it’s a sign that a team’s race is over or will be soon.

It’s not typically a prelude to a third-place finish.

But that’s what happened to Brad Keselowski in Sunday’s Cup playoff opener at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

The adjustments made to his No. 2 Ford on pit road during the Stage 2 break, including adjustments to the front suspension, helped cure what was a “miserable” first 160 laps for Keselowski.

“Nothing I was doing was working,” Keselowski told NBCSN after his top-five finish. “We were losing spots to everybody out there.”

Keselowski, the race’s defending winner, qualified 18th. But while his Team Penske teammate Joey Logano went from 22nd to first in 34 laps, Keselowski was “just kind of bleeding positions.”

“I am disappointed we didn’t start the race any better than we did but very proud that we didn’t freak out and everyone kept their head on their shoulders,” Keselowski said.

After Stage 2, Keselowski pitted from 13th. He would pit twice under the caution before the start of the final stage.

“The team worked on it really hard there and got us back to a spot to where we could kind of almost steal a win,” Keselowski said. “I thought for a minute we might be able to.”

Keselowski thought if he had gained one or two spots on the final restart with 71 laps to go, he might have been the winner instead of Martin Truex Jr.

Instead, “we kind of stole a third place today,” Keselowski told NBCSN. “I guess I can’t complain. … Decent recovery, great fight. That’s kind of what these playoffs are about. Minimizing your bad days. That’s what we were able to do.”

Keselowski’s finish is his ninth straight top 10 at Las Vegas. He hasn’t finished worse than seventh on the 1.5-mile track since 2012.