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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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Truck Series Championship 4 Outlook

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Two past champions and two drivers who won their first Gander Outdoors Truck Series races this year are primed to battle for the championship Friday night at Homestead-Miami Speedway (8 p.m. ET on FS1).

Led by defending champion Brett Moffitt, the Championship 4 consists of Matt Crafton, Ross Chastain and Stewart Friesen.

There are no upstart phenoms in this group of drivers, where the average age is 33. The veterans came out on top. But who will be the last one standing?

Here’s a breakdown of each driver.

Matt Crafton (No. 88 Ford for ThorSport Racing)

Wins: None

Career Playoff wins: Two

Miami Record: Three top fives in 18 starts, including his win in 2014 to claim his second championship.

Championship-Caliber Moment(s): Crafton did everything he needed to short of winning a race this season to make the title race. He enters Miami with three top 10s in the playoffs and only one DNF through 22 races.

Outlook: It’s entirely possible Crafton could claim his third Truck Series title this weekend without having won a single race this season. In fact, he hasn’t won since the 2017 race at Eldora. The last time a national series driver won a title without a win was Austin Dillon with his Xfinity championship in 2013. Crafton will try to do it as the only Ford driver going against three Chevrolets.

“Just beat the other three guys,” Crafton said Friday night. “At the end of the day, just go out there and just make your truck the best you can in practice and Homestead’s always such an interesting one just because you have so much tire wear, you get so much tire falloff and you get one set of tires in practice. You have one shot to get the balance of your truck good. … But at the end of the day we know what trucks we’ll be racing for a championship.”

 

Brett Moffitt (No. 24 Chevrolet for GMS Racing)

Wins: Four (Iowa, Chicago, Bristol, Canada)

Career Playoff Wins: Four (two this season)

Miami Record: Will make his second Truck start at the track following his win there last year to claim the title. Finished 31st and 36th in his two Cup Series starts.

Championship-Caliber Moment(s): Led the final 27 laps at Bristol and survived three restarts in that span to fend off Chandler Smith and Chastain for the win.

Outlook: Could become the second Truck Series driver to claim back-to-back titles, following Crafton’s 2013-14 reign. Regardless of the outcome Friday, Moffitt won’t have to worry about his career prospects. After proving GMS Racing’s decision to go with him over Johnny Sauter was the right one, he’ll be back in the No. 24 next season.

“I think it’s a different type of pressure,” Moffitt said Friday. “Last year (was) ‘What if I don’t get the opportunity again?’ type of pressure. Where this year is I need to perform for those who gave me this opportunity and that’s the Gallagher family and everyone at GMS. They’re working as hard as they possibly can to give me fast Silverados week-in and week-out. Anything short of winning a championship will be a disappointment for all of us. We feel like we have the best opportunity to do it. We feel like we have the best people to do it.”

 

Ross Chastain (No. 45 Chevrolet for Niece Motorsports)

Wins: Three (Kansas, Gateway, Pocono)

Career Playoff Wins: None

Miami Record: Best finish in five Truck Series starts is eighth in 2013 while driving for Brad Keselowski Racing. Finished 16th last year with Niece Motorsports.

Championship-Caliber Moment(s): Got a late start on the points race after he switched his points declaration from Xfinity to Trucks after eight races in the Truck season. Checked off every box mandated by NASCAR to become playoff eligible, earning two wins in the process and scrapped his way into the Championship 4 without a playoff win.

Outlook: Chastain has everything to prove and nothing to lose Friday night. Eleven months since he lost a full-time ride in the Xfinity Series, Chastain has a shot at his first NASCAR title. Should nothing go wrong between now and February, Chastain will compete full-time in the Xfinity Series with Kaulig Racing.

“Bet ya’ll didn’t expect to see me here … A dream come true,” Chastain said after he finished ninth in Phoenix. “My team owner Al (Niece) just said it best, he said ‘Why stop now?'”

 

Stewart Friesen (No. 52 Chevrolet for Halmar Racing)

Wins: Two (Eldora, Phoenix)

Career Playoff Wins: One

Miami Record: Three starts with finishes of seventh and fourth the last two years.

Championship-Caliber Moment(s): After a penalty at the start of the Phoenix race for beating the pole-sitter to the start-finish line, Friesen bounced back and held off Brandon Jones to claim his first win on asphalt and advance to the Championship 4.

Outlook: Friesen and Halmar Racing didn’t compete in NASCAR until 2016. They’ve won their first two races this season and are one race away from a championship. Like Brett Moffitt last year, we can’t help but speculate it’s because of the mustache.

“We’ve got our favorite truck we’re running next week that we’ve gotten a lot of time under our belt with,” Friesen said following his win. “It’s going to be a tough race, obviously. It gets tough to pass at Homestead. The tire falloff is huge. It falls off lap-to-lap. You can go out and start a run, you’re wide open for a lap. Then it backs up, backs up, backs up. Then you get right up on the boards. You got to work that air bubble and there’s a lot of stuff you can manipulate at Homestead to help yourself out that I’ve learned the last (three races there). It’s a gritty race track paved with the aggregate of the area. It looks like you’re racing on sea shells, that’s what it is. That’s what the pavement plants have there. It’s cool and it’s exciting. ”

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Matt Tifft, Front Row Motorsports part ways so Tifft can ‘focus on my health’

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Front Row Motorsports and driver Matt Tifft announced Wednesday they have decided to end their agreement so that Tifft can focus on his health.

Tifft, a rookie in the Cup Series, said he can’t commit to racing in 2020 following his seizure at Martinsville Speedway on Oct. 26.

Tifft has been replaced by John Hunter Nemechek in the No. 36 Ford for the last two races and this weekend’s season finale in Miami.

Tifft, 23, had surgery to remove a tumor in his brain on July 21, 2016. Tifft said on Nov. 3 at Texas Motor Speedway that scans of the area where the tumor was located looked good. Tifft has shared his process since the seizure on social media.

Jeff Dennison, senior director of sales and marketing for Front Row Motorsports, said then Tifft had a two-year agreement with the team and it planned to honor that.

Statement from Matt Tifft:

“I’ve made the decision to focus on my health and there is no rush or timetable to get back behind the wheel. Because of that, I can’t commit to racing full-time in 2020. I can’t say when I’ll be ready to race again, but I believe I will come back. I love this sport, the people, and I would like to be a part of it next year in some capacity.

“I want to thank Bob Jenkins, Jerry Freeze and the entire Front Row Motorsports organization for allowing me to live my dream of racing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. They are great people and it’s been awesome to race there. I look forward to what’s next in racing when the time is right.”

Statement from Bob Jenkins, Owner, Front Row Motorsports:

“Matt has always shown us a lot of determination and courage. He’s a fighter and I believe, like him, that he’ll return to driving. For now, we support Matt and his need to focus on his health and his family. Racing will be there when it’s time. We want to thank Matt and his family for being a part of Front Row Motorsports and helping us continue to grow.”

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Who is the championship favorite by the numbers? Miami’s tale of the tape

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The odds for the four championship contenders in NASCAR’s premier series have Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Kevin Harvick and Martin Truex Jr. virtually listed as co-favorites.

The statistics indicate why.

Across a bevy of numerical criteria, there isn’t much separation among the drivers in the championship round of the 2019 playoffs.

The staff at Racing Insights, which provides in-depth statistical analysis of NASCAR for NBC Sports and other media outlets, ranked the drivers 1-4 in 16 categories and listed Harvick as its favorite by the numbers, just ahead of Truex, Busch and Hamlin.

Courtesy of research compiled by Racing Insights, here’s the tale of the tape for Sunday’s championship battle on the 1.5-mile oval of Homestead-Miami Speedway.


CAREER STATISTICS:

Driver                Age       Starts    Poles     Wins     Top 5     Top 10   Laps led  Avg. finish


Kyle Busch          34          533        31          55          199        295       17,311         13.65

Denny Hamlin      38          505        33          37          161        258       10,143         13.65

Kevin Harvick       43          681        31          49          205        361       13,993         13.01

Martin Truex Jr.    39          512        19          26          101        204         8,803         15.76


HEAD TO HEAD IN 2019:

Truex was the highest finisher of the four drivers in 12 of the past 35 races (including four of the past 10 races). Busch was the highest finisher 10 times (none in the past 11), Hamlin seven times (four of the past six) and Harvick six (once in the past seven).


CHAMPIONSHIP EXPERIENCE:

Harvick (2014, ’15, ’17, ’18, ’19) and Busch (’15-19) each have reached the final round at Miami in five of the six years since this structure began in 2014. This is the fourth appearance for Truex (’15, ’17, ’18, ’19) and second for Hamlin (’14, ’19).


BEST CAREER ON 1.5-MILE TRACKS:

Harvick has the most victories (16) and pole positions (13) and best average finish (12.28), beating out Busch (13 wins, nine poles, 13.47), Truex (12 wins, seven poles, 13.39) and Hamlin (nine wins, six poles, 14.09)


BEST ON 1.5-MILE TRACKS IN 2019:

Truex and Hamlin have two wins apiece, but Truex gets the nod on average finish (8.3 to Hamlin’s 11.9). Harvick (one win) is second in average finish (8.7) ahead of Busch (10.5), the only contender without a win on 1.5-mile tracks this season.


BEST AT MIAMI:

Hamlin has two wins while the other three also have one apiece. Harvick easily leads in average finish (6.56) with 16 top 10s and 10 top fives in 18 starts ahead of Hamlin (10.57 average finish and nine top 10s in 14 starts), Truex (10.79 average finish and nine top 10s in 14 starts) and Busch (17.43 average finish and seven top 10s in 14 starts).


BEST IN 2019 PLAYOFFS:

Based on wins, Truex has been tops by winning three of the first nine races for a 6.22 average finish that puts him ahead of Hamlin (two wins, 8.78 average finish) and Harvick (one win, 6.11 average finish). Busch is winless with a 12.11 average finish.


BEST IN 2019 SEASON:

Truex has the most wins (seven) over Hamlin (six). Busch (four wins) has the most top 10s (26) and best average finish (9.17), putting him ahead of Harvick, who also has four wins but does have the most poles (six, twice as many as Hamlin).


BEST DRIVER/CREW CHIEF PAIRING:

The combinations of Kyle Busch-Adam Stevens and Kevin Harvick-Rodney Childers each have 26 victories, but Busch and Stevens have a better winning percentage (16 percent in 163 starts vs. 13.3 percent for Harvick-Childers in 211 starts). Martin Truex Jr. and Cole Pearn have 24 wins in 178 starts (13.5 percent) while Chris Gabehart and Denny Hamlin have won six of their 36 starts together (35 this season; one in 2017).


FASTEST PIT CREW:

Kyle Busch’s No. 18 ranked first during the season (14.083 seconds per four-tire stop) and playoffs (13.718). Harvick had the sixth-fastest crew this season (14.39) and 10th in the playoffs (14.357), Truex’s was eighth in the season (14.606) and seventh in the playoffs (14.145), and Hamlin’s was 10th in the season (14.687) and ninth in the playoffs (14.336).


FEWEST MISTAKES BY PIT CREW:

Limiting errors to speeding, tire and safety violations and driving through too many stalls (and omitting penalties involving damaged cars), Harvick’s team had the least number of penalties for errors with five, followed by Truex (six), Busch (seven) and Hamlin (nine).

NBC Sports Power Rankings: Denny Hamlin leads the way to Miami

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With his win at Phoenix and advancing to the Championship 4 race in Miami, Denny Hamlin is once again back on top of this week’s NBC Sports NASCAR Power Rankings.

Not surprisingly, all four drivers who will battle for the championship are in the top four in this week’s rankings. Kyle Busch is second, last week’s No. 1, Kevin Harvick, drops to third, and Martin Truex Jr. is fourth, as voted on by NBC Sports’ NASCAR writers.

Hamlin made the biggest jump in the standings, going from No. 7 last week to the top of the heap this week.

Conversely, Joey Logano, who was No. 3 last week, suffers the biggest drop, down to No. 8 – and also misses on his bid to defend last year’s championship this Sunday at Miami (3 p.m. ET on NBC).

Here is this week’s Power Rankings:

1. Denny Hamlin (39 points): Entered ISM Raceway outside a transfer spot to the title race and now he might be the favorite to win it all. Or at least be co-favorite with teammate Martin Truex Jr. Last week: Seventh.

2. Kyle Busch (34 points): Could be the underdog at Miami. With everything on the line, is one of the best performers in pressure-packed situations – especially with a championship and snapping a 21-race winless streak on the line. Last week: Fourth.

3. Kevin Harvick (29 points): Lone wolf in the Joe Gibbs Racing party for the championship. But he may actually have the edge, as he has three teammates who can help him, while it’s every man for himself for the three JGR drivers. Last week: First.

4. Martin Truex Jr. (28 points): Has not finished worse than sixth in the last four races. Also has the most wins (seven) of the four championship drivers. Last week: Second.

5. Ryan Blaney (26 points): Finished fifth, eighth and third in the Round of 8 but it still wasn’t good enough to advance to the title race. Last week: Fifth.

6. Kyle Larson (22 points): Fourth-place finish was good effort but missed out on last chance to run for a championship at Homestead-Miami Speedway, one of his best tracks. Was Chevrolet’s last hope; the bow tie has not reached the Championship 4 for the last three years. Last week: Sixth.

7. Erik Jones (14 points): Has three top 10s in last four races. While showed some signs of promise during the playoffs, the fact remains he’s likely going to finish 16th (last) among all playoff qualifiers when everything is said and done after Miami. Last week: Unranked.

8. Joey Logano (9 points): So close, yet so far away. Will we ever learn what happened to his car in the final stage that cost him a chance to defend last year’s title at Miami? Last week: Third.

9. Justin Allgaier (6 points): Xfinity win at ISM Raceway was his career-best 16th consecutive top-10 finish. Could he steal the championship from the “Big Three?” Last week: Unranked.

10. Christopher Bell (4 points): With Xfinity Series-leading eight wins, enters title race as favorite. This will be his Xfinity swan song before moving to Cup next season. What better way to leave than to go out on top. Last week: Unranked.

Others receiving votes: Clint Bowyer (3 points), Brad Keselowski (2 points), Cole Custer (2 points), Stewart Friesen (1 point).