Daniel Hemric’s first NASCAR win came at a very opportune time. Hemric passed Austin Cindric just before the finish line to get the 2021 Xfinity Series title in a door-banging finish at Phoenix on Saturday night.
The 30-year-old entered Saturday night’s race with 207 career starts in NASCAR’s Cup Series, Xfinity Series and Truck Series without a win. He had finished second 10 times in the Xfinity Series and looked set to make it 11 as he slid in behind Cindric on the final lap.
But he drove underneath Cindric in the final two corners and finally grabbed that checkered flag by a few feet.
“I’m blacked out, blacked out,” Hemric said at the start/finish line after turning a back flip off the roof of his car. “Just knew I had to be the first one to the line. I thought I let him get too much of a run off of (Turn) 4 (on the first lap of overtime).
“Drove into (Turn) 1, knew I was close, not to completely use them up, but we work our asses off for an opportunity like this—excuse my language. This is what it’s all about, winning at the second highest level in all of motorsports. What an honor…
“How about those race fans? That back flip good enough for you? I’ve been waiting a long damn time to do that.”
Cindric took the loss with consummate grace.
“Until you spin somebody out, it’s not dirty racing,” said Cindric, who entered the championship event with five wins to his credit this season. “If everyone in the stands enjoyed it, it’s good racing.
“I’m appreciative of the opportunity to race on such a big stage, race for Roger Penske, represent Ford Performance, all of our sponsors that helped us this season. It would have been awesome to finish this out. I felt like we had a dominant race car, felt like we did everything right. Come up a little short.”
As a consolation prize, Cindric secured the Xfinity Series Owners Championship for Roger Penske with his runner-up result.
The other two Championship 4 drivers—Noah Gragson and AJ Allmendinger—were in contention at the end. Gragson slammed the wall shortly after a restart on Lap 193 and fell to 12th at the finish.
Allmendinger suffered a loose wheel late in the race and spun in Turn 2 on Lap 181, causing the eighth of 10 cautions. Cindric, who led a race-high 113 laps, had a commanding lead at the time, but the yellow bunched the field and set up the late-race shootout.
Harrison Burton ran third on Saturday, followed by Riley Herbst and Justin Haley. John Hunter Nemechek, Brandon Jones, Brett Moffitt, Justin Allgaier and Sheldon Creed completed the top 10.
After racing two full seasons for Brad Keselowski Racing in the Truck Series and finishing in the top seven in points in each of those seasons, Hemric moved up to the Xfinity Series with Richard Childress Racing in 2017. He made the final four in each of his two Xfinity seasons with Childress despite not getting a win.
A win has always felt like it was inches away from Hemric’s grasp and would happen at some point. He moved up to the Cup Series with RCR in 2019 and had a forgettable season. He was 25th in the points standings and had just one top five and two top 10s.
Tyler Reddick, the man who replaced Hemric in the Xfinity Series at RCR, won the 2019 Xfinity Series title. The team moved him up to the Cup Series and Hemric was left without a full-time ride.
After racing part-time in the Xfinity Series in 2020, Hemric scored a ride at Joe Gibbs Racing in 2021. He finishes the season with 15 top-five finishes and 21 top 10s. And it’s his only season with the team. He’s moving on to Kaulig Racing in 2022.