Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie Daniel Hemric had an impressive run going at Atlanta Motor Speedway, but he just didn’t have the finish to show for it.
The Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate was running fifth in the closing laps when a tire issue forced him to pit for service on the No. 8 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. That led to a 20th-place result — but that was in no way a reflection of what Hemric and his new team have been able to build in a short amount of time.
“Every new opportunity and every new situation you find yourself in, you hope to have that moment sooner than later,” Hemric told NASCAR.com on Wednesday. “Not only personally for myself, to give myself the confidence that I can run with those guys and race with those guys and do it at that level, but also for our team. I feel like every new team needs that spark and that little bit of that drive to know that you’re building toward something that can be extremely good. That’s what a moment like what we had Sunday at Atlanta will do to this 8 team”
While much of the No. 8 squad (formally the No. 31) led by crew chief Luke Lambert stayed intact over the offseason, it was Hemric and spotter Brandon Lyons who became new additions to the RCR Cup Series entry. The 27-year-old driver credits the extensive time they all spent team bonding to their jumpstart on the year — the team went over in detail every member’s duties from early Monday morning through late Sunday night.
“We spent a lot of time in the offseason going through communication stuff, did a week-long drill of just getting to know each other from a personal side, as well as a professional side,” Hemric said. “Really going into detail on what everybody’s jobs were and really understanding everything through and through. I feel that really cut our learning curve down substantially. I’m proud that we took that time because as we’ve started the season off here, I feel like we’ve hit the ground running and don’t have that lapse of really getting to know each other. I feel like it’s paying off and it’s showing on the race track.”
Heading into this Sunday’s race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET on FOX, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio), Hemric feels that the new fully implemented rules package gives his team even more opportunity to pounce on the competition.
“The cool part about this package that we have in the Cup Series this year is every week tends to feel like a new opportunity, especially since it’s so new to everybody,” Hemric said. “It’s a new opportunity and a chance for us to do something really incredible. I’m just happy to be a part of it and know we’ve got a shot at it week in and week out.”
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It’s been no secret that Richard Childress Racing as a whole has struggled over the past few years, but Hemric shed light on how the rules package allows the organization to improve its program without having to play a ton of catchup compared to seasons past.
“At RCR, we’re not in denial,” Hemric said. “We know the Cup Series program hasn’t been where we want it to be over the past couple seasons. This is the time where we’ve really been given a mulligan here to re-group and really kickstart 2019 off on par with everyone else. It’s our opportunity to get caught up and do it in a way-quicker manner than what you would in seasons past.”
Although Hemric stopped short of agreeing that a new rules package is a huge advantage for rookies like he, Ryan Preece and Matt Tifft, he noted that it’s “not a hindering element by any means.”
“Having that big of a rule package change and probably the biggest rules change-up in the history of the sport it quite some time since I can remember,” Hemric said. “Because of that, it does level the playing field. It opens up the level of opportunity up substantially for other teams. …
“Being a rookie coming in to it, it does really give me that much more confidence to know that if we put the work in and have the desire to get better day in and day out, then this package could lend to helping us get over that hump,” he added. “I feel like it’s already showing that we’re more than capable of doing that; we’ve gotta go produce.”
Speaking of rookies, Preece and the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing team also had a solid run going, but a crash on pit road with B.J. McLeod late in the race saw a potential top-10 finish dashed. Hemric anticipates a neck-and-neck battle with Preece for the top rookie honors throughout the season. It comes against a competitor with which he shares a similar short-track racing background.
“Oh, the Rookie of the Year battle I think is one of the most incredible ones we’ve seen in the sport in quite some time,” Hemric said.
“I have a ton of respect for Ryan and his path to get to this point in the sport. Mine and his upbringings are very similar. … Hopefully both of us can do some really incredible things and shine some light on the short-track world that if you give a short track guy a shot, good things can happen.”