Unfortunately for the North Carolina native, the majority of this NASCAR Xfinity Series season has been a struggle.
It hasn’t been from a lack of effort or ability behind the wheel. Hemric has had events where he ran strong – including a current streak of three consecutive top-five finishes – but something would happen late in the event to take the No. 8 car out of contention.
Surely it’s been a frustrating season for Hemric, in his second go around in Xfinity.
“It’s been very up and down,” Hemric recently told Frontstretch regarding his 2020 season. “I had my own agenda and my own expectations coming into this year running part-time for myself. By no means are we living up to that on all ends.
“Just had to sit down and regroup after the first five or six weeks of a lot of struggles. Since then, we’ve had our moments where we’ve shown that we can contend inside the top five on a regular basis and have shots at any of these races to lineup near the front and give ourselves opportunities to win. Then we’ve had a lot of misfortune and a lot of things out of everyone’s control.”
Not ideal. Hemric also admits that he’s had to manage his emotions and not let one rough week drag to the next.
In his first start for JRM at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Hemric had a suspension failure and finished 35th. Two races later, the No. 8 wrecked out, making it two DNFs in three starts. Then the COVID-19 pandemic hit the world and halted the sport for 10 weeks. When the schedule resumed at Darlington Raceway, it began a four-race stretch of consecutive top-10 efforts for Hemric, including a runner-up finish to Kyle Busch at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
After Charlotte, he wrecked out at Homestead-Miami Speedway following contact from Riley Herbst. At Pocono Raceway, he was caught up in a mess at the front of the field, not of his own doing. At Road America, the No. 8 blew an engine on lap 7. Then he was wrecked by Myatt Snider in his next start at the Daytona International Speedway road course.
Overall, he had seven DNFs to his name in his first 16 starts, which led to a lot of frustration.
“I think about the first three times that we were just completely wiped out in races that were 100% out of our control, we were inside the top three or battling for second or the lead,” Hemric said. “You’ve got to look at the situations that we’re putting ourselves in, where we were running when all that stuff transpired. That’s what gives me the confidence moving forward.”
Though remaining confident, Hemric admits the bad finishes do indeed affect a driver’s confidence level. But he believes you’ve got to take it one race at a time. If not, it could be a recipe for disaster.
“It can beat you down,” Hemric said. “I’ve said time and time again that my entire career has been around trying to pick myself back up and trying to move forward. That was put to the ultimate test through the first couple months this year.”
Taylor Moyer, second-year crew chief of the JRM No. 8 car, says working with Hemric has been a pleasure. The two come from a similar background, working on cars with the hopes of making it big in NASCAR.
And while the No. 8 car had a solid season last year with seven top-five and 23 top-10 finishes earned by nine different drivers, the bad racing luck this season humbled the team and even made Moyer consider what additional motivation he could provide his crew.
“I’ve never seen such bad luck, and I hate to call it that, but we’ve been involved in other people’s messes so many times this year,” Moyer said. “It got to the point it was laughable because if you didn’t laugh you’d cry. I think everyone knew the potential. We’ve got four top fives in the last five races and all top 10s, and that’s what we expect out of ourselves every single week.
“We all know what we’re capable of.”
Hemric, though, is in a position where he needs results. While running full-time in Xfinity for RCR in 2017 and 2018, he made it to the Championship 4 both seasons. He defined consistency, especially in his sophomore season with a season-long average result of 9.0.
Unfortunately, his first NASCAR national touring victory still alludes him.
But even if the numbers from this season aren’t as he’d hoped – six top fives, 11 top-10 finishes, 10 laps led in 19 starts – he doesn’t believe it hurts his chance of getting another shot.
Hemric said: “I think the people inside the sport, the ones that truly know and truly get it and what all goes into winning or competing at an extremely high level, they understand the situations I’ve been in, the way things have transpired over the last couple of years.
“I know I’ve yet to get into a situation that was a dominant situation; here’s the keys, go win. I’ve yet to be in that situation, and I’m continuing to try to build my resume, build my support behind me to put me in that situation hopefully one day.”
On a personal note, Hemric became a first-time father to daughter Rhen in May. When getting home from the racetrack – no matter how his day at the track goes – all his attention is focused on her, which puts the joy or frustration from his career to the side.
But from a performance standpoint, he can also take positives out of the 2020 season, despite an average result of 16.5.
“I’ve proven to myself that I’m stronger mentally, physically, than I ever thought I was,” Hemric stated. “I’ve overcome more than I thought I was ever capable of overcoming.
“When I look back at it, it’s been a season that’s only built me up as a man and a person on a personal level as well as a professional level, so I’m thankful for the things that I have had to go through and endure to become that person I am today versus last year. […] I’m looking forward to what is ahead because I know following 2020, I’m a lot stronger in all aspects of life than I was when I kicked off 2019.”
Moyer believes he’s Hemric biggest supporter and wants to see his driver flourish.
“There’s nobody that wants to see that kid succeed more than me,” Moyer said. “Right now we’re performing how we expected ourselves to perform the whole season. [With] how we’re running right now, I don’t expect us to run outside of the top five any week.”
The No. 8 team qualified for the Xfinity owners’ standings playoffs as the 12th and final seed. With Hemric’s two third-place finishes and a fifth in the opening round of the postseason, the JRM team ended the round in fourth, advancing to the Round of 8. Because of the reset, the No. 8 car is seeded eighth going into Kansas Speedway, 24 points below the cutline.
Sharing the ride with Jeb Burton over the final four races, Hemric believes winning the owner’s championship would be validation, in what’s been a challenging season.
“For guys like myself, Jeb and our entire No. 8 team, that was our season,” Hemric said of chasing the owner’s title. “That’s what we set out to do, so for us it’s everything.”
Regardless of winning the owner’s title, Moyer wants to get Hemric to victory lane.
“It’s not my sole focus. Both these drivers want to win races, so we’re not going to play it too safe and hurt their chances because that’s what they want to do and what we all want to do,” he said. “I think we’ve been right on the edge of it for a while. Our cars have the speed.”
As for 2021, Hemric isn’t sure what to expect. Last month, JRM announced Sam Mayer would run the second half of the season for the team in one of its cars, likely the No. 8.
The ultimate goal for Hemric is to return to Cup one day. In the meantime, he wants to contend for victories.
“I want to do it at the highest level possible, and if that is at the Xfinity level, that’s what I’ll settle for. If it’s at the Truck level, that’s what I’ll settle for,” Hemric said. “The goal is to get back in a top-tier ride at the Cup level one day. It’s just a matter of keeping my legs moving and trying to climb the hill to get back there.”
- This weekend the series heads to Kansas Speedway to kickoff the Round of 8. Chase Briscoe enters as the first seed, 37 points above the cutline. Austin Cindric sits second, 27 points to the good. Justin Allgaier enters +10 with JRM teammate Noah Gragson +2. Justin Haley sits fifth, two points out. Brandon Jones will enter -5 with Ross Chastain -15 and Ryan Sieg -23.
- Team Penske announced last week that Cindric will return to the team in 2021 for a fourth full-time Xfinity season before moving to Cup with Wood Brothers Racing in 2022. Meanwhile, Jones will return to Joe Gibbs Racing for a fourth season, and sixth overall in the series.
- On this week’s Frontstretch Podcast, AJ Allmendinger confirmed he will return to Kaulig Racing in some capacity next season. He also added he’s discussed about running in select Cup races with the team in 2021, specifically on road courses.
About the author
Dustin joined the Frontstretch team at the beginning of the 2016 season. 2020 marks his sixth full-time season covering the sport that he grew up loving. His dream was to one day be a NASCAR journalist, thus why he attended Ithaca College (Class of 2018) to earn a journalism degree. Since the ripe age of four, he knew he wanted to be a storyteller.
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