I sat down with Kaulig Racing’s NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Daniel Hemric at Texas Motor Speedway on Sept. 23.
Hemric had tied his best result of the season with a second-place finish at Bristol Motor Speedway a week prior, and he is one point above the playoff cut line heading into this Saturday’s (Oct. 7) elimination race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL. I got to talk to him about his current Xfinity playoffs run, his promotion to Kaulig’s Cup Series team in 2024 and his life with family outside of racing.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Stumpf: So, the deal’s done. You’re going to be in the No. 31 car for Cup next year. If you’re at liberty to discuss, when did Matt [Kaulig] (owner), when did Chris [Rice] (general manager) approach you to potentially drive it for next season?
Hemric: I’m trying to think back, it’s been a bit of a whirlwind the last handful of weeks, if not more. I’ll tell you that even all the way back to mid-2021, when contract negotiations started for me to come to Kaulig Racing, there was never anything [in the Cup Series] promised to me. I think I said this in my press release stuff. That was not the promise to me, but I knew and I’d heard what Matt’s vision was or Chris’ vision was for the company. And signing on in ’21, yes, to run the Xfinity car in ’22, but to know the vision, what they wanted to do at the Cup level [for] ’24, ’25 or beyond, I knew I wanted to be a part of that; but I didn’t know if it was ever going to work out.
So, I’d say first discussions happened at that particular meeting. Now, as times go on, things change or whatnot, and those times looked a little more dim as far as I was going to work out, but I felt like over the last six, eight months, talks kind of really progressed, and [it] obviously took some incredible partners that have already been a part of Kaulig Racing to really step up to make it a real talk, you know, in this actually happening. And that’s what took off.
Stumpf: And obviously you will be replacing Justin Haley, who had been at Kaulig for more than three years. Was his departure a surprise or was it something you guys expected before it was announced?
Hemric: I think I speak for all of us when that was a surprise. It’s really hard to keep anything a surprise in this garage or a secret, if you will. So even to the owner’s side, to the management side of Kaulig Racing, it was surprising. But that stuff happens, and you just try to pivot and make the best decision for yourself and your company. And you know, and I was put in a situation where I had to make decisions for myself, my family and kind of the brand in itself as well. So, that’s what we did.
Stumpf: You did have your Cup rookie season with Richard Childress Racing in 2019, and you had the partial schedule in the No. 16 last year. What can you take from those two seasons and apply it to next year going full time again?
Hemric: Obviously, both of those particular seasons are their own for sure, right? 2019 first time, making the biggest step of your career to the Cup level, and I’m getting that experience around the personnel in the garage and just the flow of things and just how different Sunday races are and [what] Sunday racing is. And then you know, take the experience I gained in that.
And then you talked about the part-time season last year with Kaulig Racing in the Next Gen car, and yeah, what a raw, new experience for everyone. I enjoyed my starts. I enjoyed learning the craft and wanted to try to handle the new car and the techniques you had to adapt to, to get that car on the racetrack with speed. And as a team, we were learning all the same stuff. So, I enjoyed that part of the season last year. Yeah, I think you take all those life experiences paired with on-track experience at that level and just try to be the best version of it collectively when that next shot comes, and that’s now.
Stumpf: This [Xfinity] schedule is a grind, the Cup schedule is a grind, you have 36 [races] there instead of 33. When it comes to preparing and getting through the season, how much of a difference is those extra three weeks off?
Hemric: I feel like now, technically, the schedule is like 38 on the Cup side, right? But yeah, [the] Clash and just everything else that goes into it with the All-Star. So, my point being is, yeah, may only be three weeks, but I feel like in real time, it feels like an extra month-and-a-half.
But at least in my situation, it started with having a conversation with my wife, my family and knowing that commitment that goes into going that level. I mean, there’s no 90 days necessarily off on the Xfinity side either, but it’s just a different breed of competition when you get to Sunday racing.
And those don’t go unturned, and it feels like soon as my mind, as soon as we finished in November with this Xfinity season, it’s immediately the next day, the pages flip to the Cup and trying to prepare and understand more about the cars and the people I’ll be working with. I mean, it’s a grind to not have those couple of weeks off through the year, but you wait your whole life trying to get that level. So, I don’t think you might as well complain about the workload that comes with it.
Stumpf: You mentioned preparing once Phoenix ends. Whether it’s AJ [Allmendinger] or any other Cup teammates that have been at Kaulig, how much have you spoke with them to kind of prepare and get ready again to return to Sundays full time?
Hemric: Obviously, I had some of the internal conversations of just the processes and what some of my peers’ takes were on the car and the state of the Cup Series and kind of what all is a hit the future well past 2024. And that’s really been the gist of it. I feel like I haven’t necessarily dove into the parts and pieces of the cars and the inner workings of it. Just trying to remain focused on the task at hand here within this, you know, final few races of the Xfinity Series season. So, yeah, that’ll be a lot more in-depth discussion once the page flips in November.
Stumpf: Whether you can or can’t tell me, do you know who your teammate would be next year or is that still in the process?
Hemric: Completely still in the process. I wish I knew, I think it would be easier to kind of start that dialogue a little bit, but I feel like just in general that we will make the best decision, Matt and Chris will make the best decision for Kaulig Racing probably short-term and long-term, whatever that is. Don’t what it’s going to be yet.
Stumpf: In this Xfinity season, the No. 10 has had a rotating list of drivers, some Cup drivers, others like Derek Kraus kind of making their series debut. How important has it been to get that many drivers in the car and get that feedback for Kaulig as a whole?
Hemric: I think it’s just been fun to see the race team side of it, right? Like, you have to adapt to different personalities, different driving styles, different feedback, just all different things within the rapid formula of what feels like a 10- or 15-minute practice and a qualifying session followed by, ‘hey, let’s go race here in another two hours.’ So, there’s not a lot they can do, but the things they can control, I think they’ve done a pretty good job of controlling. And that’s being prepared and being tidy with all the things that go into putting somebody new within the program.
And yeah, it’s been fun for myself. I don’t do a lot of sim work for Kaulig Racing, but to see those guys kind of get put into the simulator, kind of understand how they go about the race cars and how they want to feel how, they explained what they feel, I think this race team in particular, the one I’m with now with Alex Yontz and this No. 10 group have done a good job up until two weeks ago – before I got into this car – of just building a notebook.
It’s interesting, because like whenever you’re building a notebook around one particular driver, it’s easy to get kind of complacent in this box of what this driver wants what this driver needs for boxes as far as what they want to work in. And when you’re dealt with so many different people, you’re just really, really pushed to be better about making just a faster, more capable racecar. That way anybody can get plugged in and have speed and have the ability to go fast. So, I think in a way it’s going to benefit our whole program.
Stumpf: You guys almost went to victory lane last weekend at Bristol despite being on older tires at the end. What was the final green flag run, what was holding off [John Hunter] Nemechek, [Dale Earnhardt] Jr., [Justin] Allgaier until he got by – What was that like?
Hemric: I feel like there was three or four guys that kind of lined up and took their shot, right? I think it was it was Allgaier, then Jr. and then [Cole] Custer and then Nemechek and then back to Allgaier when he finally got by me, but yeah, I mean my mindset, every lap, really every corner was just trying to run the next best corner. You run it and you get out the other end still leading and you get the next one, try to run your next best corner.
And it was kind of repetition within that mindset and every time I come out and come in and laid another lap out, the odds were increasing to be able to pull it off. Obviously, the odds were against us from the tire deficit and whatnot. And you know, we were almost able to beat the house that night. So, it was disappointing to come up a little short, but to have a run like that for our partners, the Cirkul folks who’s our primary sponsor at Bristol, were ecstatic, they were pumped up. It’s fun when you have everybody within the program that excited about something, so yeah, we didn’t necessarily knock it out of the park, but we were able to get a home run in the grand scheme of putting ourselves in position.
Stumpf: Obviously, what a way to start the playoffs with that second place in the opener. What’s kind of your [playoff] outlook, and what tracks are you most looking forward to, the ones you guys have circled the most?
Hemric: I mean, I’ve said this from the very beginning of the playoffs, as you focus on the right now. I mean, I don’t necessarily have a racetrack in the future of the playoffs that I’m concerned about or dreading or even more excited about. I just know that each and every moment right this moment we’re living in right now is a hell of a time to be here, it’s great to be a part of the Xfinity Series. And yeah, everyone at Kaulig Racing has one goal, and that’s to make most of the right now. So that’s how we approach every single moment here as we go to the playoffs.
Stumpf: Have you been practicing the backflips, still? (His celebration after a win)
Hemric: So, I hurt my knee pretty seriously back in February. So, I had to put a hold on the backflip stuff, but yeah, I feel confident I can still do it. I don’t know if the risk is worth doing the landing side, just from internally what’s going on inside my leg. But it’s strong, and it’s ready to do one if need be. But I’ll make a gametime decision if it comes to that.
Stumpf: I mentioned how this schedule is pretty long. When it’s the offseason or a day in the week, what does the day look like outside of racing for you and your family?
Hemric: Our household is chaos. I don’t want to call it control, because I think we have a fairly good schedule, but anybody with one kid knows it’s pretty wild as it is, then you throw another one in there. My daughter is three and a half, our little guy’s nine months old now. Daughter’s in preschool.
So, it’s funny, our schedule changes when she starts school back, which just recently happened. But yeah, usually it’s a 4:45 a.m. alarm every morning and the kids are in bed by 7:30 p.m. and I’m not far behind them every afternoon by 8:30 p.m. or nine o’clock. My wife is the rockstar of the whole deal that holds us all together. So, it allows me to continue trying to be there as much as I can but still prepare for these races. … trying to just be better in all aspects of my life every single day and still try to do that and balance the home life. It’s been a fun challenge.
Stumpf: Your wife – Kenzi – raced, I don’t know if she still does. Does she?
Hemric: No, she does not race. It’s funny I feel like I’ve been saying it five or six years, but every time I say that I realize that another year has gone by, so it’s really more like seven or eight years she hasn’t raced. But she is still heavily involved absolutely with watching and tuning in and, yeah, always has some tough questions for me, ‘why did I do this or why’d I do that’ or praise when I do stuff good. So, it’s fun to still have that dynamic. I mean, obviously that’s obviously the core of our relationship and how we met and how we kind of formed our love for each other. So, it’s been fun to continue that throughout our life in our journey together.
Stumpf: And then obviously with you guys as engrained with racing as you are, when it comes to raising a family, I’m guessing you guys are just like that racing family, through and through?
Hemric: I don’t know, I think it would surprise people when I say no. I mean, I feel like, obviously my wife and I both have experienced the highest of highs within the sport and obviously the lowest of lows and, you know, her unfortunate timing of her career not working out, obviously luckily enough for us it did for me. You know, those are two big swings of emotions of any sport, really, when you’re trying to succeed. You’ve lived your whole life towards something, like one making it one not, right?
So, I guess my point is, we don’t necessarily wish those swing of emotions on our kids within the racing world. But we’re not trying to guard them from the racing either, right? If they ever come to us and have questions about wanting to do it or wanting to be a part of it, Ok. We’ll entertain that idea. But man, at home, yeah there’s some racing stuff related, but it’s like normal families. We’re outside trying to learn how to play tee-ball or dribble a basketball it’s, we kind of mentor ourselves and our kids throughout all sports, just trying to just enjoy whatever moment, whatever their little minds are liking at that time.
Stumpf: You said your life outside of NASCAR is ‘chaos’, but is there any racing you do kind of outside of NASCAR, or is this just it?
Hemric: For forever, I would super late model race whenever I could, as often as I could early in my NASCAR days. And you know, recently, just trying to be all in on this particular journey. I just haven’t made the time. You can have time, you can make it. I haven’t made the time to do it, it’s been more or less focus on the family side. But here within the last, I’d say year and a half, two years, I’ve been getting in like some dirt cars during the week, not racing but running laps, and just kind of working on race craft and stuff. That’s kind of given me my fix to not have to go jump in a race car on off weekends and stuff. But for sure, there’s something inside of you that wants to race every time you can.
About the author
Stephen Stumpf is the NASCAR Content Director for Frontstretch, and his weekly columns include “Stat Sheet” and “4 Burning Questions.” Stephen also writes commentary, contributes weekly to the “Bringing the Heat” podcast and is frequently at the track for on-site coverage. A native of Texas, Stephen began following NASCAR at age 9 after attending his first race at Texas Motor Speedway.
Follow on Twitter @stephen_stumpf.
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