By Brian Eberly, Contributing Writer
KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The championship focus in the NASCAR XFINITY Series this season has been primarily around rookie Christopher Bell and veteran Justin Allgaier. And rightfully so, as the duo has combined to win 11 races and amass 83 playoff points. But lurking closely behind has been Daniel Hemric.
The 27-year-old driver earned his second consecutive pole position for Saturday afternoon’s Kansas Lottery 300 at Kansas Speedway and dominated the majority of the race in the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. But once again, it wasn’t mean to be as he fought a looser race car after the final round of pit stops and finished second for the third time this season.
A lap one crash between Bell and Allgaier left the door wide open for the other six championship contenders to pounce.
“On that initial lap, I saw whatever happened to the 7 (Allgaier), I saw him shoot up the race track and catch the 20 (Bell). I hate to see it for those guys. Right now it’s the first race on a mile-and-a-half program (in the playoffs) and it’s a chance for us to all judge each other,” said Hemric during his post-race media availability.
Hemric led a race-high five times for 128 laps but the handling on his Chevrolet waned over the course of the final run. Hemric hit pit road for four fresh Goodyear tires when the caution flew for the stalled car of Vinnie Miller with 36 laps remaining. Matt Tifft stayed out and Elliott Sadler took two tires while Hemric was the first car on four tires and restarted third.
Sadler took the lead on the ensuing restart as Hemric followed into the second position before going to the outside of Sadler to retake the lead. A mere lap later, eventual race-winner John Hunter Nemchek took the lead from Hemric and sped away to the checkered flag by over five seconds.
“Me and the 42 (Nemechek) went at it pretty aggressively all day. One was better in one run and then it flipped the next. I thought we were sitting in good shape until that last caution came out. The guys did a great job that last pit stop. After we put that last set of tires on, it was just crashing sideways. I could not do hardly anything to keep it underneath me. I’m proud of what we did today and that’s what we will hang our hats on as we roll forward.”
Hemric also indicated that he battled a vibration in the right-rear over the final 15-20 laps of the race and that it was hard to beat Nemechek, who’s stuff was just a little bit better along with the advantage of clean air.
“We had a really fast race car all weekend and that made it fun. That’s the most fun I’ve had racing in a really long time. It’s a good confidence booster for all of us here at the race track having the opportunity to lead laps and win stages and do the things we did this weekend.
As for the tight championship battle heading to Texas Motor Speedway in two weeks?
“Hopefully it’s going to make for some drama and some entertainment, that’s for sure.”
Speaking of drama, Hemric’s No. 21 Chevrolet was deemed too low in the left front during post-race inspection and should receive a 10-point penalty this week. So despite leaving Kansas as the leader in the championship standings, he will likely trail Sadler by a mere point after penalties are assessed this week.