By David Morgan, Associate Editor
AVONDALE, Ariz. – A dream fulfilled.
Daniel Hemric entered the night at Phoenix Raceway having never won a race in any of NASCAR’s three national series. Now he leaves the one-mile oval in the Arizona desert as champion.
The Joe Gibbs Racing driver, who has seemed snake-bitten throughout his career, watching his chance for victory slip from his grasp time and time again, would not be denied this time around. When the chips were down, Hemric made it happen.
While Austin Cindric looked to be the man to beat down the stretch as he was trying to repeat as Xfinity Series champion, a spin by fellow championship contender AJ Allmendinger on Lap 182 erased Cindric’s advantage over the field, paving the way for Saturday night’s storybook finish.
Though Cindric held serve on the restart following Allmendinger’s spin, two additional cautions gave his championship rivals – namely Hemric – the chances they needed to take down the reigning champion. The second of those cautions pushed the race into overtime, when Hemric made his title winning move.
The two drivers started the final two lap dash to the finish side by side on the front row, with Cindric taking the top lane and Hemric starting in the low lane. Though Cindric got the jump on the restart and led the first lap of overtime, Hemric charged back, setting up a thrilling duel to the finish.
Cindric led the way into Turn 3 on the final lap, but Hemric sailed it into the corner, making enough contact with Cindric’s Ford to allow him to pull alongside him and win the drag race back to the finish.
The final margin of victory that determined which of the two would be taking home the win and the championship trophy, just 0.030 seconds.
“Knew that, whatever reason, it was going to work out,” Hemric said. “Even when I felt like I gave one up last week in order to make sure we got here as a race team, I knew there was a purpose. I knew the good Lord had a plan. I promise you there can’t be much more of a testament of continuing to show up when you don’t want to, when you don’t think you can anymore.
“For whatever reason I knew when I had that dream two months ago that it was going to come full circle. We didn’t really have a good short run car all night, and Dave Rogers made incredible adjustments to give me exactly what I needed to keep me in sight with an opportunity when we saw the white flag. That’s all I wanted, all I needed.
After finally getting to execute his signature victory backflip, Hemric was all smiles, knowing that after all the heartbreak, things finally turned in his favor and he will be forever known as the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series champion.
“I’m blacked out. Blacked out,” Hemric said. “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 four. Drove into one, 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.
“Unbelievable. I’d do it all over again. I’ll take all the heartbreaks again to live this right here.”
As Hemric celebrated as the newly minted champion, last year’s champion Cindric was left to wonder what could have been, coming so closed to making it back-to-back titles, only to suffer the agony of defeat.
“Certainly not how I would have wanted it to go,” Cindric said after leading a race-high 113 laps on the night. “Just trying to get clear off the top. I have put myself in too many bad spots giving people the bottom. I am not sure if I should have drove in shallower or softer or whatever it may be.
“I feel like I was pretty vulnerable with how close he still was to me and still packing left rear air. I got a little free into three and that is all she wrote. Obviously disappointed to have the car we had and the success we had this year and not be able to close it out. We put ourselves in position and sometimes that is all you can do.”
The night was also not to be for the other two championship contenders, with Noah Gragson finishing the race in 12th place after late contact with the wall, and AJ Allmendinger finishing his season up with a 14th place result following his spin.