From 0-for-207 to a win/championship, Hemric beats Cindric in photo finish for Xfinity Series title, how he did it with his thoughts on a life changing victory

AVONDALE, AZ — Names are Made Here. That’s the slogan for the NASCAR Xfinity Series. This series has turned drivers into legends in the Cup Series. Austin Cindric made his name here last year by virtue of his 2020 series title in this very race. A year later, he was in prime position again to win a second straight. Instead, it was Daniel Hemric picking up his first career Xfinity Series win and taking home the championship as a result.

A guy with literally no wins to his credit in NASCAR. Ever. 0-for a lifetime. His last win in a race car was over six years ago. Here he is in his final year with Joe Gibbs Racing leaving them for Kaulig Racing a champion. This was what NASCAR created these formats for.

At Lap 200, Cindric was leading. That was the scheduled distance. Instead, we have overtime in the sport now and it was created for these type of moments.

Then you have the playoffs. Once again created for this. A winless driver in his entire career with a shot at a championship still.

That driver faced plenty of hurdles but leaped over them each time. His story is a remarkable one.

It isn’t for all those kids, about racing trying to get to a level, it’s about people in life,” Hemric said following his championship. “It’s about coming from nothing and making yourself all that you work for. That’s what it’s all about. This is the American dream, I’m living proof of it. Just unbelievable.

“They asked me all year, How bad you want it? I gave one away here in the spring. Felt like I had to give one up here last week. We were not going to be denied.

“Thank you, Dave Rogers, Bill and Cindy Gallaher, everyone at Poppy Bank, Lou Gallaher, JR, I’m talking to you. Man, they took a chance on me. 2015, some form or fashion. Oh, they stuck with me through times they probably shouldn’t have, to be honest with you.

“That backflip good enough for you? I’ve been waiting a long damn time to do that. Thank you Joe Gibbs, everyone at TRD, Toyota, Bell helmets. Everyone here that makes this program what it is.

“I know I’ve given up a lot. People have doubted me. I’ll do it all over again for a night like this.”

Ironic that the guy who’s car nearly didn’t make it here on Friday for practice due to his hauler hitting a deer in Texas on its way out, the one with 10 runner-up finishes, always the bridesmaid, never the bride, beat the guy who earned his third straight runner-up finish on the season and eight overall for 2021.

“Thankful for the opportunity. Pissed to be second for like the third week in a row,” Cindric said after coming up so close to his second straight title.

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – NOVEMBER 06: Daniel Hemric, driver of the #18 Poppy Bank Toyota, celebrates in victory lane after winning the NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 06, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

Hemric, entered the day 0-for-207 in his NASCAR career. Winless in 50 Truck Series starts. Winless in 38 Cup Series starts. Then winless in 118 appearances in the Xfinity Series.

Saturday, he doubled his trophy case by taking home a race winning trophy as well has a championship one to go along with it.

For Hemric, he was in such shock of the win and the title he didn’t know how to act.

“I felt like I blacked out, to be honest,” he said. “I don’t want people to think I’m not emotional because I’m probably one of the most emotional guys there are. When you go through as much, I think back immediately, honestly, to 2019 when I lost my ride. I felt like my life was unraveling before me. Everything I build from the time you’re five years old till you’re 27, 28, the next thing you know the decline starts. I was counting it out, especially then.

“To be able to have these people here, Poppy Bank, Bill, Cindy, Mr. Koch taking another chance on my rebuilding my career. I knew at green-white-checkered I had the opportunity of a lifetime, and I was not going to let it pass me by again.”

They’re not the only ones to thank. So is the one who helped it all get started too.

If not for “Mr. L” Hemric wouldn’t be racing here today earning a historic champion under the cool desert night Arizona sky.

Mr. L is actually a gentleman named Tim Ladyga. He’s special to Hemric. He was his first big supporter.

Ladyga, or “Mr. L” as Hemric refers, sold one of his personal muscle cars that he built, then repurposed the money on Hemric to put him in a Legend car.

It was exactly what an early teenaged Hemric needed. At 13, 14 years old he was to a point there was no way his parents and stepparents in 9:00 to 5:00 jobs could keep him going racing.

“We’re talking go-karts and Bandoleros. Next step was a Legend car. That was never in the cards,” Hemric said. “Tim sold his car, bought a Legend car. First car owner of mine at 14, 15 years old. That was the first time I realized the work that really had to go in. It was all on my shoulders to figure this out.”

Fast forward to now. Hemric, was good, but didn’t win in Trucks. Same for Xfinity the first go around. The second one he had more funding from his current partners to keep him going.

Now, he’s a champion and all we’re here to celebrate with him.

“It took guys like Tim Ladyga, to be able to share that moment with him out there on the start/finish line, heck, he was part of my championship runs in 2017 and 2018 and falling short.

“A bit of validation for him. He stuck his neck out so many times for me. When I drove for him at that young age, heck, you work for Hendrick, pitting Jimmie Johnson’s cars. He would tell, Jimmie, you got to see this guy. He was kind of that dad, if you will. Everybody loves that dad who is always bragging about their kid. He was that guy for me at that age. It was cool to feel all that come full circle, to see him down on the start/finish line. It’s validation that he was telling people what he believed in me, for me to go show people what he saw in me, that’s validation for myself and I think for him.

“Through those years, thanks for him and his friendship with him and his wife, Cheryl, who is an employee of mine, believe it or not, to this day. It took a lot of folks like Tim Ladyga and past him to give me the opportunity to get here. It was cool to get an opportunity to share that with him.

Hemric, bet on himself for this current opportunity. If he wanted paid, he had to perform. If he didn’t?

No paycheck. Literally.

“I don’t know how far is too far to go with this. I took a ride this year, people thought, betting on themselves. I took a ride this year to not take a dime, to not get paid, to have to perform to be able to put food on the table. When I say that, you don’t run with what you can see in one hand, you do not make a dime that weekend. I knew that was the only chance for me to rebuild my career, right? Poppy Bank said they would support that if that’s the decision I made.

“They’ve had my back through thick and thin, through building to the Cup Series, to them not really having to be too involved, to helping me rebuild my career when it’s unraveling before me come midway through 2019, losing my ride. I feel like the whole world is crumbling around me. This sport you live in from the time you’re five years old, you reached the peak, now you’re on the decline. That was an experience I never wanted to experience, hope nobody else ever has to experience. At the end of the day it’s business.

“They stuck with me, gave me the shot to go to JGR. I promised them I would do everything in my power to show them success. Did it take longer than I wanted to? Absolutely. Mr. Bill and Miss Cindy and Will, the folks I’m talking to at Poppy Bank, changed my life, changed my family’s life, the course of our lives. Put me in a situation to better myself to go to JGR.

“Betting on yourself, it’s hard to beat that. Tonight proved that.

“The hunger to feel this is what impacted me tonight. It’s impacted me my whole life. It’s the matter of getting an opportunity and seizing it.

“I will tell you from a perspective, any parent will tell you that when it’s you and your wife, it’s one thing, you think you’ll figure it out. When you bring another person in this world, like our little girl Rhen, that’s a different perspective. To bet on yourself, the livelihood of your family, your daughter eating, putting food on the table, that changes it.

“Knowing the decisions I had to make last week to give our family the shot we did tonight, there’s no more motivation needed than that.”

So what transpired to bet on himself. How did he get himself into that deal?

It transpired from a golf outing in Oregon actually. Hemric, was in Bandon Dunes, Oregon for it. He’s sitting there with the guy behind the scenes of Poppy Bank on a driving range, and him and Coach Gibbs were on the phone together. He walked away while doing so. Henric, knew in that moment the entire course of his life was in the hands of whatever that conversation was.

“I’m sitting here having to hit golf balls, I’m in this incredible golf resort,” he said. “I’m hitting golf balls thinking, He just expects me to stand here, act like there’s nothing big happening. He walks away for five minutes, comes back, walks right by me, goes to the putting green. Didn’t say a word him.

“I know he’s had a conversation, my fate has been sealed, and I don’t know what’s going on. And him and his son pulled me aside right before we teed off there for a two-day event with their higher-ups of their company, and he tells me, Do you want to bet on yourself? You’re going to drive for JGR next year.

“Prior to that day, I literally knew my life was at the fortune of the sponsorship, the funding, the entire outlook of how did he see me. Does he see me as a guy who struggled to the end of — is this the tipping point of 2020, or does he see me as a guy who is going to continue to show up if he gives me an opportunity. That was the moment tonight, really brought it full circle.

Hemric said that he went to bed last night feeling like he was going to go to sleep 24 hours later a champion. That confidence paid off.

Knew that, whatever reason, it was going to work out,” he 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.

“These guys have continued to push me to do that. Dave Rogers, I’m forever in his debt for the amount of preparation and leadership he’s brought to my life this year. Everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing, Toyota, TRD, Poppy Bank, what can I say? Mr. Bill and Cindy Gallaher, they’ve been my rock since 2014, 2015, continued to invest in my career, invest in my program even when they probably shouldn’t.

“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.”

AVONDALE, ARIZONA – NOVEMBER 06: Daniel Hemric, driver of the #18 Poppy Bank Toyota, crosses the finish line ahead of Austin Cindric, driver of the #22 CarShop Ford, to win the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway on November 06, 2021 in Avondale, Arizona. (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images)

He won this race via several late race cautions but it all sparked when fellow Championship 4 driver AJ Allmendinger spun his No. 16 Chevrolet on Lap 180. While some may say it looked egregious, Allmendinger say it truly wasn’t. He just had a terrible handling race car and a vibration at the time.

He felt terrible for not only causing a yellow but also it hurt Cindric too.

See, Cindric had a large lead over Hemric at the time. In order for Hemric to even have a chance at a title, he needed a caution. So did Allmendinger. He was sixth at the time and was in no shape or form going to race for a title at that point of the race.

That’s why the spin looked fishy but he was remorseful that it wasn’t on by intent.

“I’m pretty sure he had a massive lead. We never had the speed all day to run with him or Daniel. I thought at the end of the day you’re still trying to get the best finish. We were going to run fifth or sixth,” Allmendinger said on why he apologized for his spin.

“We had a vibration start with, I don’t know, 40 to go, maybe a little bit more than that, I’m not sure when we went back to green. Kept trying to figure out what it was. I kept asking if it was a loose wheel. They kept telling me no, we’re positive we got ’em all.

“At that moment I decided that I didn’t think that was true. I was literally about to come down, turn in, go to pit road, felt like there was nothing on the right rear and I spun out. I don’t want to be the storyline like that, especially when he’s got a lead and deserving to probably go win another one.

“At that point you don’t know if a caution is going to come out anyway. I had nothing to gain. I just didn’t want to be a part of the storyline.

“It wasn’t on purpose. At the end of the day, that’s not what I wanted to happen. It deserved to play out however it was supposed to play out. That’s why I apologized. It pissed me off because we had no lug nuts on the right rear, about to fall off. Pissed me off that it caused a yellow that I didn’t want to have happen. It didn’t help me and it cost him a headache.”

Hemric’s crew chief Dave Rogers said that the restart plan actually started occurring a couple of weeks ago.

“Yeah, all this started weeks ago, everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing preparing a great race car,” he said. “We knew we were going to have a good piece out here. Missed the balance a little bit. Didn’t have quite the speed we wanted. But we knew we had a good race car.

“Daniel and I have been talking all week. We’ve watched these races. It’s going to come down to a green-white-checkered. We talked about it every day this week. We got to go, we got to make things happen at the end. I knew where Daniel’s mind was. He had great restarts all day. I was confident he could get it done. Heck of a race with Austin. Austin is a great defending champion. To beat him heads up at the end was a lot of fun.”

Everyone came down pit road for their final stops and they exited Cindric, Hemric and Gragson running 1-2-3 respectively. Hemric chose to restart to the inside of Cindric who felt like the top lane was the best lane. It was true as he got off the line great before a quick caution on the restart for Jeb Burton getting ran over by Sheldon Creed.

That set up another restart. Again, they restarted on the front row. Again, Cindric got off the line with the lead before another yellow for a crash behind a lap later.

 “I felt like the launch was going to be really important during most of those caution laps,” Cindric said of the restarts. “My stress level was relegated to the launch. I feel like I played that really well tonight.

“I felt like I probably played it better tonight than I probably ever have. So I’m proud of that.

“Just the reason being, usually Phoenix has been a racetrack that’s either bottom dominant or, since we’ve had the tracks compound, top dominant. The moment you can enter equal with somebody in whatever the preferred lane is, you can clear ’em. I feel like I may have pioneered a little bit too soon as far as how powerful the bottom can still be on restarts.

“I felt like it was important to do that, to get the track position. Still worked out. Obviously just didn’t have enough of a margin entering turn three on the last lap.”

It set up overtime. Another shot for Hemric to exercise those demons that haunted him. He had a record tying 10 runner-up finishes in his career but no wins. Something always gets in the way of a win.

He’s now staring a trophy in the biggest moment of his life in the wide eyes. Could he get the restart of his life?

Cindric got him again but Cindric didn’t let him get away. He stalked Cindric across the strip to get the white flag. 1 mile left between he and eternity. Could he get pass Cindric?

“With the final restart I think the catalyst there was not getting clear off of turn four,” Cindric said of all those restarts. “Obviously he drove it in stupid deep and left reared me, was still able to stay side-by-side. I feel like that was the catalyst for him still being close heading into turn three.

“That was all he needed to be was close. Then it’s I got to put front bias on the car so I don’t get loose on entry, because he’s going to at least air pack me, if not, get me loose, which I got loose and then got rear-ended. That pushes me up the track.

“I think the only thing I could have done better is shallow off the corner, slide myself into a downshift. I didn’t think that was going to be the best move. You can easily counter that by driving in soft, driving literally straight up underneath me.

“I feel like I did a lot of the right things there. Just not enough.”

He had a run on him and made his move in Turn 3. They bumped which stalled Cindric’s momentum and propelled Hemric to the finish line .030-seconds ahead of Cindric in earning his first career title.

“That’s his moment. That’s his shot. I don’t think it was on purpose,” Cindric said of the move in the end. “I don’t think it was by any means outlandish or dirty. I knew the bump was coming for sure. I know my left rear bumper cover is vulnerable as ever. Obviously Daniel was in position to be the advocate of that. He certainly used it. He’s the champion because of it.

I’ve certainly had worse. Wasn’t enough to wreck it. Until you spin somebody out, it’s not dirty racing.

“If everyone in the stands enjoyed it, it’s good racing. I’m appreciative of the opportunity to race on such a big stage, race for Roger Penske, represent Ford Performance, all of our sponsors that helped us this season.

“It would have been awesome to finish this out. I felt like we had a dominant race car, felt like we did everything right. Come up a little short. Sometimes it’s like that way.

“Unfortunately at the end of both seasonal championships this year, I’m getting obviously moved out of the way, endured. That’s hard racing. That’s why everyone enjoys watching this series, is because there’s a lot on the line.

Cindric, was runner-up in Kansas. Then he was runner-up again last week in Martinsville. Now, he was second again.

Cindric beat Hemric for the stage win in the opening stage then reversed roles in the second.

Noah Gragson was the third best all night but was pushing really hard from third and got into the wall with seven to go in regulation. Luckily for him a caution came right after but the damage was done as he was sitting sixth with a damaged race car.

“I have no clue,” Gragson said on how he got into the wall. “I felt like I was pushing a hundred percent. I don’t feel like I jumped over it. It just shattered the right rear tire. I didn’t know if I had a tire down, if I hit oil, what it was, if I got into marbles on entry. I was definitely trying to push the tire to its potential.

“I didn’t feel like I overdrove into the corner. But, yeah, pounded the fence. Just kept sliding and sliding. Threw it away. We’re kind of disappointed just with the overall speed we had this weekend. We just got beat by those guys. They brought their A game, and we didn’t have the balance we needed to go compete.

“We never quit. Had an opportunity there at the end. That’s what matters most. Sure, it’s disappointing, but I don’t feel like I overdrove it. I got to go study and see why, if something was on the track. Nobody else spun out. I don’t know what it was. I wish I knew. I wish I could say, I just (expletive) up. I don’t know what happened.”

He was just hoping that Hemric and Cindric would take each other out when going for the win and allow him to take the title as a result. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. He’d finish 12th.

Allmendinger was 14th.

Harrison Burton, Riley Herbst and Justin Haley rounded out the top five in a wild night of racing that saw 16 lead changes among five drivers in 204 laps.


Penske Wins The Owners Title With Cindric Taking 3 Straight Runner-Ups To Cup

This is likely the final full time season in the Xfinity Series for Team Penske. I mean, what use do they have for here when their three Cup Series drivers now are Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney and Austin Cindric. All are 31 or younger. They have plenty of years with this trio at the sports’ top level, so why run an Xfinity team just for the sake of doing so, especially since the Cup cars and Xfinity cars are vastly different now in terms of horsepower packages and cars themselves.

So, for Austin Cindric to at the very least send them off with some hardware still, it was a little more meaningful. With Daniel Hemric not being eligible for the owners title on his No. 18 Toyota, his teammate’s No. 54 Toyota was instead, and Cindric finishing second in the race, that gave Penske their record setting sixth owners title in Xfinity (2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2020 and 2021).

“That’s certainly poetic,” Cindric said on giving Penske the owners title. “Obviously this 22 car has won so many Owners’ Championships over the years with so many great drivers. My first race in the 22 car was in 2017, they won the Owners’ Championship then. I guess I get to close that one out as ironic as that might be.”

While finishing second in the drivers title has got to be frustrating in the sense that he was .030-seconds from two titles in as many years, he still said this season was a good one. He won the season opener which was the start of five wins to go along with 22 top fives. Among those 22 top fives were eight runner-ups including three straight to end the season and four in the last five weeks.

“Yeah, absolutely. This is why it’s so frustrating to come up so short,” Cindric said on if this season was still considered a success. “One lap is all you need. Maybe one restart. You never know.

“But to make it this far, have the season we’ve had, the stats obviously show the consistency and the way our team has performed throughout the season, doesn’t matter the type of racetrack, I work with some of the best people in the sport. I’m a better driver because of it.”

Cindric says that he’s going to miss the Xfinity Series as he expects to struggle to stay up to speed in Cup as a rookie.

 “I think I’ve made a good home as far as not just the people on my race team, but the people in the garage area,” he said. “The reason why I feel that way is because I went from in 2018 to being probably the guy that everyone stared at and kind of tried to figure out why I was there, in some cases I probably agree with you. In some cases I feel like I came to the series probably a year too early. That’s racing. You can’t choose your opportunities when they happen.

“I’ve probably developed and grown more and gained more respect probably coming from that point to obviously where I’m at now. It obviously is a bit poetic that we still won the Owners’ Championship. I know that’s a very great accomplishment. Obviously it showcases what we’ve been able to do all season. Not what we came here for today.”

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