Toyota Racing – Daniel Hemric
NASCAR Xfinity Series Quotes
TALLADEGA, Ala. (April 21, 2021) – Joe Gibbs Racing driver Daniel Hemric was made available to media via videoconference prior to the Talladega race earlier today:
DANIEL HEMRIC, No. 18 Poppy Bank Toyota Supra, Joe Gibbs Racing
What is it like to race at Talladega with an extra $100,000 on the line?
“That $100,000 is always good. First off, what Comcast and Xfinity does for our series is unbelievable really. I was fortunate enough to win that $100,000 back in Bristol in 2017. I was excited about it; my team was excited about it, but my wife was very excited about it. It’s cool to have a shot again and to go to a place like Talladega and to know we had such fast JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) Supras at Daytona. That superspeedway program has been a constant evolution for JGR. They never felt like they put a ton of effort into their program. Their cars always drove good, but they felt like they lacked some raw speed, but I didn’t feel like we really lacked anything at the season opener at Daytona. This is our second go at it, our communication is better now with our teammates than it was then overall – way more on the same page than we were then, and I feel like we are going to be stronger than we were at Daytona, which I thought we did a really good job for about 90% of the race of utilizing one another, and giving ourselves and our organization a shot, so to go to Talladega and have that type of stuff on the line I feel really fortunate.”
What is the main difference in Cup and Xfinity racing at Talladega Superspeedway?
“I ran my first (Daytona) 500 with a different package than what I ran my last couple Cup races. I got to feel the differences in those restricted and unrestricted, and I think there is some change now than when I got out of the Cup Series. Honestly, the one thing that sticks out is the ability, or more-or-less, how you regulate locking bumpers in the Xfinity Series. You don’t have that at the Cup level, so the intensity and the pushes and the shoves are bigger than what you ever experienced the Xfinity cars because you can lock bumpers the runs are bigger when you are trying to defend whatever is coming out back. I think once you gain track position on the Xfinity Series side and put yourself in position as the race winds down – it’s not easy by any means – but it’s easier to maintain that than what it is at the Cup level because those runs are not as big coming from behind. Just the little things. I do believe that experience at the Cup level has made me way more confident being back in the Xfinity Series when I go superspeedway racing because things are happening so fast at that level it really slows things down once you get back to the Xfinity Series and have a chance to go back to these racetracks.”
Is the focus to stay up front to get the Playoff points and the stage wins?
“Yes and no. We have been fortunate to win I think three stages now, three or four stages. I think that’s the most or the second most in the series. He’s got that stage point lead on us solely from his wins. We are confident that those will come, so we are not in any hurry by any means or panic mode. We feel like we are doing a really good job of positioning ourselves and that’s what we will have to do once we get to Talladega. For me, I feel the most confident being aggressive and trying to get to the front. If you do that, those stage points and Playoff points are in our future once we get to Talladega.”
Is there frustration that the win hasn’t come yet this season?
“I would say more of the excitement than the disappointment. The opportunity is obviously there. I’ve said my entire career that you’ve got to go lead laps, and you’ve got to win stages, you’ve got to do all of those things to be able to do a home run and knock those wins out of the pack. Myself and Dave Rogers (crew chief) had a very clear-cut path and plan laid out before us when we started the season as far as where we wanted to be as far as all of those categories. Just further going on that – what I’m saying is you can look back at recent history, whether it be top-fives, top-10s, lead laps, DNFs (do not finishes), things that have distinguished the Xfinity Series champion of the last five plus years, especially going into the Playoff format, and it’s all relatively close if you look at all of that stuff. I feel like we are on par and really maybe a little bit ahead in some of those categories from where those past champions were and because of that, that means we are doing a lot of things really good between the laps led and the stage wins, we’ve been going the right direction in those categories and obviously, there is a zero in the win column, but the cool part is, especially in our down part here, we’ve had a chance to look back and reflect and get a different perspective on some of the near misses on wins this year, but every week we’ve had a shot and having those shots – no different than Denny (Hamlin) on the Cup side – you’ve got to keep showing up. You cannot keep running like that and having race cars like that and not winning. We feel very optimistic of our chances not only knocking one out here in the near future by winning.”
What are some of your favorite memories of racing short tracks around the Carolinas?
“That’s a deep question, for me, it’s more of the grid and it wasn’t just around the Carolinas. We would load up on Friday nights and go race and come back and switch the cars over and change gears and take them to Georgia or Alabama, Florida. Wherever it was. Wherever we thought we could go race against the best competition. I think just that grind. I love that. I love the sleepless nights, on the road, just traveling and what it took to get to the next event. When you win, it makes those road trips back home that much more enjoyable and something – those memories made are something that you will never forget and for sure, shape you and mold you into the person you’ve become, so I think it’s those nights up and down the road.”
Did you have a favorite track in the Carolinas?
“I’m not sure exactly what time frame we are talking about but growing up you always look forward to running the Summer Shootout there on the quarter-mile at Charlotte Motor Speedway. You knew that you were going to have the best of the best from everywhere in the country. Everybody would come to Charlotte to run that 10-week series. That was something that would always happen right about when you were getting out of school for the summer and went all the way until you went back to school because of that, you spent your entire summer there racing, let alone all of the other places you went on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays. That hub was something that I feel like was always circled every year that I loved going to.”
How different is racing with Joe Gibbs Racing this season?
“They are all different in their own ways. Different personnel for the most part, and the amount of time that I’ve been in it now – there are some people that have moved around that you find yourself working with again that you’ve worked with in the past. The one thing that sticks out to me is – buttoned-up isn’t the right word maybe – but the tools and resources that Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) has with the luxury of being with Toyota and Toyota Racing Development – there is just so many tools that I can look at from the driver’s side that I have at my fingertips, whether it be to my workout program to our simulator stuff. There’s so much more at my fingertips now at JGR especially on the simulation side where the other manufacturers, obviously, I was with Chevrolet for a long time, the resources are spread really thin, especially on the simulator stuff, so you don’t get as much time, where JGR, we are able to spend a ton of time utilizing that resource, which is fun for me, because it’s been a long time since I’ve been in a full time situation in the Xfinity Series, so having that time to go and run these cars and these packages at racetracks that I didn’t even run last year is really good for me, and I feel like when I drop the green flag at these places, I feel like I’m up to speed and up to speed fast. They are just all different in their own ways and I’ve enjoyed learning something new and a new process. That’s what keeps you young, if you will, having to evolve and adapt and I feel like we are doing a pretty good job of that.”
How frustrating is to being able to adapt to a new team without practice?
“Everyone is currently in the same position, but you are also competing against guys that have past notes with their current teams and their current organizations. That maybe is the part that I have to put in perspective. I thought about the breaks we’ve had here recently. I haven’t realized how good of a job we all have been doing collectively inside of JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing), especially within the 18 team of showing up to these places and not having notes together and competing. We’re only building our playbook stronger and better as compete throughout the season. Everybody is in the same boat, but some guys have a leg up on the communication side that Dave Rogers (crew chief) and myself are constantly getting better at. You are lining up in the Xfinity car, low downforce, different tire than when I got out of it in 2018. A lot of different things, but all of that taps in to what we were talking about. There is so many resources that I don’t feel like I’m behind by any means, nor does this race team. When we show up and compete against these guys week-in and week-out, we feel like we’ve done our homework, and prepped and done the right things to make up that gap and it makes my job a ton of fun and I’m loving where I’m at.”
Can you talk me through the last few laps at the fall race at Talladega?
“I learned as the laps were winding down. I want to start by saying that I by no means have been a good plate racer. I’ve always found myself in the wrong situation that in itself to be in the mix at the end of the race was something that I have not experienced much of at superspeedways. It was one managing that. Two, trying to make the move and not be to the detriment of the organization that I was running for, from my side and the 9’s (Noah Gragson) side last year. But I also thought we were in a good spot, where we were going to be able to make a run to get one of us in victory lane. I remember the laps clicking down and the way our cars had been able to lock up off of turn two, I thought that was a strong suit of ours. When we pulled the trigger to make the move, it was very odd. I remember sitting down in the debrief after the race with the 9 group last year and when we locked bumpers there was a weird shift of energy and things happened that I had never experienced, especially in that far up the back, everybody is single file. I’m trying to do the right thing and make the right move – for sure something that I can put in the memory bank of why things happen the way they happen – then everything happened where we got shuffled at one point and the runs deteriorated. That was tough to shallow, but I also thought that in that moment something clicked for me as those laps were winding down that what I needed to do if I get a shot to go back there and for sure is way down in the memory bank of things that I can improve on myself if I find myself in that position as the laps wind down this weekend.”
Can you give me a sense of what you were feeling in that moment?
“With the Xfinity Series, there is no locking bumpers allowed as the laps wind down you see that become more and more aggressive, and you are trying to use as much as you can and push as much as you can to literally stay locked. As that was happening, and I could literally stay locked for just seconds at a time with the 9 car, and it got to the point where he was holding the brake and all I was doing is pick his back tires up off the ground – we were not actually propelled forward. It literally was like we just slowed ourselves down by trying to be aggressive and push. We made some moves early in the race that you don’t ever get that sense of drop in engine tone or engine RPMs by doing something similar, so it was interesting how far forward we were in the pack in that given moment trying to do those things and it had the opposite effect on our race cars and our ability to make momentum. That was something that I’ve never experienced, and from the fans side ‘they are just locking and not going anywhere.’ Well, that’s why. The energy changed so fast, and you literally just get bogged down and your energy is killed. You don’t have enough laps or enough car count to rebuild that energy in enough time to get momentum to take the lead.”
Is the talent level in the Xfinity Series at a high enough level that you could consider locking bumpers in the future?
“It’s a double-edged sword. I can tell you from the driver’s seat on the Xfinity side, the cars cannot physically get to one another’s back bumpers as easily as you can in the Cup cars. The bubble seems way bigger in the Xfinity cars, so one, having a car that will even allow you to do it is tough. Then you can work really hard to get your car to do it through practice – which obviously we don’t have – and you can get those big runs and be able to get closer for sure. It propels energy forward. It can move a lane forward better, but then you run into the point, where you have guys that can bust that bubble – well, if he’s shoving that guy forward, and he’s having to lift because he doesn’t want to hit the guy in front of him and get in trouble, then you see an accordion effect and that’s what happens when you see a guy get turned in the pack and crash. There’s that side of it, and then there’s the pure fact with the ride heights of these cars, obviously, everyone’s splitters are on the ground when we start the race and with the ride heights the backs are so high and the fronts are so low that when you get to another guy as soon as you do touch them a lot of times it’s just shooting the back of his car up, so the ride heights are a thing that for sure makes it tough for the Xfinity cars, even when you break that bubble to line up correctly. It takes a lot of finesse from the guy leading and the guy following to touch each other and not have those big moments that just pull your line backwards. There is a lot to it. I think the talent level at superspeedway racing – a lot of guys have done it more and more times and are feeling more comfortable. I wish it wasn’t something we had to worry about, but on the flipside of it – yeah, it’s just a double-edged sword. I don’t know where I stand on it. It’s just a fact that there are a couple things that add up that create either guys trying not to lock, and they get crashed or guys locking and crashing each other. It’s a mixed back no matter how you look at it, and for sure the ride height thing makes it one of the bigger components why guys get turned out of the pack and crashed.”
At what point at the end of the race, do you quit working with teammates?
“First off, you have to do the best that you can to position yourself. You have to do anything you can for yourself and your race team individually to get to front and if you can do that – like at Daytona, I thought that JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) as a whole did a really good job of utilizing each other when we can, but also knowing you have to position yourself to get in that position. But when you get there, that is when that question comes up. When is the right time? For me, the right time is – if I’m the following teammate, when can I make this move that is going to be the best way that I can get my 18 team to Victory Lane without creating a loss in the win column for JGR as a whole. That’s that balance that you have to weigh in that decision in the middle of that moment. You can draw a picture of it, paint it however you want, but at the end of the day it’s not going to repeat or replicate what you thought it was going to be or how you seen it happening. It’s just being situationally aware of what’s going on and not making that move where it prevents the entire company from being able to celebrate come the next morning. Just weighing that risk versus reward. It’s one thing this first go around, but as the season goes on that does change as well, because everyone’s agendas change, but for right now that is the goal.”
How was the experience at COTA?
“I’m not going to lie to you. I haven’t watched a ton of stuff from the Circuit of the Americas in the past. I may have seen an F1 race on television but prior to doing sim work with Toyota, I had never laid eyes on the racetrack, so to have a chance to go there and first off to be a part of the Toyota Racing family and to be able to bring to light that they are going to be the official pace car and the official vehicle of COTA that weekend during that NASCAR weekend at COTA, and they were announcing that the Tundra 225 is the presenting sponsor for the Truck race, doing those events is what got me and allowed me to go see that racetrack which I was really pumped about because the things you see in simulation and the visuals that you think you were picking up on do change when you get there in reality, so having the chance to look at the track a little bit and being part of the event – I was really thankful to Toyota for letting me be a part of that – it all goes a long way in helping us all move the needle in the right direction.”
Do you think this is one of your best opportunities to win this season?
“As far as opportunities to win, I literally get on the airplane and fly to the racetrack this year knowing that Dave Rogers (crew chief) and my guys have prepared a race car that is going to be capable of winning. It’s my job to get us to that point. That’s a feeling that literally makes the hairs on my arm stand up. That’s something that you dream of. When I kind of bet on myself and made this move to JGR (Joe Gibbs Racing) and had this opportunity – that’s what it was all about was trying to achieve that feeling. That was something that I’ve experienced a lot growing up racing. That’s what you kind of build your resume on and getting your opportunities on – is going and winning. I wholeheartedly believe in my heart every single week that I’ve got a shot to win, and that’s tough to find, that’s tough to come by and definitely not something that you take for granted. For sure, I feel like Talladega is just as good of an opportunity as Martinsville was, as Vegas was and the races before that. That’s hard to find. I’m pumped about that.”
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