In a racing career highlighted with numerous heartbreaks and “what-ifs” moments, Daniel Hemric defied the odds and silenced his doubters by capturing two firsts following the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship Race at Phoenix Raceway on Saturday, November 6: first win and first championship.
Following an overtime finish for the ages, Hemric, a 30-year-old native from Kannapolis, North Carolina, dueled and rubbed fenders against the reigning series champion Austin Cindric on the final lap and final corner to come out on top by a fender and achieve both his first elusive NASCAR Xfinity Series race win and the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series championship.
The championship occurred in Hemric’s 208th NASCAR national touring series start (120th in the Xfinity Series) and following 10 runner-up results in the Xfinity circuit while competing for three different teams, including this season with Joe Gibbs Racing.
Qualifying occurred on Saturday, November 6, to determine the starting lineup and Austin Cindric, the reigning series champion, started on pole position after posting a pole-winning lap at 131.902 mph. John Hunter Nemechek, piloting the No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota Supra, qualified alongside Cindric on the front row.
With Cindric starting as the highest of four Xfinity competitors vying for this year’s title, Daniel Hemric started fourth, Noah Gragson qualified sixth and AJ Allmendinger lined up in 12th.
Prior to the event, Harrison Burton dropped to the rear of the field due to multiple inspection failures. JJ Yeley also started at the rear of the field in a backup car after spinning in practice along with David Starr, who dropped back due to unapproved adjustments to his car.
When the green flag waved and the race commenced, Cindric and Nemechek dueled for the lead through the dogleg, the frontstretch and for a full lap before Nemechek was able to power through and lead the first lap.
As the field fanned out and jostled early for positions, Cindric was in second behind Nemechek followed by Hemric, Justin Allgaier, Brandon Jones and Gragson. Allmendinger, meanwhile, was in the top 12.
Through the first 10 laps of the finale, Nemechek was leading by nearly four-tenths of a second over Cindric, who was the highest-running title contender on the track. Hemric settled in third followed by Allgaier, Gragson, Haley, Brandon Jones, Riley Herbst, Allmendinger and Michael Annett. Jeb Burton was in 11th, Sam Mayer was in 13th ahead of Myatt Snider and Ryan Sieg, Brandon Brown was in 16th and Harrison Burton was battling for a top-20 spot.
Ten laps later, Cindric made a strong move beneath Nemechek through the frontstretch and the dogleg to take the lead for the first time, though Nemechek kept Cindric’s No. 22 CarShop Ford Mustang within his sights. Hemric remained in third place on the track ahead of Allgaier, Gragson settled in fifth and Allmendinger was mired in 10th behind Annett.
Another 10 laps later, Cindric, who navigated his way through lapped traffic, continued to lead by more than seven-tenths of a second over Nemechek’s No. 54 Mobil 1 Toyota Supra. Hemric stabilized himself in third place, but his No. 18 Poppy Bank Toyota Supra trailed the two leaders by nearly two seconds as he also had Allgaier closing in for position. Gragson continued to run in fifth while Allmendinger was up in ninth.
When the first stage concluded on Lap 45, Cindric received the early upper hand in his bid to defend his series title as he captured his season-high 13th stage victory of the season. Behind, Hemric edged teammate Nemechek to settle in second followed by Allgaier, Gragson, Brandon Jones, Allmendinger, Annett, Herbst and Haley.
Under the stage break, the leaders pitted for adjustments and Hemric emerged with the lead following a stellar work from his pit crew that enabled him to exit pit road with the top spot. Cindric exited in second followed by Jones, Gragson, Allgaier, Nemechek and Allmendinger.
The second stage started on Lap 52 as Hemric and Gragson occupied the front row followed by Jones, Cindric, Allmendinger and Allgaier. At the start, Hemric rocketed away with the lead as the field fanned out to multiple lanes through the frontstretch and the dogleg.
The following lap, Cindric muscled his way back to second as Allgaier challenged teammate Gragson for third along with Nemechek.
Nearing the Lap 60 mark, the caution flew due to an on-track incident and long spin for Jeffrey Earnhardt on the backstretch as the incident also involved Joe Graf Jr. and Kyle Weatherman. At the time of caution, Hemric was leading by nearly three-tenths of a second over Cindric. In addition, Allgaier and Nemechek, both of whom were battling for third place, had made on-track contact twice towards the frontstretch in front of Gragson while Allmendinger was in sixth ahead of teammate Justin Haley.
On Lap 65, the race restarted under green as Hemric and Allgaier occupied the front row. At the start, Hemric and Allgaier dueled for the lead as the field again fanned out through the frontstretch. Through the backstretch, however, Hemric was able to clear Allgaier to retain the top spot until Nemechek, who gained a strong run entering the frontstretch, muscled his way back to the top spot the following lap.
With Nemechek leading teammate Hemric, Allgaier retained third ahead of Cindric while Allmendinger and Gragson battled for fifth.
Through the first 75 laps of the event, Nemechek was leading by nearly a second over teammate Hemric and Cindric. Teammates Allgaier and Gragson were in the top five followed by Allmendinger, Haley, Jeb Burton, Annett and Harrison Burton, who methodically worked his way from the rear of the field.
Five laps later, Nemechek extended his advantage to more than a second while Hemric and Cindric challenged one another for the runner-up spot and for the championship lead.
With four laps remaining in the second stage, Hemric, who managed to cut his deficit to Nemechek amid lapped traffic, overtook teammate Nemechek entering the frontstretch to reassume the lead.
When the second stage concluded on Lap 90, Hemric echoed his challenge for his first NASCAR national touring series title against his fellow competitors by capturing his 10th stage victory of the season. Cindric managed to overtake Nemechek to move into second followed by Allgaier, Gragson, Allmendinger, Haley, Harrison Burton, Annett and Herbst.
Under the stage break, the leaders returned to pit road and Hemric retained the lead following another strong service from his crew followed by Cindric, Nemechek, Allgaier, Allmendinger and Harrison Burton while Gragson, who dodged an uncontrolled tire pit road penalty, dropped to 10th.
With 103 laps remaining, the final stage started under green. At the start, the field fanned out to multiple lanes through the frontstretch and through the first turn. Amid the start, Hemric retained the lead ahead of Cindric, Nemechek, Allmendinger, Harrison Burton and Allgaier.
The following lap, the caution returned due to a hard accident involving Joe Graf Jr. in Turn 1 after making contact with Sage Karam.
Under the final 93 laps of the finale, the field restarted under green. At the start and with the field again fanning out through the frontstretch, Hemric dueled and managed to fend off Nemechek to retain the lead ahead of a steaming pack of cars.
During the following lap, however, the caution returned when Sage Karam made contact with Matt Mills, which sent Mills into the Turn 1 outside wall and with right-side damage.
Under caution, Gragson pitted his No. 9 Bass Pro Shops Chevrolet Camaro for a chassis adjustment while the rest led by Hemric remained on the track.
With 87 laps remaining, the race restarted under green. At the start, Hemric retained the lead by a narrow margin over Cindric and Nemechek as Harrison Burton made his way up to fourth ahead of Allgaier.
Two laps later, Cindric made a bold move beneath Hemric entering the frontstretch and nearly slid in front of Hemric’s No. 18 Toyota to take the lead. Behind, Harrison Burton challenged Nemechek and Allgaier for third while Allmendinger was battling teammate Haley and Annett for sixth.
With approximately 75 laps remaining, the caution returned due to possible fluid on the track when the No. 99 Chevrolet Camaro driven by Stefan Parsons erupted in flames past the start/finish line as he parked his car on the dogleg in the frontstretch. At the time of the caution, Cindric was leading by a reasonable margin over Hemric, Nemechek, Allgaier and Harrison Burton.
Under caution, the leaders returned to pit road and Cindric retained the lead following a strong service from his pit crew ahead of Nemechek, Allgaier, Allmendinger and Hemric.
With 66 laps remaining, the race restarted under green as Cindric and Allgaier occupied the front row. At the start, Allgaier pulled ahead on the inside lane in front of Cindric and the field.
Not long after, the caution returned when Jade Buford spun in Turn 2. Then, Allgaier, the leader, was penalized for dropping below the apron and the yellow line prior to crossing the start/finish line during the previous restart. Allgaier’s penalty moved Cindric back to the lead ahead of Hemric. In the midst of the restart, Gragson, who restarted 13th, was up to seventh.
Down to the final 60 laps of the finale, the field restarted under green as Cindric and Nemechek occupied the front row. At the start, Cindric retained the lead while Hemric moved up to second after Allmendinger made contact with Nemechek entering the first turn. Behind, Gragson challenged Harrison Burton and Allmendinger for fourth as Jeb Burton joined the party.
Ten laps later, Cindric continued to lead by more than a second over Nemechek and Hemric, both of whom were battling for the runner-up spot before the former prevailed. Gragson was in fifth behind Harrison Burton while Allmendinger was in sixth.
With 40 laps remaining, Cindric stabilized his advantage to more than a second over Nemechek while third-place Hemric kept the two leaders within his sights as close as possible. Behind, Gragson was up in fourth ahead of Harrison Burton while Allmendinger was mired back in sixth, trailing the lead by more than five seconds.
Under the final 30 laps of the finale, Cindric increased his advantage to nearly two seconds over Nemechek. Hemric trailed by more than two seconds while Gragson and Allmendinger remained in fourth and sixth.
Down to the final 24 laps of the finale, Hemric’s charge for the championship began as he overtook teammate Nemechek for second place. By then, Cindric continued to lead amid lapped traffic, but was only approximately two seconds ahead.
Then with 19 laps remaining, the caution flew when Allmendinger, who was in sixth and trying to pit under green amid vibration issues, spun his No. 16 Hyperice Chevrolet Camaro below the Turn 2 apron and near the pit road entrance. The caution all but erased Cindric’s advantage over Hemric, Nemechek and the field.
Under caution, the leaders pitted and Cindric retained the lead following another stellar service from his pit crew. Hemric exited in second followed by Gragson, Harrison Burton, Nemechek and Haley.
Down to the final 13 laps of the finale, the field restarted under green. At the start and with the field fanning out through the dogleg, Cindric dueled against Hemric while Gragson challenged behind. Through the first two turns and the backstretch, Cindric, who had Gragson trailing behind him, managed to fend off Hemric on the outside lane to retain the lead back to the frontstretch and past the start/finish line. Just then, the caution flew when Jeb Burton, who was in a three-wide battle, spun following contact with Sheldon Creed in Turn 3, which drew the caution as Burton continued without sustaining any serious damage.
With eight laps remaining, the field restarted under green. At the start and with the field again fanning out through the dogleg, Hemric dueled against Cindric trough the first two turns followed by Gragson, but Cindric managed to clear Hemric through the backstretch.
The following lap, Gragson, who tried to narrow the gap between himself and his two title rivals, slid up and hit the Turn 1 outside wall. Though he continued to run under power, he was losing spots on the track and losing ground towards his championship bid. Meanwhile, Hemric started to launch an attack beneath Cindric for the lead through Turns 3 and 4.
Just then, the caution returned when Buford and Josh Williams wrecked in Turn 3. The wreck was enough to send the finale into overtime.
In overtime, Cindric and Hemric again dueled for the lead through the first two turns ahead of the field. Remaining side-by-side through the backstretch, Hemric wiggled slightly underneath Cindric entering Turn 3 and barely clipped Cindric, but both continued running straight approach the frontstretch.
When the white flag waved and the final lap started, Cindric was still leading by a narrow margin over Hemric as Harrison Burton tried to spoil the battle.
Entering the first turn, Cindric had Hemric cleared for the top spot. Hemric then tried to draw himself alongside Cindric entering the backstretch, but Cindric fought back on the outside lane and Hemric chose to settle behind Cindric through the straightaway. Then on the final corner, Hemric sent his No. 18 Toyota as hard as he could to the inside lane and managed to move Cindric up the track entering Turn 4. As both competitors dueled and rubbed fenders coming to the finish line, Hemric managed to pull ahead and beat Cindric by 0.030 seconds to win the race and the championship.
With his accomplishment, Hemric became the 31st different competitor to achieve an Xfinity Series championship, the third to do so while driving for Joe Gibbs Racing, the third to do so while driving a Toyota and the 170th different competitor to win an Xfinity race. In addition to becoming the sixth first-time Xfinity winner of 2021, Hemric became the first competitor to record a first career race win and series championship in the same event. The win and the championship occurred in Hemric’s final ride with Joe Gibbs Racing as he will be moving to Kaulig Racing and attempt to defend his series title in 2022.
The Xfinity championship was also the first for veteran crew chief Dave Rogers, who kept Hemric poised and composed to attack late for the win and the title.
Ironically, Hemric and his No. 18 JGR Toyota team rallied from an early scare to the weekend, where his primary hauler that was transporting his car broke down while commuting to Phoenix and had to be transported on an alternate hauler. The hauler was able to arrive with the car as Hemric was able to hit the track for the series’ lone Xfinity practice session on Friday, November 5.
Upon claiming his championship flag and performing a long victorious burnout, Hemric capped off his long-awaited first win in NASCAR by performing a victorious backflip in front of his crew and the Phoenix fans.
“[I] Lost my breath! Unbelievable!” Hemric said on NBCSN. “These guys right here, they’ve been asking me all year, ‘How bad do you want it?’ I gave [the win] away here [at Phoenix] in the spring. [I] Felt like we had to give one up last week to get here. 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. They stuck with me through times. They probably shouldn’t have, to be honest with you. How about those race fans? That backflip good enough for you? I’ve been waiting a long damn time to do that. Thank you Joe Gibbs, everyone at [Toyota Racing Development], Toyota…Everyone here that makes this program what it is. I know I’ve given up a lot. People doubted me. I’ll do it all over again for a night like this. I’m blacked out. Just knew I had to be the first one to the [finish] line…This is what it’s all about. Winning at the second-highest level in all of motorsports. What an honor. Unbelievable! I’ll do it all over again. I’ll take all the heartbreaks again to live this right here. That’s the greatest feeling in the world.”
While on the championship stage and hoisting the trophy, Hemric took a moment to evoke a powerful message about perseverance and emerging victorious amid the struggles in life.
“[This championship] ain’t for all those kids about racing trying to get to a level,” Hemric said. “It’s about people in life. 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 a history of it, living proof of it. Un-be-lievable.”
Cindric, who was trying to become the eighth different competitor to achieve back-to-back Xfinity titles, settled in second place in a season highlighted with five victories and his last in the series as a full-time competitor, where he will be moving up to the NASCAR Cup Series to pilot the No. 2 Ford Mustang for Team Penske in 2022. Despite the result, Cindric, who managed to wrap up the sixth Xfinity Series owner’s title for team owner Roger Penske, kept his head high over the late battle for the driver’s title.
“If everyone in the stands enjoyed it, it’s good racing,” Cindric said. “I’m very appreciative of the opportunity to race on such a big stage, the opportunity to race for Roger Penske, to represent Ford Performance, our companies and all of our sponsors that have helped us this season. It would’ve been awesome to finish this out. I felt like we had a dominant race car. I 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 [regular and season] this year, I’m getting moved out of the way and doored, but that’s hard racing. That’s why everyone enjoys watching this series. It’s because there’s a lot on the line. Thankful for the opportunity and pissed to be second for like the third week in a row.”‘
Gragson, meanwhile, never recovered following his late contact into the wall and slipped back to 12th place in the final running order, which left him in a career-best third-place result in the final standings and in a season where he captured three victories. During his post-race interview, Gragson gave props to his crew chief Dave Elenz, who will be moving up to the NASCAR Cup Series in 2022, while the driver will be remaining as a full-time competitor for JR Motorsports for the upcoming season.
“Just disappointed,” Gragson said. “I’m not really sure what happened there on that second-to-last restart. I got just sideways off into [Turn] 1, like there’s oil down or something. I’m kind of mind-blown on what happened. [I] Hit the wall there running third. We rebounded really well, I thought, from pit road, mistake early on in the race. Everybody just dug deep, kept working hard. A lot of big adjustments. We didn’t have the car nearly where we wanted it to be all weekend, practice, qualifying. Those guys, they beat us tonight. Just not enough this weekend. We didn’t bring out best car. Just thankful, really thankful. We’ll go on next year.”
Like Gragson, Allmendinger, who struggled with pace throughout the finale, could not recover from his late spin and ended the season in 14th place on the track and with a career-best fourth-place result in the final standings. Despite the late misfortune during the finale, Allmendinger praised his team, Kaulig Racing, for the season-long performance that included five victories and the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series regular season championship. Like Hemric and Gragson, Allmendinger will be remaining in the Xfinity circuit with Kaulig in 2022.
“I just probably need to be a little better here [at Phoenix] as well to kind of lead us in a better direction,” Allmendinger said. “That’s part of growth here at Kaulig Racing. Of course, you’d like to have at least contended for [the championship]. Then I thought at worst, we’re gonna finish fifth or sixth. Then, the wheel was coming off on the right rear. I apologized to Austin [Cindric] because I think he had the race probably won. I don’t want to be a part of the storyline like that. I’d like to have been a better storyline, but part of the growth. Definitely not what we wanted today, tonight. We’ll come back strong. Thanks to all the men and women at Kaulig Racing, [owner] Matt Kaulig, [team president] Chris Rice for making this such a dream season. We kept making the Hyperice Chevy just a little bit better, but never really had the speed we needed to go run with [Cindric] or [Hemric]…We’ll come do this again next year.”
Harrison Burton, who made his final start with Joe Gibbs Racing before moving up to the Cup circuit to drive for the Wood Brothers Racing team, finished third on the track followed by Riley Herbst and Justin Haley. John Hunter Nemechek, Brandon Jones, Brett Moffitt, Justin Allgaier and Sheldon Creed completed the top 10 in the final running order.
Michael Annett finished 11th in his 436th and final NASCAR national touring series start before retiring from full-time competition.
Despite not competing in the Xfinity finale, Ty Gibbs earned the 2021 Xfinity Series Rookie-of-the-Year title in a season where he won his first four career races in 18 starts.
The 2021 Xfinity finale was the final race aired on NBCSN as USA Network will covering the majority of NASCAR Xfinity and Cup events during the second half of the 2022 season.
There were 16 lead changes for five different leaders. The race featured 10 cautions for 61 laps.
1. Daniel Hemric, 48 laps led, Stage 2 winner
2. Austin Cindric, 113 laps, Stage 1 winner
3. Harrison Burton
4. Riley Herbst
5. Justin Haley
6. John Hunter Nemechek, 39 laps led
7. Brandon Jones
8. Brett Moffitt
9. Justin Allgaier
10. Sheldon Creed
11. Michael Annett, one lap led
12. Noah Gragson, three laps led
13. Sam Mayer
14. AJ Allmendinger
15. Dylan Lupton
16. Blaine Perkins
17. Ryan Sieg
18. Jeremy Clements
19. Myatt Snider
20. Brandon Brown
21. David Starr
22. JJ Yeley
23. Jeb Burton
24. Tommy Joe Martins
25. Sage Karaam
26. Kyle Weatherman
27. Kyle Sieg
28. Ryan Vargas
29. Matt Mills
30. Alex Labbe, two laps down
31. Bayley Currey, four laps down
32. Josh Williams – OUT, Accident
33. Jade Buford – OUT, Accident
34. Stefan Parsons – OUT, Engine
35. Joe Graf Jr. – OUT, Accident
36. Jeffrey Earnhardt – OUT, Accident
Bold indicates championship finale contenders.
1. Daniel Hemric
2. Austin Cindric
3. Noah Gragson
4. AJ Allmendinger
5. Justin Allgaier
6. Justin Haley
7. Brandon Jones
8. Harrison Burton
9. Myatt Snider
10. Jeb Burton
11. Riley Herbst
12. Jeremy Clements
The NASCAR Xfinity Series’ teams and competitors enters its off-season period before returning to action at Daytona International Speedway on Saturday, February 19, to commence the 2022 season. The event is scheduled to start at 5 p.m. ET on FS1.