DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – It’s 8 a.m. and the first rotation for Wednesday’s annual Daytona 500 media day featured drivers Joey Logano, Kyle Larson, Ricky Stenhouse Jr. and Daniel Hemric.
Larson, at 26, is the youngest. Stenhouse, 31, is the senior member of the group.
Together, their numbers include 28 victories, one Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series championship and 768 career starts.
Two of the starts belong to Hemric, 27 and a rookie of the year candidate this season.
Late to the Cup party?
In an era when the age for drivers making the jump to Cup continues to get younger, Hemric says simply, “I know the way I’ve done it is the only way I could do it.”
He made two Cup starts last season with Richard Childress Racing, at Richmond, Va., and Charlotte. In 2015-16, he ran full seasons in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series; in ’17-18 full seasons in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
He didn’t win races in either series and that’s a point folks seem to point out. But he did accumulate plenty of experience and maybe that’s something that gets overlooked.
Others failed set the woods on fire in lower series before going on to remarkable Cup careers, by the way.
On Sunday, Hemric will make his first start in the Daytona 500. He’ll be driving the No. 8 Chevrolet fielded by RCR. Fifth fastest in qualifying on Sunday, his starting spot will be determined based on his finish on Thursday’s opening qualifying race at Daytona International Speedway.
“I’ve always believed that timing is everything and for whatever reason my time was not to get to this point until now,” Hemric said Wednesday. “I can’t rewrite history … I just have to do my thing when I get the opportunity and that’s what I’ve tried to pride myself (on).”
Guys such as Logano, Larson and Stenhouse “have had incredible breaks throughout their careers, no different than I have; (those breaks) just came at different times,” he said. “The end goal was to get here no matter what it took and that’s why I’m sitting here.”
Logano is the defending series champion and he’s seen the other side of the coin – that of beginning a Cup career at a very young age and then watching helplessly as it crumbled all around him.
At 18, Logano was pushed into a Cup ride, willingly of course, at Joe Gibbs Racing when Tony Stewart departed. Four years and one win later, Logano was shown the door.
“It’s just different, right?” Logano said of the timing of Hemric’s arrival. “And I think it’s, in a way, probably good for him because a lot of times – I know just from my experience, if you start too early and you make a name for yourself the wrong way or you don’t make it and you get put back down to Xfinity or Trucks, that’s usually it. It’s over, right? And that’s the end of your Cup career, most likely.”
Logano knows because he was that guy.
“I started too young, I made a lot of mistakes,” he said. “I didn’t succeed. I lost my job and God … gave me an amazing shot to race for Roger Penske. How does that happen?
In Hemric, he says he sees someone who is “more prepared, he’s more ready, he’s more mature.
“He’s been through some stuff in his racing career,” Logano said. “He’s more ready to make that big step, which I think is probably a smart move on his part.”
Austin Dillon, 28, is Hemric’s teammate at RCR. He’s also the defending Daytona 500 champion and winner of Xfinity and Truck Series titles in 2013 and 2011, respectively.
The ’19 season will be his sixth full-time season in Cup.
He and Hemric have been friends since racing in Bandolero and Legends cars at Charlotte Motor Speedway as teenagers.
“The first time I met him he was in an orange firesuit, had orange hair over his ears, no shirt on,” Dillon said of Hemric. “His firesuit was hanging at his waist and he was walking down pit road. I was like, ‘Man, who is this guy?’ We were like 13-14 years old. I was like, ‘Whoever that is, he’s cool. I want to be friends with him.’
“From that point on we were pretty much buddies.”
Reaching the top rung of the racing ladder at 27 shouldn’t pose any problems, Dillon said, noting that “He’s here. He’s done his job. He’s young enough to do it for a long time and hopefully he’s successful at it.”
Hemric is seen as a throwback, a driver who paid his dues in lower series and worked his way up to earn a shot at the big time. Money didn’t put him in the seat of the No. 8.
He’s also from Kannapolis, N.C., and that’s Dale Earnhardt country and maybe the two are cut from the same cloth or maybe they aren’t. Where one was raised doesn’t determine talent.
If the the image of a dues-paying, hard-working, blue collar driver is the one that’s been put out there, Hemric said, then “it’s 100 percent accurate.”
He’s no Lone Ranger – he’ll quickly tell you he pulls for fellow driver Ryan Preece because “I feel like his situation is very similar to mine … he builds his own race cars and he’s grinding to get to the race track week in and week out no matter what it takes.”
Preece, 28, landed his own Cup opportunity this season, taking over the No. 47 ride at JTG Daugherty.
Hemric won’t quibble over the timing of his own arrival. He’s here now and that’s all that matters.
“Call it what you want,” he said, “but it got me here.”