Hours before the 2021 Xfinity Series playoffs got underway last weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Daniel Hemric announced he will become the driver of the No. 11 Kaulig Racing Chevrolet in 2022.
For some, that came as a surprise. Others, meanwhile, tried to depict who was in the picture Kaulig teased on Twitter the night before. Many thought it was Hemric.
Regardless, Kaulig will be Hemric’s fourth team in as many years. Plus, he’s been a mainstay at the front of the field this year for Joe Gibbs Racing, despite not putting the No. 18 Toyota in victory lane. Through 27 races thus far in 2021, he’s tallied an average finish of 12.1.
Though having a goose egg in the win column, the decision to move on wasn’t easy.
“Nobody wants to ever make a decision to have to go a different direction,” Hemric told a small group of media earlier this week. “Since 2019, I’ve been on this rebuilding process, trying to find that home, trying to do the right things to hopefully open up a long-term opportunity somewhere. That’s nothing to say this is going to be that, but an opportunity came up from Kaulig. Knowing their vision and where they want to be three years, five years down the road, I can honestly say I want to be a part of that. I believe in their vision and where they want to go.”
Stability is something Hemric hasn’t had in his NASCAR career. But he does have a prior relationship with Chris Rice, president of Kaulig Racing. During Hemric’s first full-time NASCAR opportunity in 2015 for NTS Motorsports, Rice ran the team.
So while Hemric wasn’t sure of what his future held past the 2021 season, Rice stepped up.
“To get that phone call from Chris Rice and Matt Kaulig is one that I didn’t expect and one I knew I couldn’t not take advantage of,” Hemric said. “Through the conversation with myself and Chris Rice and through the process of putting this deal together, he reaffirmed me of not only how much I’m in the mix, but how he feels like he can help propel me to that next level, not only now but moving to the future. To have somebody have that much confidence in you is special.”
Still, Hemric doesn’t know Kaulig all that well. But Rice has been around him for the majority of his NASCAR career. When the then-25-year-old joined Richard Childress Racing, he worked directly with the upstart Kaulig organization, as it had a newly formed alliance with RCR.
Even apart, the two always had a friendly connection.
Hemric said, “I think because of that relationship (with Rice), I’m a firm believer, is why I got that phone call.”
Another positive for Hemric is he doesn’t have to worry about crunching numbers to find sponsorship. Being put in the No. 11 cornerstone car, the goal is to trophy hunt.
“The process since 2019, I’ve had to constantly worry about what was next,” Hemric added. “I’ve had to constantly worry about was there funding, was there not, do I have sponsorship, if I can acquire any, what are the opportunities to race and where at. It ultimately felt like they could offer me a job that would let me focus on racing.
“Having to physically, yourself, figure out the dollars, I ain’t got to worry about that, which makes this very, very exciting.”
Seeing how Kaulig has grown into a 13-time Xfinity Series race winner — and winning the inaugural Cup Series race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway road course — certainly piqued Hemric’s interest. But also, he’s seeing the likes of Justin Haley, who joined Kaulig ahead of the 2019 season and less than two years in won his first race. Now, Haley’s being shot to the Cup Series full time in 2022.
At the same time, Kaulig has revitalized AJ Allmendinger’s career, who after 2018, wasn’t sure he’d have another full-time opportunity. Fast forward to 2021, his first full season with Kaulig, he won the Xfinity Series’ regular season championship.
And even Jeb Burton, though he doesn’t know what his immediate future holds, has benefited from the boom Kaulig has had in Xfinity. He earned his first career win earlier this season at Talladega Superspeedway.
But because there’s room to grow, potentially to the Cup Series with two charters, was appealing as well.
“I’ve made it known that if there’s an opportunity there and it’s right and competitive, I would like to get back to the Cup level,” Hemric said. “On the flip side, there’s got to be room for growth and there is that at Kaulig.
“Nothing is a given, right? You’ve got to put the work in, you’ve got to show you’re worthy of those opportunities. The good thing is, I know their plan, vision and where they want to be. I know if I go do my job, the best thing I can do is try to force their hand in wanting to make me that guy. You want to perform to the point for every race team can’t not have you.”
But before any of that happens, Hemric is focused on the current task at hand: Winning the Xfinity Series championship for Joe Gibbs Racing. To do that, he’ll have to beat the trio of Kaulig cars.
“[The announcement of moving to Kaulig] also allows me to focus on the task at hand,” Hemric said. “We have a lot of opportunity with this Joe Gibbs Racing team and everyone on this [No.] 18 team to check the box of what we started off the year to do.”