Driver of the No. 31 Chevrolet for Richard Childress Racing
It’s been a career of “almost” so far for Daniel Hemric, who takes the reins of the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing entry this season after the departure of veteran Ryan Newman. Hemric, who will be 28 when the season starts, has yet to win a race in a NASCAR national series.
Hemric has had two full seasons in both the Gander Outdoors Truck Series and the Xfinity Series, and by most metrics, he’s had success: an average finish of 11.1 in both series with a slew of top-5 and top-10 finishes along with earning five Xfinity poles, including four in 2018. Hemric’s points finishes are also impressive, with a seventh and sixth in his two years in Trucks and fourth and third in his two seasons in NXS.
It’s hard to pinpoint why Hemric hasn’t won. It could be as easy as his equipment. In his first full-time season in the Truck series, Hemric raced for Bob Newberry, an owner whose time in the sport was brief. And while his second year was with the more successful Brad Keselowski Racing, the team was just a notch below the series’ top rides — not by much, but coupled with an inexperienced youngster in the seat, a small deficiency can mean a lot. RCR’s NXS program had just one win in the two years Hemric drove its cars, and that went to Cup driver Austin Dillon. That makes it hard to determine whether Hemric is a driver who can’t quite close the deal or one who could be a star in the right ride.
Childress has enough faith that it’s the latter to put the Kannapolis, N.C., native in the No. 31 for 2019, bypassing more experienced drivers — including grandson Ty Dillon — to put Hemric in the seat. Luke Lambert, who has called the shots for the team since 2013, will remain on the pit box. That’s a good decision — Lambert knows the cars and what they’re capable of.
The team has had a conglomerate of sponsors in recent years, including 2018 when longtime supporter Caterpillar backed off a bit to eight events. It looks to be a similar situation for 2019, though beyond Liberty National Life Insurance — which will be the primary backer for an undisclosed number of races — it’s unclear which sponsors will return or be added to the lineup.
RCR’s Cup efforts are a step behind the top Chevrolet teams, and with the Chevrolet stable as a whole a step behind the Fords and Toyotas, expecting a rookie driver to overachieve is asking a lot. But one thing that Hemric has shown throughout his career is his willingness to work hard to improve himself and earn his place, and that’s a good fit for an organization that perhaps needs to do some rebuilding before it becomes a weekly contender.
Earnhardt Childress Racing Engines are strong and durable, but new engine rules from NASCAR could prove to be a challenge, especially at tracks where the cars switch from ECR-friendly restrictor plates to tapered spacers. The new rules could give teams such as RCR a chance to contend, or they could throw them for a loop. There are a lot of unknowns here.
One thing is certain: Hemric earned his ride the old-fashioned way, working up through the ranks, and that should appeal to fans. This blue-collar driver from Dale Earnhardt’s hometown has the potential to be a fan favorite — if he’s successful.
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2019 Cup Championship: 300/1 (per Sportsbook.ag)