Daniel Hemric pulls Cinderella moment with photo finish to win first race and 2021 Xfinity title
Sean Clark recaps Daniel Hemric's thrilling win the 2021 NASCAR Xfinity Series Championship at Phoenix Raceway.
“Never again will you be asked that stupid question.”
Daniel Hemric, throughout his NASCAR career, has been asked the same question: when/how will the first win finally come?
This can now be put to rest as Hemric’s last-gasp run allowed the No. 18 car to get past defending NASCAR Xfinity Series champion Austin Cindric for the overtime victory at Phoenix Raceway.
Hemric’s first win also earns him his first Xfinity Series championship after two previous appearances in the Championship 4.
Cindric was the favorite for the entire race to not only win his third consecutive race at Phoenix, but also repeat as Xfinity Series champion.
He got past the No. 54 car of John Hunter Nemechek midway through stage one, cruising on the long run to pick up the stage win.
While Hemric won stage two after passing Nemechek with four laps to go in the stage, Cindric stayed in the top three, setting himself up to take control during the final stage.
This was easier said then done, however, as a myriad of wrecks broke out among the back-markers and midfield drivers to constantly force restarts.
Through adversity, Cindric kept holding the lead and looked like he wouldn’t need overtime to win the championship unlike 2020.
With 19 laps to go, A.J. Allmendinger, who lacked the speed to compete for the lead all race long, spun out due to a right wheel being loose. The caution came out, halting Cindric’s run that saw him build a gap to the field.
“We never had the speed all day to run with [Cindric] or Daniel,” Allmendinger said.
“I don’t want to be the storyline like that. Especially when he’s got a lead and he’s deserving to probably go win another one.”
Allmendinger finished 14th, fourth among playoff drivers.
After two more cautions, Cindric and Hemric commenced an overtime finish for the ages.
Cindric narrowly held the lead, but on turn four during the final lap, Hemric bumped Cindric and squeezed past him at the line for a wild victory.
“I just didn’t have enough of a margin entering turn three on the last lap,” Cindric explained after the race.
“In Daniel’s shoes, that’s his moment. That’s his shot and I don’t think it was by any means outlandish or dirty.”
It was the third time in the last eight races that Cindric finished second in a photo finish (Bristol and Martinsville). He will now head to the Cup Series and take over for Brad Keselowski in the No. 2 Team Penske car.
Cindric’s performance this season garnered the No. 22 team the owner’s championship after the No. 18 was not eligible for consideration.
As for Hemric, the victory gives vindication for a driver who has had a tumultuous NASCAR career. He was demoted to a part-time Xfinity Series ride in 2020 one season after being a full-time Cup Series driver.
He also found redemption after falling short among the Championship 4 in 2017 and 2018. After 10 second-place finishes and being winless in over 100 NASCAR races, Hemric is a champion and a race winner.
Noah Gragson hit the wall in the final caution before overtime. He constantly ran outside the top five despite strong restarts and could not get the long runs to stick.
He came home in 12th place.
Ty Gibbs, the 2021 ARCA Menards Series Champion, won Rookie of the Year with four wins on the season.
The 2022 NASCAR Xfinity Series season will begin at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 13.