NASCAR & Auto Racing

While NASCAR stars struggle, Cup rookie Hemric wins Hollywood Casino 400 pole  

Daniel Hemric wins the Busch Pole Qualifying Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, at the Kansas Speedway.
Daniel Hemric wins the Busch Pole Qualifying Saturday, Oct. 19, 2019, at the Kansas Speedway.

Daniel Hemric knows his way to the pole position at Kansas Speedway. Now, he needs to find victory lane for the first time in his five-year NASCAR career.

On a day in which two of NASCAR’s biggest stars battled issues in qualifying, Hemric, a Monster Energy NASCAR Cup rookie without a ride for next season, claimed the pole position on Saturday for Sunday’s Hollywood Casino 400 at Kansas Speedway.

Hemric, who won the pole position for last year’s Xfinity Series race at Kansas, turned a fastest lap of 178.047 mph in the Richard Childress No. 8 Chevrolet on Saturday. Journeyman David Ragan, in the No. 38 Ford, qualified second at 177.842, giving the race a front row of non-playoff drivers.

Meanwhile, two of the most dominant drivers at Kansas Speedway — three-time winner Kevin Harvick and two-time winner Martin Truex Jr. — battled issues trying to pass inspection.

Harvick, the 2014 Cup champion who owns a track-record five poles, failed three pre-race inspections in the No. 4 Chevrolet, and never got on the track, relegating him to the 40th and final starting position for Sunday. Truex, the 2017 Cup champion, failed two inspections in the No. 19 Toyota before qualifying 11th.

So, with so much attention focused on the playoff drivers, Hemric led a contingent of eight non-playoff drivers to the first 12 positions.

“There’s no better way to get talked about than go out there and out-perform those guys,” Hemric said. “That’s why I’m proud of this No. 8 group for allowing us to do that. The guys deserve all the credit for the pole.”

Hemric, 28, moved into the No. 8 car this season after finishing in the top four of the 2017 and 2018 Xfinity playoffs. But he’s just 25th in the standings, having posted just two top-10 finishes this season and will be replaced next season by reigning Xfinity champion Tyler Reddick.

In all, Hemric has failed to win a race in 149 starts across NASCAR’s three national series — 33 Cup races, 66 Xfinity and 50 in the trucks series. So a win at Kansas would be monumental.

“It would mean a lot because of the current situation, I can promise you that,” said Hemric, of Kannapolis, N.C. “It’s one of those deals where you go to the racetrack with one goal, but for whatever reason, it hasn’t worked out. I’m fortunate to know some of the biggest stars, past and present, who have continued to have my back even though I’ve had a lack of wins. “

He came close to winning last fall in the Xfinity Series race at Kansas, leading a race-most 128 laps only to finish second to Joe Hunter Nemechek.

Hemric had hoped to latch onto the JTG Daugherty No. 37 Chevrolet when Chris Buescher moved to Roush Fenway Racing’s No. 17 Ford, but Ricky Stenhouse, ousted at Roush, was hired instead.

But Hemric’s still confident in his abilities.

“A lot of those guys who have raced with me or seen me race in a lot of divisions, growing up short-track racing,” he said, “they know if given the right opportunity and the right situation, I’ll succeed and the wins will come when it’s meant to be. “

Related stories from Wichita Eagle