HOMESTEAD, Fla. – While Tyler Reddick and Cole Custer had reasons to celebrate after Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series finale, Daniel Hemric and Christopher Bell both left Homestead-Miami Speedway emptyhanded.
Both drivers came into the Ford EcoBoost 300 with aspirations of winning a driver’s title for themselves and an owner’s title for their respective teams, but neither one was able to get the job done in the end.
Hemric, who started lowest among the championship contenders in 10th, rocketed up to as high as second in the opening stage of the race and appeared to have a car capable of challenging Custer for the early lead. However, a slow first pit stop and handling issues later in the race derailed Hemric’s chances.
The Kannapolis, N.C., native and elder statesman of the Championship 4 at 27 years old rallied to finish fourth – thanks to fresher tires after he pitted much later than many of the frontrunners – but he just didn’t have enough to chase down Reddick and Custer in the final laps.
Hemric crossed the line in fourth, but was a staggering 17.836 seconds adrift of Reddick, who took home the race win and Xfinity Series championship.
“Really from the start of the weekend, we just struggled to make speed,” noted Hemric. “That 80 percent mark on the race track or riding around the fence … we just couldn’t do that and once we realized that, there wasn’t a whole lot we could do. Throughout practice we tried to build as much movability and versatility into our race car, and I felt that really paid off throughout the first stage.
“We didn’t qualify where we wanted to, but to be able to drive up to second or third there and come in was great, so even though we lost a good chunk of spots on pit road, my guys rebounded the rest of the night,” Hemric continued. “The white line was actually my best friend. It had the least amount of rubber. I thought the race track still maintained speed down there and I was able to make hay for the majority of the time.
“I applaud Danny Stockman for at least making a gutsy call to try to stretch it as long as we could, hoping a caution would come out, but it never did and we got to a point where we had to pit. It just wasn’t ideal, but I thought we did a good job of making our race car the best we could throughout the night. We just didn’t have enough.”
Bell ran inside the top five for much of the race, and with the same short-pitting strategy as Hemric, actually cycled out of pit stops into the race lead with 46 laps left.
However, it took just nine laps for Reddick to make what turned out to be the race-winning pass. Bell then had a right-rear tire go flat on his No. 20 Toyota with 10 to go that relegated him to 11th, a lap down at the finish.
“Ultimately, we just weren’t fast enough tonight,” said Bell, a seven-time Xfinity Series winner this year. “It’s disappointing to end our season like that, but I’m really proud of everyone at Joe Gibbs Racing and everyone on this No. 20 team. They work really hard to bring really fast race cars to the track every single week, and winning seven races is something I’m super proud of and wouldn’t trade the world for.”
Bell’s one solace is the fact that he gets to go to Ventura (Calif.) Raceway on Thanksgiving night to race for Keith Kunz/Curb-Agajanian Motorsports in the Turkey Night Grand Prix, an event he won last year.
“Man, I’m really thankful I get to go dirt racing next week,” Bell smiled. “I’m ready for that.”