April’s Toyota Owners 400 at Richmond Raceway will see a new Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series debutant.
Daniel Hemric will make his first Cup Series start in the race, driving the #8 Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 for Richard Childress Racing as part of a two-race schedule that also includes running the fall race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway road course. The news was announced on NASCAR Race Hub on Tuesday.
Hemric currently races full-time in the NASCAR Xfinity Series for RCR, driving the #21 car. He joined the team in 2017, recording sixteen top-ten finishes, seven top fives, and a pole as he made it to the Championship Round. He was the lone driver of the four title-contending drivers to not be a member of JR Motorsports, but finished fourth in the standings after suffering battery issues and ending his day in thirty-fourth. The 27-year-old from Kannapolis, North Carolina began the 2018 season on a strong note when he won the pole at Daytona International Speedway, and he currently sits fifth in points with three straight top tens. In 38 career Xfinity races, he has eighteen top tens, eight top fives, and two poles.
Although he only has two Xfinity starts at Richmond, Hemric has proven to be successful at the short track. He won his first series pole in the spring race, in which he finished third, followed by a fourth-place run in the fall event.
This is not the first time Hemric has been in a Cup Series car. In November 2017, he practiced and qualified Paul Menard’s #27 RCR car at the AAA Texas 500 while Menard was away on paternity leave; Hemric qualified twenty-first. Menard returned to the car for the race. When Menard departed for Wood Brothers Racing in 2018, RCR scaled back to a two-car operation for Austin Dillon and Ryan Newman, meaning the 2018 Toyota Owners 400 will be the team’s first with three since the end of 2017.
Prior to racing in the Xfinity Series, Hemric competed in the Camping World Truck Series, running the full 2015 and 2016 seasons for NTS Motorsports and Brad Keselowski Racing, respectively. Although he recorded no wins during those two years, he finished seventh and sixth in points with 30 combined top-ten runs and a best finish of second at Chicagoland Speedway and Las Vegas Motor Speedway in 2017. He will run a part-time schedule in the series with Young’s Motorsports for 2018.
Hemric’s #8 marks the first time the number has appeared in a Cup Series race in nearly a decade. Made popular by Dale Earnhardt Jr., who raced the #8 Budweiser car for Dale Earnhardt, Inc. from 2000 to 2007, it was last used by Aric Almirola at the 2009 Samsung 500. The current Stewart-Haas Racing driver was released after just seven races into the 2009 season for a lack of sponsorship, and when DEI merged with Chip Ganassi Racing for the 2010 season, the number was not retained. In 1,324 Cup races, the #8 has visited Victory Lane 38 times: 20 wins were by Joe Weatherly, 17 by Earnhardt, and Bobby Hillin Jr. won the 1986 Talladega 500 with the number. Coincidentally, the #8’s final Cup victory was with Earnhardt in the 2006 Crown Royal 400 at Richmond.
On a similar note, Hemric’s Cup debut will also mark the first top series race for primary sponsor Smokey Mountain Herbal Snuff, which has appeared on Hemric’s Xfinity cars since his rookie season in 2017. However, it is not the first time the smokeless tobacco brand had appeared on a Cup car; in 2015, Smokey Mountain sponsored four-time Truck Series champion Ron Hornaday Jr.’s #30 The Motorsports Group car for the Daytona 500, but he failed to qualify for the event. Hornaday had also raced with Smokey Mountain as a sponsor in the Truck Series in 2012 and 2013.
Although the #8 does not possess a charter (the #27’s had been leased to StarCom Racing), it is likely that Hemric will still qualify for the race as the average Cup field in 2018 rarely reaches the maximum of 40.
The 2018 Toyota Owners 400 will take place on April 21. The inaugural Bank of America 500 on the Charlotte road course will be on September 30.