Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Fan Support Continues to Grow For Matt DiBenedetto

DOVER, Del. – The Sprint All-Star Race is a week away, and social media is pushing hard for Matt DiBenedetto to be an additional entry.

A sixth place finish last month at Bristol Motor Speedway in the Food City 500 has skyrocketed the attention around the BK Racing driver. From quiet and unassuming, DiBenedetto is not only more recognized at the racetrack, but fans are more tuned in to his team’s performance.

Now the attention turns to the $1 million exhibition race on May 21 that sees DiBenedetto among the top five in the Sprint Fan Vote.

“At first, it was just people after Bristol voting and I saw it pop up on my Twitter feed, and a lot of people were sharing it,” DiBenedetto told POPULAR SPEED. “I was like, man, that’s cool. We started to push a little bit for it and the more that we pushed for it the more it blew up way more than we expected.

“Then folks on Reddit were really behind me as well a bunch of fans on social media everywhere. I couldn’t believe it. Just people all over really pulling for us. I think they could tell I have a passion for the sport.”

It’s all been a bit overwhelming for the 24-year-old from California.

“The first part of the season everything was fairly quiet for us, but we were showing speed and having some good solid runs and were faster than we were last year. Then all of a sudden at Bristol we definitely showed a lot of speed and had a great run and the support after that ramped up by a thousand percent,” DiBenedetto said.

“It went from being at the racetrack signing a couple autographs here and there to a ton of support, which is cool because everyone shared the emotion with us and looked at it as a cool underdog story.”

One DiBenedetto is embracing. Should he get voted into the All-Star Race, he has pledged to change the name above the No. 83 Cosmo Motors Toyota for the remainder of the season. It will go from Matt DiBenedetto to “Matt DiBurrito,” which he jokes has been around for a while and the team even refers to him as.

“Heck, if all these people are behind me and pushing for the votes, if we get voted in I felt like we should so something cool for them,” he said. “I rolled with the idea. Maybe we’ll even put a burrito picture beside it; I’m not opposed to it.”

Additionally, DiBenedetto will reward his supporters by running a Reddit paint scheme during a race later in the season. He recently posted a design on his Twitter page that was submitted by a fan after running it by the team, which gave their immediate approval.

As for the rest of the season, DiBenedetto is trying not hang his hat on Bristol. There is still work to be done at BKR as he sits 31st in points entering the AAA 400 at Dover International Speedway.

“I’ve learned you can be at the highest of highs and still lose it all in no time, so you have to really stay focused. I push every day to make sure I can stay around this garage for a long time; I want to have a career in the Sprint Cup Series, which is hard to do. It’s hard to stick around. I really want to be here for a long time.

“(Bristol) was definitely a great day but after that my focus was immediately – I was excited that whole week – but the next day I was focused on the next week. You’ve always got to stay focused and keep on pushing, and you have to have as many of those kind of runs as possible throughout the year. If you want to stick around a long time and keep getting better opportunities, you really have to stand out a lot, and I’m trying to make sure I’m doing everything my power to do the best I can.”

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

McDowell Plays Part in Repairing Home of National Guard Veteran

DOVER, Del. – Norene Griffin couldn’t keep the tremble from her voice as she took in her front yard.

Her unassuming two-story house sits on the corner of Ann Ave., three miles from Dover International Speedway. But Thursday, that’s where the action was as hammer sounds reverberated down the street, spray paint filled the air, and numerous volunteers climbed one of the many ladders circling the house.

“I didn’t know I was going to get like that,” Griffin said to her husband after thanking the crowd.

Griffin, a disabled member of the National Guard, watched with tears in her eyes as her house returned to glory through the Thrivent Builds with Habitat for Humanity program. It’s a partnership between Thrivent Financial and the Central Delaware Habitat for Humanity, which also saw Sprint Cup Series driver Michael McDowell not only in attendance but getting his hands dirty.

“It’s fun to have a partner like Thrivent Financial that then works with Habitat for Humanity. They’ve been together for a long time, over 10 years now,” McDowell said. “It gives me the opportunity to come out here and work and help out a community.

“We’re at these racetracks every weekend and sit in the motorhome lot and are kind of stuck there, so to get out and do things is fun. And to make an impact is fun, too. Seeing a house go from needing a lot of help and a lot of repairs, to brand new siding all the way around and window frames and everything is pretty cool.”

McDowell routinely works with the program, which completes about four or five projects a year. Griffin’s home was their second stop this year.

The Travis Manion Foundation also had volunteers on hand, having received a $20,000 donation from Martha Nemechek, who made an appearance with grandson John Hunter, through Comcast after she was a finalist for the 2015 Comcast Community Champion Award. There were also volunteers from the local Air Force Base.

All responded when Griffin recently cried out for help. The home was her mother’s, and Griffin has lived there her entire life, 57 years. She became distressed after the city came knocking about violations.

She was given one month to make repairs.

Everywhere she turned, however, Griffin received a ‘no,’ even from those at the city. Time was running out when the only immediate ‘yes’ came from Habitat from Humanity.

“I knew the situation would have put me out of here,” Griffin said. “I was in total chaos. When they came out and looked at the house I think that they knew the immediacy of the situation. I owe them all a debt of gratitude.”

The number of volunteers who showed up to help was overwhelming for Griffin. She had no idea the project would be as big as it was, nor that a NASCAR driver was going to be involved. It wasn’t surprising then when she couldn’t hold it together getting to stand next to Nemechek and McDowell.

Come over, she told her neighbors, because “NASCAR is at my house.”

As for the repairs, not only was the siding replaced, window frames installed, and a new door knob secured, a brand new awning was hung above the front door. With no plans to ever leave her home, Griffin couldn’t help but make laps around the yard with a handheld camera soaking it all in.

“I can’t believe this is all for me,” she said. “I can sleep now.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Trucks

Rhodes, Sauter Clear the Air after Kansas Accident

DOVER, Del. – Ben Rhodes and Johnny Sauter are back on speaking terms after their accident last weekend at Kansas Speedway.

Rhodes got into the left rear of Sauter’s Chevrolet in Turn 3 as he attempted to make a pass for the lead on the final lap of the Toyota Tundra 250. Neither driver wound up in Victory Lane and afterward Sauter called Rhodes, a Rookie of the Year contender, a “bozo” and wondered if he could see.

But upon review, Sauter took back his comments and reached out to Rhodes this week to explain himself.

“It was a really good conversation,” Rhodes told POPULAR SPEED on Thursday at Dover International Speedway. “I talked to him for a while about what his truck was doing in the race, what my truck was doing; just small talk that drivers have. He told me his motor was cutting out, and I had a really big closing rate. It was just the right place for me to go at the time and I still believe that. We cleared the air, and it’s good going forward.”

Rookie or not, Rhodes believes when two drivers are involved in an incident they owe it to each other to hash it out afterward. Entering the Jacob Companies 200 (Friday, 5:30 p.m. ET, FS1), Rhodes is happy there is nothing hanging over his head because there is no sense in two drivers trying to go forward with the intention of tearing up trucks.

“Actually, I shared a story with him from when I was younger, when I was in first or second grade. He had a show on TV where cameras followed him around every week, and I would usually go to bed at 9:00, but I would stay up until 10 just to wait for the show to come on and I would watch it because I was all about anything NASCAR,” Rhodes said. “That’s how I got to know him at such a young age, and I told him that. So it was kind of interesting story that I’m getting to race against him now.”

In fact, Rhodes drives for the organization (ThorSport Racing) that Sauter, a veteran of the series, left after seven seasons. With just eight CWTS starts under his belt, last weekend was the first time Rhodes and Sauter crossed each other’s paths. And the move was one Rhodes felt certain in making having quickly weighed all of his options.

“It all started on the frontstretch as we got the white flag. I got a really big run, but I decided it wasn’t the right time because I couldn’t have made the pass; it would have been a really bad angle,” he explained. “Everything would have been bad. If I made the over there I basically would have just wrecked him, so I decided to go to the high side and stay full throttle all the way around the corner.”

Momentum from the high side propelled Rhodes off Turn 2 and down the backstretch. With Sauter’s motor not running smoothly, it allowed the No. 41 to quickly close as Sauter prepared to block. But it was too late as Rhodes stuck his nose inside entering Turn 3.

“As I saw him turning right and the truck leaning over to the left to angle it back up to the top to make the arc (into the corner) I thought I had enough room o could come down to the bottom real quick and sneak past him and kind of surprise him on the bottom,” Rhodes said. “We surprised him, but as I was hoping he knew I was there – and I think he did since he tried to block – I was already inside and so deep at full throttle, sticking to the bottom, I couldn’t really let up.” 
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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
News

Dover Completes Track Improvements Ahead of Triple-Header Weekend

Dover International Speedway will host a NASCAR triple-header this weekend, and the facility is ready after the completion of two track projects.

Following the reduction of the Sprint Cup Series field from 43 to 40 cars, Dover has eliminated three pit stalls and increased the remaining 40 by two feet. The new dimensions of each stall is now 34 feet in length and 16 feet wide. The XFINITY Series also starts 40 cars, while the Camping World Truck Series fields 32 entries.

The major improvement for Dover, however, came in the name of safety.

With SAFER barriers the main topic of conversation since February of 2015, each track has gone about ensuring every inch of their racing surface is protected. At Dover, 479 feet of SAFER barriers have been added ahead of this weekend, namely on the backstretch and Turn 3. Seventy-eight feet were added to the inside backstretch wall, and 401 feet of SAFER barrier were added to a new steel post on the inside of the track near the entrance to Turn 3.

The facility also announced the addition of 550 feet of new asphalt to the area behind pit road between the entrance of the Sprint Cup Series garage and the start – finish line.

A complete list of changes as outlined by Dover:

  • 479 feet of Steel and Foam Energy Reduction (SAFER) barriers were added to the one-mile, high-banked, concrete oval
  • Seventy-eight feet of standard SAFER barriers were added to the existing inside backstretch all and 401 feet of SAFER barriers were included in front of a new, steel post inside wall of a newly placed stretch of concrete in front of the grassy area at the entrance to Turn 3. The Monster Bridge near the Turn 3 entrance sits above the new construction area
  • The SAFER barriers are 40 inches high
  • Along the new stretch of wall, one foam block is placed every 5 ½ feet within the SAFER barrier to maximize safety from crash impacts
  • 190 cubic yards of concrete, 7-feet wide and 18 inches deep was added to the track
  • Along pit road, three pit stalls were eliminated, leaving space for 40 cars. Each pit stall was increased 2 feet in length, to 34 total feet. All stalls remain 16 feet wide
  • 550 feet of new asphalt was added between the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series garage entrance and the Start – Finish line

Track activity at Dover begins Thursday with two practice sessions for the Camping World Truck Series Dover 200.

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Busch Two Tracks Shy of a Major Career Milestone

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – The list is down to two.

With a victory in the Go Bowling 400 at Kansas Speedway on Saturday night, Kyle Busch has now won at 21 of the 23 active tracks on the Sprint Cup Series circuit. The two facilities remaining will be tracks he’ll see for the first time in a few weeks, Charlotte Motor Speedway and Pocono Raceway.

“I look forward to the challenge. Every single week, every single year, everything’s a challenge. We do this for many reasons, but for me it’s just the challenge of being able to go out there and to continue to try to thrive and be good at what we do; to win championships; win races,” Busch said about potentially winning at every track.

“It’s certainly been some tough roads along the way here at Kansas, but it’s certainly nice to win this one. I look forward to being to hopefully knock off some more this year at Charlotte and Pocono to compete the list.”

The 2015 champion began his full-time career in 2005 and now has 37 career wins in 401 starts. Across NASCAR’s three national series he has 162 wins.

Prior to winning Saturday, Busch had made 16 starts at Kansas with only two top-five finishes. Four DNF’s (Did Not Finish) left Busch without any answers about his repeated struggles, other than to just pass it off as, “all I know is we’re in Kansas, right?”

Now having conquered what might have been his toughest task, Busch will look at the Coca-Cola 600 on May 29 as the next one. There is also the Charlotte Chase race on October 8.

Busch finishes 11th in the series longest race last season, which was his first points race back from a February injury. In 24 Charlotte starts, Busch has led 907 laps and earned 14 top-10 finishes, but also has five DNFs. His best finish at Charlotte is two runner-up efforts in the Fall event (2010 and 2011).

As for Pocono Raceway, which the series visits on June 5 and July 31, Busch nearly knocked the ‘Tricky Triangle’ off his list last summer before running out of fuel from the race lead. He has eight top-10 finishes in 22 starts. However, only a scant 82 laps led.

Should Busch go on to win at Charlotte and Pocono at some point this year he would accomplish a career milestone the likes of former teammates – and champions – Jeff Gordon and Jimmie Johnson have not. Johnson, who is still an active driver, has four tracks (Kentucky, Watkins Glen, Chicago, Homestead) he has yet to win at while Gordon retired following the 2015 season having won every track except for Kentucky Speedway.

Busch is now two-for-two at winning at places that once eluded, having been victorious at Martinsville Speedway last month.


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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

McMurray, McCall Confused on Kansas Black Flag

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Neither Jamie McMurray or his crew chief, Matt McCall, had any answers.

The confusion? A black flag on Lap 30 after NASCAR officials deemed the No. 1 McDonald’s team had made unapproved adjustments to the body of the car.

McMurray, who started 21st, was penalized following his first pit stop and ultimately finished 26th after spending much of the night outside the top 25 after losing two laps under green. When he pitted, Chip Ganassi Racing crew members had to take the right side window off and reach inside the car to knock the body back into place.

Although McCall argued with NASCAR officials, he got nowhere.

“I guess they called us back in for body modification or something,” McCall said. “The Jackman hit the door when he went for the tire, so I don’t know. It’s interesting to me how they enforce stuff.”

Prior to the start of the 2015 season, NASCAR announced they would be monitoring pit stops through high definition cameras instead of officials being designated to each stall. It puts teams under a watchful eye when it comes to going over the wall too early, uncontrolled tires, or team members trying to modify the car’s body.

According to McCall, he was just as confused as anyone else as to why his team was penalized.

“Was nothing planned,” he said. “Then they bring you down pit road, and they don’t know what to tell you to fix. It is what it is. It’s over with now.”

McMurray does hold a spot on the Chase Grid with 15 races remaining in the regular season.

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Continually Fast But Foiled: The Martin Truex Jr. Story

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Kansas Speedway continues to be Martin Truex Jr.’s kryptonite.

In his last two spring trips to the 1.5-mile facility, Truex has led one full race, 267 laps. In 16 career starts, he’s led a total of 518. Yet Truex still hasn’t found the way to Victory Lane.

After dominating Saturday night’s Go Bowling 400, Truex had to settle for a 14th place finish after pitting twice inside the final 52 laps because of a loose wheel. The Furniture Row Racing driver had led 172 laps before giving up the lead for what was scheduled to be his final pit stop.

Things initially went as planned, until Truex pulled away and quickly realized something wasn’t right as the car was shaking. He made the decision to return to the attention of his No. 78 Bass Pro Shops Toyota to have all four tires replaced, again.

“I don’t know what the racing Gods have against me,” Truex lamented on the radio after being told something had become jammed behind the wheel. Crew chief Cole Pearn later said it was the head of the bolt that holds the brake plate, which caused the wheel to sit crooked even though all the lug nuts were tight.

“We’ve run the same stuff every week and never have a problem and randomly when you’re leading you get that,” Pearn said. “So, whatever.”

Pearn was in good spirits all things considered; he acknowledged there is no way a team can prevent something like that occurring.

After climbing from his car with Kyle Busch celebrating in the background, the first person to meet Truex was Joe Gibbs. With the alliance between Joe Gibbs Racing and Furniture Row, Gibbs not only felt for Truex but had insight into what had gone wrong.

“I felt so bad about that,” Gibbs said. “We had that one other time. It’s a bolt on the inside that bolts the inside plate, and the head broke off, and when it did, it turned and when it turned it kept the tire from going on.

“I just felt so bad for a teammate like that, and so I stopped there with Martin and explained what happened, and he was great. He said he figured something like that happened. They were, to be quite truthful, they were killing it all night. They were really fast.”

Confident his team will not only get a win but soon, Truex finds himself in the same position he was a year ago – dominant but unlucky. In 2015, he went 14 races before breaking into Victory Lane at Pocono, which surprisingly ended up being his only win of the season.

One day, he said, he’ll be on the reverse side and be the one taking advantage of other’s misfortune.

“It’s no fun to lead all those laps and finish 14th. I wish the race was longer because we were hunting them down, for sure,” Truex said. “It’s hard to give them away, man. It’s hard when you give them away like that.

“It’s hard to get cars to get cars that good in this series and this sport, so we’ll just keep trying. It’s all we can do. It’s a team sport; win and lose as a team. It wasn’t nothing my guys did wrong.”

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

Bowyer Believes There Are Better Days Ahead

KANSAS CITY, Kan. – Clint Bowyer will be back.

The current HScott Motorsports driver pledged as much on Thursday at Kansas Speedway when asked about being in championship contention. While he hasn’t been a serious contender in a few years, Bowyer, who will move to Stewart-Haas Racing beginning in 2017, does not believe his championship window is closing.

“I feel like you get the racecars underneath of you, and you compete exactly where you’ve always competed. The history is there,” Bowyer said. “Consistency has always been a part of my racing, and that lends itself to racing for championships and being competitive at the end of the year. So, you’ve got to get to where you can compete for those championships no matter what organization you’re at. And you’re a big part of that, whether it’s in the racecar or not.”

In the four years Bowyer spent with Michael Waltrip Racing, twice he finished inside the top six in points, including a career year in 2012 when he won three races and was the runner-up. But MWR slowly started to fade and ended up closing their doors last season, which landed Bowyer at HScott for a gap year.

He’ll join the 2011 and 2014 championship winning organization in 2017, driving for the soon to be retired, Tony Stewart. And next year can’t come soon enough when looking at the struggles Bowyer and his No. 15 5-hour ENERGY team has endured.

Entering Kansas on Saturday night for the GoBowling.com 400, Bowyer has just two top-10 finishes (Bristol and Talladega) and five finishes outside the top 30. Although he has publicly displayed his frustration over the radio a few times, Bowyer says it has a short shelf life as he turns his attention to the team and working out how they can fix their problems.

“This sport is all about what you are going to do tomorrow,” he said. “That is what you have to instill in yourself and everybody around you to be able to go out there and get the job done and compete at a level that I know we’re capable of competing at for our sponsors and for ourselves.”

To Bowyer, things are now starting to get rolling. The team, led by crew chief Steve Addington, has picked up two top-10 finishes in the last three weeks. Now in his 11th full season at the Cup level, those are the performances Bowyer has come to expect.

But after spending his career with only two teams – MWR and Richard Childress Racing – and being competitive at both, this year has proven just how hard the business is. When you’re good, you need to work hard to stay good, or you won’t be there long. When you’re bad, you have to work just as hard to catch up.

Exactly where Bowyer now finds himself.

“We’ve got some good things coming that I’m excited about. When you’re down, most of the time there is a reason, especially when you’re down as far as we’re down,” Bowyer said. “We had work to do. We’re starting to get some new wave of cars built and get some things to where we all are satisfied with them and excited about bringing them to the racetrack and seeing what our hard work has done.

“That’s all you can do. That is all you can ask for out of any team member, any organization or a driver. Everybody has got to be able to pull on the rope in the same direction and give it their all. When you finally get to that moment where you do that, you’re satisfied.”

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
XFINITY

JR Motorsports Adds Bowyer to XFINITY Series Lineup

JR Motorsports has added another driver to their “All-Star” car.

Clint Bowyer will drive the No. 88 Morton Buildings Chevrolet in the September 18 XFINITY Series race at Chicagoland Speedway. The 2008 XFINITY champion, Bowyer has eight career wins and most recently competed in the series in July of 2012. He currently competes full-time in the Sprint Cup Series for HScott Motorsports.

The No. 88 team already has two victories this season with two different drivers – Chase Elliott won the season-opener in Daytona and team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. won two weeks ago in Richmond. Bowyer will be the ninth driver scheduled to drive the car in addition to Josh Berry, Alex Bowman, Cole Custer, Earnhardt Jr., Elliott, Kenny Habul, Kevin Harvick and Regan Smith.

Elliott Sadler, who competes full-time for the organization, earned the company’s third win last weekend at Talladega.

“When Dale Jr. offers to let you drive his car, there’s only one answer and that’s ‘yes,’” said Bowyer. “JR Motorsports is certainly on a roll right now and I know those guys are working hard to make the boss happy by building fast cars. It’s going to be a blast wheeling that No. 88 Morton Buildings Chevrolet around Chicagoland in the XFINITY race. It’s going to be even better when we can celebrate with the boss in Victory Lane.”

In five XFINITY Series starts at Chicagoland, Bowyer has four top-10 finishes.

“We’re excited to be partnering with JR Motorsports and Clint Bowyer for the upcoming XFINITY Series race at Chicagoland Speedway,” said Morton Buildings Marketing Manager Brian Haraf. “We’re thrilled to be a part of the team and support a member of our extensive family of building owners.”

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The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement. 

Categories
Trucks

Common Bond Will Forever Link Hemric, Ruston

Good. Busy. Different.

That’s life these days for Daniel Hemric. At 25, Hemric drives for one of the most recognizable names in NASCAR, Brad Keselowski, full-time in the Camping World Truck Series. It’s his sophomore year. Things couldn’t be better personally, either, as Hemric and fellow racer Kenzie Ruston plan their wedding.

For Hemric, it was the first time he’s had an offseason of excitement and enjoyment instead of the stress of uncertainty. Never before between the months of October to February, had the Kannapolis, North Carolina native known for sure if he had a job.

His deal with Brad Keselowski was signed, sealed and locked in late last fall.

“To know that this deal is done, there’s no way around it, my name is on it – I was joking with people that I was nervous signing the paper. I thought my pen was going to break,” Hemric laughed. “I was like, as long as I can get through this, it’ll be good.

“To get through the offseason and know that it was really going to happen and to be able to focus on the end of last year making myself better in order to come into this year as 100 percent as I can be, it’s been awesome to experience that.”

As Hemric looks to be one of NASCAR’s next big stars, Ruston is close by his side. And she, too, is still racing. In fact, Ruston signed a deal early this year with Carswell Motorsports to run the full Southern Super Series schedule; the team Hemric won the championship with in 2013.

It’s not only their shared loved of racing but how involved the two are in each other’s career that makes them unique. How much they’ve been through together is also a bit emotional to talk about.

“You want the real story or what we tell everybody?” Hemric cracks.

It was 2009 in Monroe, Louisiana when the two met while racing Legend cars. Although they were in different divisions, Ruston’s crew chief would occasionally ask Hemric to run her cars. At the time, they had never really spoken to each other and weren’t particularly close.

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#ThrowbackThursday: Attending the @USLegendCars National Banquet with @KenzieRuston in 2009 (Twitter)

When Ruston showed up in North Carolina though, she ended up competing out of the same shop where Hemric was based.

“We started spending a lot more time together, and I think it was later that year we were like, all right, let’s peruse this a little bit and there’s been no turning back ever since,” he said. “It’s been – I don’t want to say interesting – but we’ve shared so many different dynamics of a relationship that a lot of people never experience and we’re very fortunate for that.”

With each being a racer, there comes a certain understanding of the job and what one might have been experiencing when discussing their respective weekends. Hemric and Ruston can lean on each other or be the other’s sounding board. They hold each other accountable for their performances – good and bad.

“We can complain to each other about what we’ve done right or wrong that weekend. I think he likes to hear that, and I like to hear what I did wrong,” Ruston said. “I don’t like people saying, ‘oh, it’s OK.’ He’s that person that tells me what I did wrong, and he’s my biggest supporter, too.”

Everyone needs that supportive role in their life, someone to talk to when things get tough.

“To have a response from the other side with her being through most of the stuff I go through as well, it just adds another element to our relationship that most people never get to experience,” Hemric said.

“I’m very thankful for that. She knows the schedule; she knows how tough and trying it can be on you throughout the year. She understands it and gets it, and it helps us be better together.”

Having spent much of their careers together, each has even played the role of crewmember for the other when needed. Hemric jokes he even swept the floor for Ruston’s team back in the day.

Last year, Hemric owned and served as the crew chief on a Super Late Model she drove Lucas Oil Raceway. He was quick to point out they didn’t run half bad, which not only made the drive home easier but he didn’t have to sleep on the couch.

Ruston chuckles at this and offers up a playful, “whatever.”

So excited for this crazy ride though life with you!! @DanielHemric (Twitter)
So excited for this crazy ride though life with you!! @DanielHemric (Twitter)

While doing this interview together, Ruston supportively listens as Hemric talks about the potential for 2016 to be his big break. Things have skyrocketed for him over the last six years: back-to-back Legend Pro Car championship in 2008 and 2009; winner of the 2009 and 2013 Summer Shootout Series; winner of the 2010 Legends Million at Charlotte Motor Speedway; 2012 JEGS/CRA All-Stars Tour champion; 2013 Southern Super Series champion and by 2014 he was in the Truck Series.

But even as Hemric has made it as far as he has, he’s still there for Ruston. Doing, saying and providing everything he can in hopes she succeeds as well. While the Truck Series has sat idle for the last month, Hemric has been helping the No. 98 team and Ruston at places like South Alabama Speedway and Pensacola.

She gets a kick out saying he works his butt off and has bruises and burns to show for it.

“I can remember when she came onto the scene she was kind of on the fast track. It was Legend cars, ARCA, this and that, and the whole time I was just trying to be as supportive as I could to her,” Hemric said. “I don’t want to say the roles reversed, but our lives went different ways as far as career-wise, but no matter what we’ve stuck together, and we’ve had some really unique opportunities to work one-on-one together.”

Last year was rough for Ruston, and she can’t help but choke up when admitting it was a confidence downer. She ran the full K&N Pro Series East schedule for Rev Racing but finished 11th in points with four top-10 finishes.

It was a step back from being the highest finishing female in K&N points (sixth) in 2013. Or the highest finishing female in history with a second place finish in Iowa in 2014. So this year, she’s excited to be back racing Super Late Models, where she has some of her best memories.

Being in competitive equipment will also help put her back in the spotlight, and she knows she can contend for wins.

Don’t consider it going backward, though. Ruston is realistic enough to know that to move forward you have to have money. As her voice breaks and Hemric gets up to offer some tissues, Ruston admits she hasn’t talked about her journey much lately or where she wants to end up because at a certain point it becomes almost disheartening.

“I’m starting to get old I feel like; we’re going to get married,” she said. “These days you almost have to be 16, 17 to get a start at the Truck Series – it’s become so young, and I thought if you were 30 you were OK.”

Ruston, like Hemric now, was on that path, though.

She won in a Bandolero at 14 before becoming the first female to lead laps in an ARCA event. In 2011, Ruston won a CRA race in Indianapolis. Her first full K&N season (2013) occurred with one of the best teams, Turner Scott Motorsports. Ruston finished sixth in points.

In 2014, she ran for Ben Kennedy Racing and thought that by running for a member of the France family, effectively being under the NASCAR banner, it would go somewhere.

Although it hasn’t, she’s never envied Hemric’s opportunities, or questioned why his career started to take off as hers hit a few rough patches. Every driver dreams of getting to one of NASCAR’s highest levels, but it only works out for some.

“I always want to race. If it’s at the local level or short track racing – I don’t ever want to give up on it,” Ruston said. “If I’m racing at the short tracks, I’ll be happy with that. If I get an opportunity to move up, I’ll be happy with that.

“I don’t have a plan or a, hey, I’m going to do this by this age and this age and this age. I’m just taking it day by day.”

What’s for certain is that no matter where Daniel Hemric or Kenzie Ruston end up, the other won’t be too far away.

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