MATT KAULIG, OWNER OF KAULIG RACING; CHRIS RICE, PRESIDENT OF KAULIG RACING; and DANIEL HEMRIC, DRIVER FOR KAULIG RACING, met with the media at Bristol Motor Speedway to announce that Hemric will drive the No. 31 Kaulig Racing Camaro ZL1 in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2024. Media Availability Quotes:
CHRIS RICE: “We love doing these at the race track because of you guys. We know that if we don’t have you, the media, and we don’t have the people that is in this sport, there’s no way that we get this out to our race fans. We love our race fans; we love everything about our race fans. And I said this to our race team on Wednesday – tough times only last a short period of time.. tough people last a long time. And when we started this journey with Daniel Hemric back in February – about Cup racing and different things – that’s what we talked about. We talked about it a lot. With the partnership with Cirkul and everybody that goes along with this, it was just evident that it wasn’t going to take long for Daniel to work as hard as he worked behind the scenes – not just on the race track, but behind the scenes, to be able to go back Cup racing. I know the first time he went Cup racing; it wasn’t the best. He probably beat himself to death every time he left, and he probably didn’t have a good time with it. But our plan is to go have a good time with it. We obviously want to win and we want to win trophies.. that’s what Matt (Kaulig) wants to do.
But for our partners, Daniel’s partners and everybody else, we’re glad to tell you that Daniel Hemric will drive the No. 31 Chevy in 2024.
MATT KAULIG: “We’ve been working on this probably since February – just to advance our race team, to advance our Cup program. Even since last year, even looking at the race shop, we’re trying to improve our program – whether it’s with the Xfinity cars or with the Cup cars. We feel like the best way to even advance our Cup program is to have Daniel Hemric in that No. 31 car. Couldn’t be more excited. I’m super excited for you (Daniel). Daniel has been a huge part of our race team. He’s been a great teammate. He’s been a great family member. I’m just super excited that he’s staying on with us and we’re going to be Cup racing.”
DANIEL HEMRIC: “I appreciate these guys. They went for bat for me when I didn’t know what I had next in 2021. When I got to sit down and hear them out, hear what their vision was – not only for 2021, but 2024, 2025 and beyond – back well before that was on the horizon, I knew after hearing what they had to say that I wanted to be a part of it. You’re never promised anything and you never know what’s to come, but one thing that’s always been true is that if you keep showing up – you put the work in and you bring that heart each and every week, you’re going to have the same shot that you can only dream of. It’s been a whirlwind, to say the least. I’m doing the best I can to hold it together up here, but it’s here. We’re going back.”
WERE YOU SURPRISED THAT YOU HAVE AN IDENTIFIABLE ARM, ACCORDING TO THE INTERNET?
DANIEL HEMRIC: “Yeah, that was a bit bizarre (laughs). I actually told these two guys walking over here, literally 30 seconds before we walked in, I’m like – at many moments this week where I got these random texts and everybody knows I’m not going to lie to them, and they know if they didn’t get a response that they knew the answer. I actually took a screenshot and sent it to Chris (Rice) within 15 minutes of it getting posted, of the handshake photo, and (Ryan) Blaney was like – we’ve been on enough vacations together, I know those arms (laughs). So it was funny to just have people within the industry and family members reach out and I’m like – lips are tied until Friday. But yeah, it was pretty bizarre to witness how all of that went down.”
DID YOU THINK PEOPLE WOULD FIGURE IT OUT BY THE ARM?
CHRIS RICE: “Daniel (Hemric) can tell you how that come about. I’m always trying to figure out what’s going to stump the crowd, right? No matter what it is. I didn’t think it would go that deep. I did think they’d figure it out, but man race fans want to find out. Bob (Pockrass) walked up to me last week or a couple of weeks ago, and he said it was Daniel Hemric. I can’t lie, right. I can’t lie.. I might not tell you something, but I can’t lie. When we did that, I never knew it would get down to the freckle. My daughter is pregnant and I think she went into labor after looking at all of the comments, and I’m like – quit looking at all of the comments (laughs).”
HOW DIFFERENT OF A CUP DRIVER ARE YOU NOW THAN WHAT YOU WERE IN 2019?
DANIEL HEMRIC: “We’re going to find out. In all reality, through the process of just trying to be a better person, a better racer, over the last five years – you do learn a lot about yourself through those ups and downs. I know just from attaching to what a racecar driver at that level has to go through – through preparation and being on the race track – but more so what happens once you leave the race track. How to detach, how to mentally stay sound at home and still be the best father and best husband. I know without a shadow of doubt that it would be naïve for me to think that I’m the same person and I’m not. I’m excited about the person I am going into this new opportunity.”
YOU HAVE ANOTHER CAR, THE NO. 16. DO YOU KNOW WHAT AJ (ALLMENDINGER) IS GOING TO DO NEXT YEAR, AND ALSO, NOAH GRAGSON GOT REINSTATED THIS WEEK.. HE’S DRIVEN FOR YOU GUYS BEFORE. IS THERE ANY INTEREST IN HIM, EITHER IN THE CUP OR XFINITY SIDE?
CHRIS RICE: “We’re super excited about our No. 16 car, but we’re honestly coming in here today about the No. 31. I would love to sit here and tell you everything that’s going on. Yes, AJ (Allmendinger) is very crucial. He was a big decision factor with Daniel (Hemric). I’ll be dead honest with you – we brought it to AJ first because AJ is big part of Kaulig Racing. I think his middle name is ‘Kaulig’.”
YOU HAD NEXT GEN CUP EXPERIENCE LAST YEAR. HOW MUCH IS THAT GOING TO BE A BENEFIT GOING INTO THIS, KNOWING THAT YOU’RE NOT COMING INTO THIS CAR BLIND?
DANIEL HEMRIC: “Yeah, that’s a great question. I think I said it after I ran the first handful of races in that car. It was brand new to the entire garage. We went to Daytona (International Speedway) and kind of survived and ran top-15. But then when we went to Fontana (Auto Club Speedway) – unloaded inside the top-10 and qualified inside the top-five, I believe. We had a mechanical failure that put us six laps down, and then to come back, made those laps up and get a top-10 finish. I got out of the car right then and man, for me, all of 2019 and the years of trying to figure out how to even get back into a Cup seat, period, even though then it was on a part-time basis, it felt like – yeah, you’re right, you can do it back at this level. For me, that was like – OK, how do we bridge this gap.. how do I get back there full-time. So I used a lot of that experience and I’ll be able to continue to use that experience that I got last year. I really feel like, just in general, the garage changes so fast. I’m sure if we went back to Fontana tomorrow, what I drove and felt in that car is not what it’s going to feel like today. But just to know that you can go and compete – run upfront, qualify that good and race that good – when you’ve been in that situation where you struggle to feel like you’re physically capable of doing it after getting let down, whether it’s self-induced or team-induced, to go and prove to yourself that you can do it, that’s all the experience I needed to gain that particular day and that’s why I look forward to what’s ahead.”
IT’S AMAZING TO ME HOW YOU’VE WEATHERED THE UPS AND DOWNS OF THIS SPORT. HOW HARD HAS THAT BEEN AND WHAT’S IT LIKE TO FINALLY GET WHERE YOU’RE AT NOW AFTER HANGING IN THERE ALL THIS TIME?
DANIEL HEMRIC: “Yeah, just because this opportunity is here doesn’t mean that it’ll be there well into the future, right? So you just try to do your best right now, and right now is all that matters. Through the past, it’s taken a support group that’s been incredible, like my wife Kenzie, Matt (Kaulig) and Chris (Rice), and everybody else around me – to lift you up in those times where you are second-guessing yourself. At the end of the day, everything else outside of that – if they’re not on your team, or your core group, it’s just noise. And to me, it’s been about eliminating that noise and just keeping your head down. It’s very surreal, but not something that I haven’t worked every day since 2019 to figure out.”
ONE OF THE THINGS THAT’S CHANGED ABOUT THIS SPORT IN THE PAST 10 YEARS AT THE CUP SERIES LEVEL IS THAT THE OPPORTUNITIES ARE MUCH MORE LIMITED NOW THAN THEY WERE IN THE PAST.
DANIEL HEMRIC: “It’s a testament of the values you have as a kid. Like you are constantly trying to find your way, whether it be in racing or not. I think all the way back to my short-track career – watching people that I’d go mentor or driver coach.. they get their shot to get up the ladder and I’d still be at that same local level trying to figure out how they got to go on. I bring that up because this opportunity feels no different than that. I feel like in do time and the right time, in general, you just end up exactly where you’re supposed to be. I think about that.. I think about all the kids around the world trying to figure this out. My mentality was to keep going.. one more step, figure it out. And when that guy decides he can’t go no more, I went one more and I get the shot.”
MATT, THIS IS YOUR SECOND FULL SEASON IN CUP. HOW MUCH TOUGHER IS IT? GIVEN ALL THE SUCCESS YOU HAD IN THE XFINTIY SERIES, YOU ALMOST MADE IT LOOK EASY COMING IN. TALK ABOUT HOW JUST THE LEVEL OF DIFFICULTY IT IS TO RUN A SUCCESSFUL CUP PROGRAM COMPARED TO WHAT YOU WERE ABLE TO ACCOMPLISH SO QUICKLY IN XFINITY?
MATT KAULIG: “It is our second full-time season. Yeah, I wouldn’t say it’s been tough. I think we’re making progress exactly the way that we planned. If we look at when we started the team eight years ago, it wasn’t easy. We weren’t running great in the Xfinity Series in year two. So it takes a little bit. You have to get the right team. You have to get the right teammates. You have to get the right drivers. Even what we’re doing here today, talking about Daniel (Hemric), the No. 31 car and how we continue to get better, we’re just making progress. Whenever you’re talking about anything in business, sometimes it just takes time. It takes experience, it takes time. I’m really, really proud of how all of our teams have run this year. I’m really looking forward to the future.”
WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE CURRENT CHARTER SITUATION?
MATT KAULIG: “I think we’re making good progress. I feel good about everything that’s going on, actually. I don’t really have too many comments about that.”
IT’S SO RARE TO GET A SECOND CHANCE AT THE TOP LEVEL. DID YOU EVER DOUBT YOURSELF OR WORRY THAT TEAMS DOUBTED YOUR ABILITIES?
DANIEL HEMRIC: “Oh yeah, sure.. absolutely and I’m sure they still will. And that’s fine.. I’ll keep showing up. It’s pretty simple.”
YOU’RE ALSO CHASING THE XFINITY SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP. NOW THAT YOU KNOW FOR SURE THAT THIS IS A DONE DEAL, HOW MUCH DOES THIS HELP YOU FOCUS ON THE TASK AT HAND? AND CHRIS, IF YOU COULD COMMENT ON THE BELIEF IN DANIEL’S ABILITY TO GO CHASE THIS XFINITY SERIES CHAMPIONSHIP, AS WELL.
DANIEL HEMRIC: “Yeah, for me, my wife and I joke about this – I say joke about it, but it’s a series conversation when you’re trying to go through these waters and navigate it. When it’s just you and you’re only worried about you – like you can afford to work on stuff like this, fail at it and there’s nobody else relying on you. And I think anybody in here with kids, wives and family – when there’s more and more people that depend on you, it becomes a bigger distraction, without a doubt. It’s the best sleep aid.. it helps you sleep when you know you get your deals done and you don’t have to worry about it. It’s only fair to the men and women inside of our shop, everyone at Kaulig Racing – everybody wants to know what’s happening. They want to know if they have a job next year, who’s running what. That matters to everybody’s decisions. There’s a lot of people depending on them, so it’s just a trickle effect of let’s all of us buckle down and zero back in on the task at-hand. There’s no better time than now to get it out there in front of everyone just so we can refocus. I wouldn’t have came here when I did if I didn’t think we could win races and win championships. To have partners like Cirkul that believe the same thing – they want us back focused. To be able to announce this today and put where our head where it needs to be, that’s what it’s all about today.”
CHRIS RICE: “You talk about can Daniel win a championship. As a race team, we have to get better. I don’t think we’re where we need to be. I told Claire at Darlington (Raceway) – it’s unacceptable. Last week, we go and have two failures that are outside of our control. But actually what that did was made us learn – we learned a lot last week. Daniel has unloaded the last two weeks at the top of the board and I think we have to do our job. I think right now, the team, us as a group – we have to get together and start clicking off some wins. We have to win stages and we have to do stuff like that and have good runs to get to the Championship Four. I feel like two cars are already locked-in, with the No. 20 (John H. Nemechek) and the No. 21 (Austin Hill). I think there’s only two places left open, so we have to beat everybody to get there. I think with Daniel knowing what he’s doing over the next year is always good. But as a team, I think Alex Yontz (crew chief) and everybody has worked super hard to fix all the issues. I look forward to today and Texas (Motor Speedway) will be a good test for us.”
YOU GOT WITH THESE GUYS AT KAULIG RACING TO EVENTUALLY GO CUP RACING AGAIN. BUT YOU TOOK A STEP BACK THIS YEAR. YOU DON’T HAVE THOSE CUP STARTS THIS YEAR. HOW ARE YOU ABLE TO GET EACH TO BUY-IN WITH EACH OTHER.. TAKE A STEP BACK BEFORE YOU TAKE THE STEP FORWARD.
DANIEL HEMRIC: “I feel like it’s any good relationship, marriage or whatever you want to call it – you just have to communicate. You try to show your cards right in front of the next person and try to just understand the goals – where everybody wants to get to and where the vision is. Yeah, of course I wanted to be in Cup races this year, but the task at-hand was to spend as much time as possible in the Xfinity Series and give ourselves the best opportunity possible to win and run for a championship. For me, sometimes taking a step back is actually taking a step forward, and I think this is no bigger testament of that. You just have to continue the process and have faith that it’ll work out just how it’s supposed to.”
CHRIS RICE: “I think we learned as a group early on by letting AJ (Allmendinger) run some cars, we’ve let other people run some cars – I don’t think it was as good as we thought it would be.. getting the track time and all that. We could have ran Daniel in a couple of races – Cirkul would have loved to have him in a couple of races, but we saw that it didn’t really elevate what we needed and we don’t want to mess up with the mojo or whatever he might have going at the time. So I think that was more of a call on our end.. probably Matt’s end more than mine. But I think that wouldn’t be a step back.. I think it was a controlled – hey, let’s go for this Xfinity deal instead of putting the efforts in Cup right this second.”
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