Editor's Note: This story was first published ahead of the No. 17's start in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Pocono Raceway on July 22, 2023. Emerick will be competing for his sixth victory in 2023's edition of the Randy Dorton Hendrick Engine Builder Showdown on Nov. 8-9, which can be watched here.
CONCORD, N.C. – Hendrick Motorsports has always had certain projects that place former road crew members in unique roles within the organization after their time traveling full time comes to an end. Whether it was Greg Ives stepping in to run the Garage 56 entry or Lance McGrew building up the Hendrick Performance's Track Attack program, the company has always found places for these employees to thrive and help grow the business while not on the road every weekend. In 2023, this was the case for former engine tuner on the No. 48 entry, Danny Emerick as he joined the No. 17 HendrickCars.com team in their six starts the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Emerick’s history at Hendrick Motorsports dates back to his teenage years when in 1996, at the age of 19, he came to work in the engine department. After working his way up the ranks, he joined Jimmie Johnson's team for three races in 2001. When Johnson ran his first full-time season in 2002, Emerick was the team's engine tuner. Despite being one of the younger talents in the garage, Emerick was able to learn from other experienced tuners about how to succeed at the racetrack prior to his opportunity with Johnson.
"Before Jimmie, there was a lot of filling in at the racetrack and apprenticing under other guys, really from the time I started here," Emerick said about the early years of his career. "I would go along with some of the veteran tuners that have now moved on to run engine programs. That was like Harvard for me."
From 2002 until 2008, Emerick served as Johnson’s tuner at the racetrack. Under the leadership of crew chief Chad Knaus, the group won 40 races and finished no lower than fifth in points during that seven-season stretch. They also won three consecutive championships from 2006 to 2008. Following the third championship season, Emerick chose to return to the engine shop full-time.
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Despite the transition requiring a different mindset, it’s one that former road mechanic enjoys. His role is vitally important as success on the track begins with the engine assembly in the shop.
"It’s different," Emerick said of adjusting to life away from the track. "You have to have a higher level of intensity at the track. At the shop, you have to slow down. Honestly, with the limited practice, the results of the weekend start at the shop and all the preparation. You can’t run around like a maniac at the shop and expect them not to have problems. At the track, you never know when you’re going to have a problem during practice or cut a tire. Track time is so limited. You have to have a high sense of urgency when it’s time to go at the track."
With Hendrick Motorsports' return to the Xfinity Series for select races — five in total — Emerick was tapped to join the group as the engine tuner. Returning to the site of competition, holds fond memories for Emerick. He is looking to add to those with one goal on his mind headed into a race weekend: bringing home a trophy.
"To get back to the racetrack in a competition role where you can really see your work at the shop in all its glory, hear the sounds, smell the smells again, see some of the people that you remember and the tracks," Emerick said. "The 17 car is great. The crew are all experienced guys that have been in similar roles. Everyone is really buttoned up and there for one reason, to win. That’s a good feeling when you can show up and have a high likelihood of winning."
Outside of the on-track competition side of engine building, Emerick has also been a force in the Hendrick Engine Builder Showdown. The competition, held annually on the campus of Hendrick Motorsports, pairs engine department team members from the 14-time NASCAR Cup Series championship-winning organization with top Hendrick Automotive Group technicians from around the country. Vying for the best time, builders compete by assembling 358-cubic-inch Chevrolet engines with 243 parts, similar to the fuel-injected engines that run in the Cup Series. In 2022, Emerick and teammate Brad Huston (of Hendrick Lexus Kansas City) took home top honors. The win is one of five (2015-18, 2022) in this event for Emerick, which stands as the second-most of any participant in the competition's 21-year history.
"The culture of the place. The standard that Hendrick sets, I look at as the best in the business," Emerick explained. "All the people that work here now and all the people that have worked here before me, gave it 100%. That in of itself drives you. I’m naturally competitive; I’m never satisfied with mediocrity. Unless things go perfect, you’re not quite satisfied until you got the ultimate results. That drives me and motivates me."