By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
Editor’s note: Motorsports Tribune will be previewing the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series season for the full-time drivers in the series leading into February’s 61st annual running of the Daytona 500.
Years in Cup: Rookie
Career Wins: Two Xfinity Series wins and 22 Whelen Modified Tour wins
Biggest Accomplishment: 2013 Whelen Modified Tour champion
It’s rare seeing a successful NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour driver making the transition from arguably the most exciting regional tour to national and lasting a long time. For 2013 champion Ryan Preece, he took a gamble by joining JD Motorsports’ Xfinity Series team full-time in 2016. Despite a modest 17th points finish, Preece risked his stake by joining Joe Gibbs Racing on a four-race schedule in 2017, and it paid off right out of the gate.
After finishing runner-up to teammate Kyle Busch at Loudon, Preece’s next start resulted in his maiden win at Iowa Speedway in July after a late intense battle with temporary teammate Kyle Benjamin, which included leading 145 of 254 laps. His next two races were also top-five finishes that led Gibbs to sign him for 15 races the following season.
The Berlin, Connecticut native continued his hot streak at Gibbs in his first three races of 2018, cultivating his second series win at Bristol, where he survived the attrition that’s been a trademark at the “The Last Great Colosseum” for decades and scored the Dash 4 Cash $100,000 bonus after leading just 39 laps.
Preece finished in the top-10 in all but five races, seven of them being top-fives, including a stellar third at Loudon where he battled Brad Keselowski and Christopher Bell throughout the afternoon.
All of his instant success at JGR led JTG Daugherty Racing to sign the 28-year-old to NASCAR’s highest level on Sept. 28, replacing tenured veteran A.J. Allmendinger in the No. 47 Chevrolet. Allmendinger announced he wasn’t returning to the team three days prior. Therefore, becoming one of four Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookies in 2019 while Allmendinger will become an IMSA and NASCAR analyst for NBC Sports.
When announced to join the Cup Series, Preece said he’s been fighting to climb the ladder the past few seasons and is looking forward working with the team, which is entering its 11th full season.
“Tommy Lasorda says, ‘The difference between impossible and possible lies in a man’s determination,’ and I feel that JTG Daugherty Racing has just that,” Preece said. “It’s been many years of fighting for opportunities to compete and win races at NASCAR’s highest level, and it is nice to officially say that JTG Daugherty Racing is my new home for 2019.
“I look forward to not only racing, but working with the team as well to build speed and create a name for myself here. I can’t thank Tad and Jodi Geschickter, Brad Daugherty and Gordon Smith enough for the opportunity.”
Co-owner Tad Geschickter said he’s been impressed how the former Modified Tour champion has been able to become a successful national driver the past two seasons.
“We’re really looking forward to having Ryan join our team for the 2019 season,” team owner Tad Geschickter said. “Ryan has an impressive list of accomplishments in the NASCAR Xfinity Series and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour Series and is now being given a great opportunity to compete at NASCAR’s highest level full-time. We really believe in him and think he’s a great addition to the team.”
Preece will become the first Modified Tour champion competing for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors since 1992 champion Jeff Fuller took a crack at the big time in 2000. However, Fuller only lasted seven races before being let go from Eel River Racing and only made an additional six Cup starts.
He’s also eyeing on becoming the first-ever series champion to complete the entire schedule in the Modern Era as 1986-87 champion Jimmy Spencer ran 17 of 29 races in his rookie season in 1989, but didn’t joined the premiere series until the 11th race of the season at Dover.
The 61st Daytona 500 on Feb. 17 will be Preece’s first Cup race since Homestead in November 2015, when he brought the No. 98 Premium Motorsports Ford home in 39th. Preece ran five Cup races that season, where he finished no better than 32nd in his debut at Loudon in September, but didn’t score a single DNF during that stint.
JTG Daugherty will enter its second season being powered by Hendrick Motorsports engines and also retained Chris Buescher to be Preece’s teammate. Preece’s primary sponsor, Kroger, will be promoting its “Pickup/Delivery/Ship” campaign this season after the company launch its delivery service in four different cities last August.