By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
The 63rd Daytona 500 will have a plethora of racing standouts looking to make the 40-car field. One of those being Ryan Preece, who must make the field either via qualifying or the Duels to make his third 500 appearance.
That’s because Preece’s No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing entry doesn’t have a charter as the once Todd Braun owned property was sold to Spire Motorsports. Thus, the team who won last year’s Daytona 500 pole could possibly only have Ricky Stenhouse, Jr. and not the former NASCAR modified champion February 14.
However, going into next week’s hellacious progress of trying to be one of four open cars making the field, Preece is immune to the stress.
“I’m not stressed at all,” said Preece during Tuesday’s portion of virtual media day. “We’re going to go down, and if everything works out the way I think it’s laid out, we should qualify on speed. So, I feel pretty confident with it.”
Known for having dramatic moments throughout his NASCAR Cup Series career, including two daring wreck avoidances in the 2019 Daytona 500, Preece noted that qualifying for “The Great American Race” is another hurdle and reiterated things should be fine to where he’ll be one of the four drivers who make the field.
“I think we’re going to be just fine. It’s not like I haven’t had obstacles in my career. It’s not easy and it’s not like you’re guaranteed (getting) in,” said Preece. “Working with Trent (Owens, crew chief) and through some of the things that have been going on throughout the offseason, I feel confident that we should have plenty of speed and we can get in on time, which will make the Duals that much less difficult.
“No matter what plan you come up with when it comes to Daytona, you can be as prepared as possible but you never know what’s going to happen. We’ll see… hopefully we qualify in on time and everything becomes easier throughout the weekend. If we don’t then it will come down to executing, making sure everything goes right and get ourselves in.”
Unlike last year, qualifying will be held next Wednesday night rather than the traditional Sunday afternoon the sport have been accustomed to over the years.
Therefore, Preece feels maintaining the bottom groove will be key in the sport’s first pure qualifying session since the Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte last May.
“I expect to be wide-open and holding the bottom. Everything from there on out… it’s still Daytona,” Preece on qualifying under the lights. “There’s going to be no draft so it’s really going to come down to preparation and not having a strong headwind or anything like that. I guess we’ll have to find out.”
According to Bob Pockrass, co-owner Brad Daugherty told him that Preece only has funding for two-thirds of the season (24 of 36 races). Should the Connecticut racer somehow fail to qualify, it could lead to ramifications for the No. 37 team’s future to where it may only be a part-time entry.
Preece informed the press that talks will soldier on to assure he’ll run the entire 36-race schedule, hoping by making the Daytona 500 could influence folks in the sponsorship department.
“I think you guys know as much as we all know,” said Preece. “We’re going to continue week after week and hopefully everything is there, we’re having a solid season and everything comes together.”
The second Busch Pole Qualifying in the COVID-19 pandemic will take place next Wednesday at 7:00 pm ET where the two fastest open cars are guaranteed a spot in the race. Last year, that honor went to Justin Haley and Brendan Gaughan who aren’t running this year’s race.
Should Preece not be among the two fastest, he’ll have to fight hard on being the top open car finisher in Thursday’s Bluegreen Vacation Duels (7:00 pm for Race No. 1 and approximately 8:45 pm for Race No. 2). Both events will air live on FS1.