By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ryan Preece’s road to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series is extraordinary as he came from the Whelen Modified Tour, a series he believes he can open a lot of avenues in the future as he’ll be the first former champion to compete for Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors since Jeff Fuller in 2000.
“To be the first Modified driver in 20 years basically in a way, hopefully it’s going to open a lot of avenues for people to look at us up in the Northeast because the passion that’s there,” said Preece. “I race because I love to win. I race because I want to win and the competitiveness is what drives everyone up north, they want to win. Sometimes you don’t see that in different levels of racing. There’s a goal to get to a certain place and that’s it. What I love about it up there is they race for the love of the sport.”
When discussing about which former Modified Tour star Preece learns from the most, it’s two-time Cup Series winner Steve Park, and makes the most of the opportunity of speaking to him, usually when his phone screen cracks while working on his car.
“Being a modified guy, Steve Park,” said Preece. “I crack my phone quite often. Whenever I’m working on a race car, it falls out of my pocket. So I end up going seeing him. They change screens at his store, so I go over there and talk to him about his experiences and what he felt he would’ve done different. I try to use what he says and learn from those things. He’s great to talk to.”
Not only Preece came from the tough and exciting division, he’s also one of multiple drivers that’s taken the gamble of running part-time in the Xfinity Series, and excelled when the opportunity was given to showcase his driving ability in top equipment such as he, Ross Chastain and John Hunter Nemechek.
In his time at Joe Gibbs Racing, he racked up two wins at Iowa Speedway (2017) and Bristol Motor Speedway (2018) and it caught the eye of JTG Daugherty Racing hiring him to run the No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 full-time in 2019.
“The gamble paid off. I’m not saying it would for everybody because I didn’t know if it would,” Preece on his successful gamble. “My phone wasn’t blowing off the hook at first. It can be a life changing gamble either way.
Preece also stated Wednesday that he’s excited seeing his former JD Motorsports teammate Chastain rising up and reflected on his time when both were digging deep from being mid-pack drivers to now progressing in the sport.
“He’s a great guy and somebody that digs deep,” said Preece. “We were digging deep a lot of weeks when we were at Johnny Davis. You always want to see those opportunities, especially somebody you know really well.”
Now entering Sunday’s Daytona 500, which will be Preece’s first Cup start since 2015, the emotions of making it to the sport’s elite level are slowly kicking in despite keeping himself busy racing at New Smyrna Speedway, where he beat Jimmy Blewett to win the second modified race Tuesday.
“It’s slowly coming to me, for sure,” said Preece. “I’ve been running around so much between running over to New Smyrna to get that car through tech, coming back here for practice and qualifying Saturday and Sunday and then going back to New Smyrna. I’ve been staying busy and haven’t had a lot of time to think about it. But it’s very exciting because this is what you work for to get here. Going from a quarter-mile in Riverhead in Long Island to a 2.5-mile oval at Daytona is totally different and very exciting.”
Preece will start 15th in Thursday’s Gander RV Duel Race No. 1 after clocking in at 47.441, which was 28th fastest overall.