By Luis Torres, Staff Writer
SONOMA, California — Although 23 points behind Daniel Hemric for the Sunoco Rookie of the Year honors after 15 races, it has been quite the rookie campaign for Ryan Preece.
The former Modified champion has already gotten people to notice his skillful driving with astonishing results in both plate circuits, scoring an eighth in the Daytona 500 and a career-high third at Talladega. Not only that, he also had strong showing at Atlanta before a pit road accident with B.J. McLeod eliminated him from a astonishing result. Atlanta and two other DNFs highlight some of the growing pains he’s had and why he’s behind Hemric in the ROTY battle.
“It’s definitely been a learning year so far,” said Preece. “We’ve had some highs – we got third at Talladega and eighth at Daytona and ran well at Atlanta. Obviously, we’ve had some lows where you have some DNFs, but we’re going to keep pushing forward and make the second half of the year a really strong run and put pressure on Daniel for this Rookie of the Year background.
“I had a couple of people tell me early on in my career that if you want to win races, you got to finish them. Luckily, I was at the right place at the right time to get through those wrecks. The biggest thing is not tearing up race cars and you have to be there at the end. That’s a huge part of it and going back, we’re learning and getting where we need to be. I feel like that comes with time.
“We’ve only done 15 races this year and how I felt we ran at Atlanta was really good and had our ups and downs for sure. As long as we keep on building on that and keep getting better, we’ll be there and be where we want to be.”
Heading into Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, Preece will have a busy plate as he’ll also be one of five national drivers from either Cup or Xfinity Series, Hemric included, that’ll be running in the K&N West race. Like his Cup ride, Preece will also bear the No. 47 Chevrolet on his car.
This came to be due in most part of JTG Daugherty Racing’s incredible partnership with Klorox, Kroger and Hidden Valley, the concept of running double-duty came into reality which Preece was pleased to have tremendous amount of seating time to gain more experience on the road courses, something he hasn’t had much in his accomplished racing career.
“Sonoma is a place that I’m very fortunate that JTG along with partners Klorox and Hidden Valley have been able to come onboard and get me some seat time in the K&N West car. That’s going to be very vital to us having a strong run. I feel good about Sonoma. I haven’t done much road racing in my life, but I’ve always had stick cars and always enjoyed road racing. It’s something that I’m looking forward to this weekend and hopefully we can have some strong runs here and at Watkins Glen, and use these road races to gain some points back.”
While he’ll get extra seating time, Preece is no slouch on the road courses as results show on the Xfinity Series side. In five previous starts on making left and right turns, Preece scored a pair of fourth-place runs at both Watkins Glen and the Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway, driving for Joe Gibbs Racing.
Preece will be using some of that modified experience to its max potential as he explained his preparation for technical and mental challenge that bestows the 2.52-mile road course, including the return of the much anticipated “Carousel” for the first time since 1997.
“I’ve always told people that racing is a mental game. Just as is everything else,” Preece commented. “I come from a lot of strong racers up in the Northeast that have no problem intimidating you in some sort of way. As far as the mental game, I’m fully prepared for it. I have no problem with the mental part of it.
“These races are very physical and there are no breaks. It’s going to be up on the wheel the entire time, so that’s something I also come from and I’m used to it. I enjoy it and I’m looking forward to this entire weekend and having all the seat time that I do.”