By Matt Weaver, Special Contributor
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Ryan Preece hates losing more than he loves winning.
It’s a credo that has served as his personal north star over the past 15 years but is also an element of his personality that hasn’t been able to shine as brightly in recent years while trying to simply establish himself as a Cup Series contender.
His natural mindset wasn’t one that was entirely applicable while racing in the mid-pack at JTG Daugherty Racing or in one-offs for Rick Ware Racing last season. It wasn’t that kind of situation, but it is the kind of environment Preece thrives on.
The Ryan Preece the NASCAR Cup Series community saw for the first time at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum is the one short track fans, especially those in New England, know all too well. It’s the Preece that was absolutely livid for a couple of moments after his fuel cell failed him while leading the Clash, not at his team, but just at the circumstances.
It’s the Preece that told his team upon calming down that he flushed it out of his system and ‘reset’ his mood for the remainder of the race.
Preece really hates losing more than he loves winning and that’s something he believes those who only watch Cup haven’t realized about him yet.
“Nationally, people haven’t seen the real Ryan Preece, the one the Northeast had,” Preece said on Wednesday during Daytona 500 Media Day. “A lot of my fans, the feedback I saw last week was like ‘this is what we’ve been telling people for years.’
Preece led a race high 43 laps, was making bold passes throughout the field due to starting 16th and generally looked every bit like the short tracker who grew up racing on New England quarter miles during his formative years.
It was the legitimate Ryan Preece Experience.
“It was just exciting to go out there and have a fast car and ultimately set a really good foundation for our season,” Preece said. “We know our short track program is good. I’m excited to see what our superspeedway package can do.
“Moving forward, I feel like the big question mark is our mile and a half program but there’s been a lot of emphasis on that and making sure we have fast race cars.”
It’s going to be especially important for Preece to continue making an immediate impression in the Stewart Haas Racing No. 41 because he has just one season to prove himself. It’s a one-year contract, but he says the figurative leash is actually much shorter given the deadline for extensions coming by summer these days.
“Really, I have about 14 races to prove myself,” Preece said. “I’ve said it before: I’m used to not knowing what I’m doing until October or November. It’s never stressed me out a whole lot. I feel like the Coliseum, and I’ll reference that because it’s the only race we’ve run, but it set the expectation that we’re going to run up front and I’ve been adamant to myself that we need to be contending for wins.
“Easier said than done, but we have a lot of warriors on this team, and we’re ready to go battle.”
Should Preece continue to run up front and race for wins, they’re going to realize that he brings a certain ferocity to the front of the Cup Series field each week.
“I’m pretty intense,” Preece said. “I think most people look at me as very focused, very blunt. I don’t sugar coat things. Some people take it a different way but that’s what I’ve needed to get here and it’s how I’ve gotten here.”
And it hasn’t been the most orthodox path, either.
Preece, the 2013 Whelen Modified Tour champion, ran a full season for JD Motorsports in 2016. He didn’t bring a tremendous amount of personal funding. He gave up that full-time ride to make four starts with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017. He won once with four top-5s and it set him on the path to sign with JTG.
He’s signed to Kevin Harvick’s agency, and the 2014 Cup Series champion has long advocated on his behalf to top teams, and now they’re going to race alongside each other.
But again, Preece had to make some tough choices, betting on himself, with no guarantee it would work out.
“I’ll say it this way: People take different paths,” Preece said. “Ross Chastain and I are very similar. We were teammates in 2016 and I know how good he is and he knows how good I am. We have a lot of respect for each other. A lot of people were like, ‘oh my god, Ross is fast’ and I knew that a while ago. I knew when he got that opportunity in the 42, that he should shine.
“And sometimes, if people take the opportunity to go outside the box, they might get something special and I feel like this is a chance to do just that.”
And ultimately, as was the case at JD Motorsports and JTG, Preece doesn’t want to just be at the highest level. He wants to win. But more than that, he just doesn’t want to lose.
God, he hates losing.
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