By Michael Guzman
Homestead, FL – “He cost us a championship and he’s not even racing anybody.”
Following Saturday evening’s Ford EcoBoost 300, tempers flared between part-time Joe Gibbs Racing driver Ryan Preece and championship contender Elliott Sadler.
Preece, 27, defended his actions by stating his need to prove himself at one of NASCAR’s highest levels and also mentioned that the situation warranted racing Sadler hard.
“To be honest with you, if there’s a person you don’t want to cost a title, it’s Elliott Sadler. Growing up I was a huge Elliott Sadler fan. … I was racing for an owner’s championship. I hate it. But I can’t take it back.”
As anger on pit road eventually turned to dejection for Sadler, the 42-year-old veteran disagreed with Preece, saying he moved down the track and cut across the nose of Sadler’s JR Motorsports machine while he still had a chance to control his championship destiny.
“He wasn’t (in contention for the owners title),” Sadler said. “Because the 22 was a half a lap ahead of him, so he wasn’t racing anybody.”
While William Byron drove away with the title, Sadler slowed. The two JR Motorsports drivers had been racing each other hard all evening, with both receiving slight damage after brushes with the outside wall. And while Elliott fumed and slowed with fear of a cut tire, Preece straightened his car out and continued en route to a fifth place run.
“If there was no contact, I was going to let him go that corner,” Preece admitted to MRN. I pulled down in the middle, not running the top, because I was letting him go.”
For Preece Saturday marked the latest in a string of strong runs since he bet on himself and departed Johnny Davis Motorsports after last year. Since landing a partial ride at Joe Gibbs Racing, Preece has posted an average starting position of 3.5 and an average finish of 3.0 in the Xfinity Series.
And while strong runs earlier this year, including a victory at Iowa Speedway, catapulted Preece into at least a larger piece of Gibbs’ part-time schedule next season, the Connecticut native reiterated that he did nothing wrong and was continuing his constant audition to teams while the stakes were simply the highest.
“If I lay over it probably doesn’t look good for me. Unfortunately you’ll have stuff like that, I guess, in the sense of controversy. I don’t like being the center of controversy but there’s nothing I could do about it now.
Joe (Gibbs) and Steve (deSouza) put me in that race car to try and win an owners championship. I was still racing the 9 for second (in owners points). If it was the 1 and 7 or anyone that wasn’t racing in the owners championship I would have pulled right over and let them go.”