NO PREECE-URE: Ryan Preece is ready to make good on second chance in the NASCAR Cup Series
On the wall behind Ryan Preece hung a large photo of Tony Stewart taken after winning one of his three NASCAR Cup Series championships at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
To some, it could be an intimidating presence.
But having been hand-selected by the man known as “Smoke,” Preece is used to Stewart looking over his shoulder. And apparently, he's even sharing his wardrobe.
“I’m wearing his shirt, too,” Preece said, with a laugh.
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The new driver of the Stewart-Haas Racing No. 41 Ford Mustang, Preece has endured quite the roller coaster ride in recent seasons.
After three years at JTG Daugherty Racing, his team, the No. 37, was shut down at the end of the 2021 season. Preece was quickly scooped up by Stewart-Haas as a reserve driver for 2022 and outside of that, made three Cup starts for Rick Ware Racing, three Xfinity Series starts for B.J. McLeod Motorsports and also ran 10 Craftsman Truck Series races for David Gilliland Racing. He impressed, especially in the truck, where he picked up a win at Nashville and had nine top 10s, with seven of those being top fives.
That prompted Stewart to make his case for Preece to fellow team co-owner Gene Haas, and it was a battle Stewart won. Preece is now the man in the No. 41 Ford Mustang and Cole Custer is headed back to the Xfinity Series.
Ahead of Sunday’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum in Los Angeles, The News-Journal caught up with Preece for a Q and A about his new ride, his new teammate, NASCAR's short-track preseason opener and the pressures of being chosen personally by Stewart.
Ryan Pritt: Do you feel rejuvenated in terms of your approach? Do you feel a year older, a year wiser? How is it different as you prepare for another full-time Cup season?
Ryan Preece: Yeah, absolutely. Racing is so different from some of these other sports, these stick-and-ball sports where the younger you are the more athletic or everything is just easier when you’re younger, right? But with racing the older you get, the wiser you get — you just get more experience and typically that’s why veterans have succeeded for so long, it just comes with time and comes with age. I would say I’m definitely as mentally prepared as I ever could be I feel. The more racing you do, the more winning you’re doing … you're just on top of the mountain. Right now, I’m just in the process of climbing back up that mountain and I don’t plan on getting kicked off.
Ryan Pritt: When you’re hand selected by a guy like Tony Stewart, I’m sure there’s a lot of confidence that comes with that but is there pressure too?
Ryan Preece: But that’s been my career. Pressure, if you look at it like that, that’s normal. That’s racing. You’re expected to perform. For me, just getting these opportunities is the hardest thing and being with a manufacturer-based team that has the resources that they need, I feel like I have the people around me in order to do the best job I possibly can driving that race car. Time will tell, obviously, but confidence is not something I’m lacking right now. We’ve just got to get to LA. We need to start running through the motions, working through things I like and don’t like and building that notebook. But what I do know is when other teams probably wanted to decompress and kind of take that November, through the holidays and start rolling into it, there was none of that for us.
Ryan Pritt: Speaking of opportunities, as you took a year away last year, was there ever a worry or a wonder if there’d be another at this level?
Ryan Preece: I don’t think like that. I don’t think, ‘Man, I’m never going to get back there.’ Last year, the entire time it was a process of, ‘OK, I have these races, we need to go out and win; what do we need to do to do that?’ And from there it’s, ‘OK, what do I need to do to get to this level or get an opportunity with this team so I can go out and do my job to the best of my ability?’ I didn’t really think about, ‘What am I going to do if I don’t get to Cup?’ Because to be honest with you, there were other opportunities to go race in Xfinity and Truck with very competitive teams that had the capability of winning. But I want to win at the Cup level. That’s why I moved from Connecticut at 28 years old. It wasn’t really a thought.
Ryan Pritt: In three years prior to this season, the Clash has been run at a superspeedway (Daytona), a road course (Daytona) and now a quarter-mile short track. What are the keys to running well in L.A.? Do you like this type of racing to open the year?
Ryan Preece: Me personally, I love it. Instead of being car-lengths apart, we’re right on each other and racing hard and that’s the style of racing I come from and that I like. I thought it was a huge success last year for really an unknown in the industry, and at the same time I’m happy we’re doing stuff like this and more grassroots type of racing because that’s what the sport was built on. It was built on short-track racing, really moonshiners, so, it’s cool we’re going out to L.A. and racing that style of racing.
Ryan Pritt: Kevin Harvick made some big news a few weeks back, announcing this would be his last year. As his teammate, how much do you try to pick his brain as you settle back into the Cup Series?
Ryan Preece: He’s somebody that has helped me from that grassroots, trying to break into NASCAR and get those opportunities, he’s helped me for sure and helped me find a path to get to where I need to get to. At the end of the day it’s your job to execute and do the things that need to be done to solidify it. He’s just been a huge inspiration not only as a racecar driver but as a person. It’s going to be great racing along side of him. I was 10 years old when he won his first Cup race so it’s neat to be here for his last full season
Ryan Pritt: Beyond L.A., there’s kind of a big one to start your season. When it starting-grid time arrives on Feb. 19 at the Daytona 500, how will you control the emotions and how big of a moment is that going to be for you?
Ryan Preece: Well, it’s definitely going to be a big moment, but to be honest, I’m so focused as a person and a driver that I don’t get caught up in emotions. Sometimes I do look back at it and think, ‘Man, I should’ve soaked that in more,’ but I’m so focused on the job at hand that I don’t have a chance to think about those things. Maybe I need to do a better job of that.
This article originally appeared on The Daytona Beach News-Journal: NASCAR: Ryan Preece ready for second chance with Stewart-Haas Racing