Ryan Preece faced a group of reporters as well as the giant television screen situated above the NASCAR Cup Series garage. The rookie, who just moments before climbed from his No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet, was now watching replays of the final laps of the Daytona 500.
Preece had been right in the middle of it all, as high as third with two laps to go before sliding down to eighth — still, a top-10 finish in his Daytona 500 debut, the biggest race of the season, the biggest race of his life.
How satisfying was that run? Preece, eyes fixed on the TV monitor, was already dissecting the good and bad.
“Well, I’m a racer,” he said. “I’m competitive. I’m going to nitpick myself. When I get into my truck and start driving home I’m going to be happy. But right now I’m sitting here watching the finish and thinking, ‘Man, I could have had fifth. I could have had third.’
“But at the end of the day, it was still a great day.”
Preece’s JTG Daugherty Racing Kroger Chevrolet Camaro tore into the final lap running fourth, close on Joey Logano’s bumper. The Connecticut rookie had decided he was sticking with the reigning Cup Series champion no matter where the No. 22 Ford Mustang ahead of him went — “even if that was the parking lot of Daytona International Speedway,” Logano was told over his radio before the race’s final restart.
It paid off for the young driver: Preece chased Logano into third place coming off Turn 2 … before inexperience got the best of him.
“I know [Joey] does a really good job on these restrictor-plate races and I have a good relationship with him,” said Preece of his plan. “He’s really good at making holes. He got me to third, but then I just didn’t do good enough job blocking and trying to help him move forward.
“This is a learning experience. Everybody talks about learning … Well, I can tell you multiple things that I’ve done today to hopefully better my career, help my career, but also learn what I need to do different for the next time I come.”
Those things? Preece didn’t need much time post-race to figure it out.
“I just need to get more aggressive when it comes to blocking cars and at the right time,” he said. “Sitting here watching this [on the screen], I’m probably going to get frustrated with myself because there are a couple things I could have done different to help my chances. I was so committed to pushing Joey that I focused more on him than I did on some of the runs around me that I probably should have paid more attention to.
“All in all, it’s a good day. It’s an eighth-place finish. Great day for JTG. But there’s frustration watching [the replay]. We were in third-place on the white flag lap, and we got flushed…”