Everything keeps changing around Ryan Preece.
Consider this: Preece is driving a new version of Chevrolet’s Camaro, a second aero package is used for road courses and short tracks, and he’s working with a new crew chief. And remember, Preece, 29, is only in his second full season in the NASCAR Cup Series driving for JTG Daugherty Racing.
“We can’t keep anything the same!” Preece declared. “Just adapt. That’s what we have to do as drivers. That’s what we all have to do in this sport is adapt. I do wish we would stop messing with things. It’s (like) when your mom tells you when you’re growing up, ‘Hey, quit messing with that.’ It’s just like, leave it alone. Give me a couple years with something.”
Being a Cup Series driver is hard, and Preece has learned that firsthand.
“It’s definitely not what you think from the outside looking in,” admits Preece. “I was one of those people four, five years ago, or even three years ago, that when you’re outside looking in (people say), ‘Man, you guys get to travel all the time. Man, I watch the on-cars of that stuff, you guys are cranking it left the whole time.’ And it’s just like, ‘Nope, that’s not the case.’ It’s not as easy as it looks.
“At this level, these cars are so well set up — even cars that are running 30th or 25th or whatever it is — they’re a couple adjustments away from being that much better. I tell people, at a local level, these cars would probably win races. So, to win a race at the Cup level, your car has to be pretty damn near perfect. We’re fighting for little things that we make sound a lot bigger because it means that much more. So, it’s not easy.”
Preece got his feet wet by making five starts in the Cup Series in 2015. After spending a full season with JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series, Preece put his funding into a part-time effort with Joe Gibbs Racing in ’17 and ’18, which resulted in two wins. He joined JTG last year, finishing second in the Rookie of the Year battle and earning three top-10 finishes.
Along the way, one of Preece’s misconceptions about the Cup Series shattered — the cars are not easy to drive.
“It’s just a whole different level of commitment when it comes to going into a corner at 180-plus miles per hour, sailing it off in when you’re trailing behind somebody and hoping it’s going to stick,” says Preece. “Or how much dirty air affects your car not only in the front but side force. There’s just a lot of things.
“Even on restarts, you’re going to be wide open no matter what because if you lift…. There’s a saying, if you lift, you lose. That’s 100 percent the way it is.”
Speaking of hard, four races into the season, Preece and his No. 37 Chevrolet are digging themselves out of a deficit. Preece crashed in the Daytona 500 then had an engine issue in Las Vegas. At Fontana, crew chief Trent Owens was thrown out before the race started for an L1-level penalty, and the team lost 10 points, which put Preece at a negative point total by the end of the weekend.
Finally, in Phoenix, things went well. Preece put points on the board and finished inside the top 20.
“Looking back on it, the results don’t show it but Daytona we were going to end up probably right in the top five, top 10, which would have been a great day; and then Vegas we were going to have another great day too and just something out of our control,” says Preece. “So, we’re four races into the season, and it looks like a big hole to dig out of, but I feel like we’re going to head in the right direction.”
Listen to the full conversation with Preece below: