Ryan Preece is getting a second opportunity as a NASCAR Cup Series driver with Stewart-Haas Racing this season – the first time he will be in championship equipment.
Even with the No. 41 Ford Mustang sporting his name above the door, team co-owner and three-time Cup Series champion Tony Stewart reminds Preece that Sundays are no longer an audition.
Preece did not run much in 2022: just twice, in fact, with Rick Ware Racing. If you include the inaugural Busch Light Clash at the L.A. Coliseum, Preece drove the Next Gen car three times last year.
As a result, one might think Preece is in a less-than-ideal spot coming in 2023. He doesn’t have a year under his belt of learning the car, which is a radically different vehicle that brought fits to some of NASCAR’s most seasoned veterans. Nor has he ever run it on the high banks of Daytona International Speedway, as he is set to do next week.
Preece is unfazed by his lack of time with the Next Gen car and doesn’t feel he’s behind the competition as a new season starts.
“Everybody in the Truck Series had a ton of experience over (me) as well, and we were able to go win that first race,” Preece says, referencing his win at Nashville Superspeedway in the summer of 2021 in his first series start. “At the end of the day, I’ve been in a lot of different race cars. I feel like that’s something I’ve always been pretty good at it; is being able to jump in something – doesn’t matter what it is – and be up to speed right away.”
It was that way Sunday night in the Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum as Preece led a race-high 43 laps. Preece was leading when a fuel pump issue developed, and had it not briefly knocked him off the pace, he might have been battling Martin Truex Jr. for the trophy, gold medal, and the top spot on the podium.
Preece ran full-time in the Cup Series from 2019 through 2021 with JTG Daugherty Racing, an organization trying to do more with fewer resources. JTG Daugherty has one win in 14 years at the Cup Series level.
While he ran a Rick Ware car last year in the Cup Series, for B.J. McLeod (in three races) in the Xfinity Series and a David Gilliland Truck (in 10 races, including another Nashville win), Preece was in the Stewart-Haas system as a reserve driver. Not only was he right in the thick of things, but he also did simulator work for the organization.
And so, yes, real-life track time for Preece is limited, but he’s well prepared. Which is perhaps why he’s so confident about what’s ahead and why he got off to a fast start the first chance he, the No. 41 team, and crew chief Chad Johnston had together in L.A.
“I’ve always heard growing up that the crew chief/driver relationship and that gelling… how important that really is, and that’s why I feel confident going into this year,” Preece says. “To me, my relationship with Chad… it’s weird to compare this, but it’s like my wife and me. It works. It’s super-easy to communicate. It’s effortless.
“I already have that level of communication with him and trust. So, going forward, I think we can do big things, and it doesn’t make me nervous not having a year in the Next Gen. It makes me feel like I got my team, and we’re ready to go to war.”