Ryan Preece was having a career day Sunday afternoon at Martinsville Speedway, but a speeding penalty took away the correlating finish.
He ended up finishing 15th, unable to fight back through the field once he lost his track position from the penalty. The Stewart-Haas Racing driver was called for the infraction on lap 134 after pitting under the second caution of the day.
“That ultimately cost us the track position,” Preece said. “We had a really fast race car, so once we got there in the back, it was so hard to do anything. That’s on me. I’ll take the blame for that. I was trying to beat them out and ultimately got snagged speeding.”
Preece had the first pit stall at pit road exit courtesy of winning his first career pole. Having the pit stall is an advantage as the driver needs to launch out of his stall to the pit exit line – which he did…but he did it a little too well.
“I didn’t think we could, to be honest with you,” he said of speeding in the first stall. “But I guess it’s my job to know that. It’s unfortunate, but when we had track position, I think it showed. We had a really fast race car, but you can’t do those things; can’t make mistakes.”
The SHR newcomer led the first 80 laps of the stage to collect his first stage win. He would lead the first 135 laps of the NOCO 400, a career-high in a single NASCAR Cup Series race. The speeding penalty is what took him out of the race lead.
Sent to the rear of the field, Preece fell to as low as 29th in the running order, but he fought and stayed on the lead to keep his day alive, although making progress was slow going.
The highest Preece got on the leaderboard was where he finished.
“That first run, I think we climbed to 23rd or 21st, so I thought there was opportunity,” he said of rebounding. “But after three pit stops, everybody else got their car that much better. I think you see Joey (Logano) — they stay out and gain track position, and he runs second. He was going to go a lap down for a while, so…you can’t make mistakes.”
Result aside, it was a day Preece feels is indicative of how his No. 41 Stewart-Haas Racing team can perform. Doing so on a consistent basis – and getting the finishes – has been hard to come by, however.
“I pride myself on not making mistakes, so that was pretty brutal there,” he said. “But we have a fast race car and really felt like we probably could have swept the stages and ran top three or top five. We were just as good as anybody.
“But it’s really tough. Dirty air — I’d catch the back of the pack and it was like you didn’t want to smash them out of the way, but it was really hard to move around.”