LOUDON, N.H. – Ryan Preece remembers well as a child heading to New Hampshire Motor Speedway for Sprint Cup races and being a fan of Jeff Gordon on the big track in Loudon.
Sunday, in Gordon’s final event of his storied career at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, Preece got to be part of the legendary driver’s competiton on the 1.058-mile oval.
Preece, of Berlin, made his Sprint Cup Series debut in Sunday’s Sylvania 300 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour regular and regular at Stafford Motor Speedway and Thompson Speedway, finished 32nd of 43 cars in the event, four laps down from race winner Matt Kenseth. He started 37th in the field.
The emotional kid inside Preece was thrilled to be competing with the players at the top level of the sport that has been so much a part of his life. Though the competitor in Preece was disappointed in some parts of the day.
“Jeff Gordon was one every kid’s favorites,” said the 24-year old Preece, who saw his first Sprint Cup Series event at Loudon when he was five years old. “Obviously it’s a cool thought to have raced against him in his last race at New Hampshire. That was really cool. At the end of the day, it was just cool to be out there with all those guys, Jimmie Johnson, Kevin Harvick, all these names that you see on TV. And then even when I got back to my parent’s camper I see replays of the race and I’m looking at the front and I was like ‘Oh wait, I’m back there, you can see me.’ It was just funny.”
Preece said the goal of the day with his Premium Motorsports team – which had additional backing from Tommy Baldwin Racing – was to stay out of trouble on the track and finish the event. He was satisfied with completing that goal. Preece had never even tested in a Sprint Cup Series car before the weekend. He has three career starts in NASCAR’s second tier XFINITY Series.
“It was just a lot of learning,” Preece said. “I wish there was another 300 laps to go out there after I know what I know now and how much we could free the car up. It was a learning experience. You learn as you go. I didn’t have a lot of laps going into this deal. But obviously it was a great opportunity and we kept the car straight and everything was good on it and we just kind of, we were there to finish the race and that’s what mattered.
“But as a competitor like me it frustrates me because I feel like I’m usually pretty good at figuring something out. But it took longer for me to figure out how to get the car to do something that I wanted it to do. It took me a little too long to figure that out. But I’m happy I figured it out and I’m happy the car is one piece. That was the goal. We just wanted to do that.
“The best part of the day was probably the last 50 laps when I figured out how to make the car turn. It’s difficult to do. Those cars aren’t quite like Modifieds. They drive different and it takes time to get used to it. If you don’t get in a racecar like that very often it’s hard to get going.”
While Preece spent much of the race running between 32nd to 39th, early in the event a number of frontrunners headed to the pits under caution, putting Preece 24th for a restart in front of many of the divisions most well known names.
It gave Preece a few laps of running side-by-side at times with some of the sport’s biggest names, at one point having Kasey Kahne pushing on his bumper and Gordon on the other side of him.
“It was more just, don’t get in anybody’s way and just try to be respectful and kind of get out of the way of anybody we needed to get out of the way of,” Preece said. “But at the same time we were racing to not fall back too quick and lose too much time to the leaders.
“It was a lot to take in when you’ve never done it before. My main goals were to keep the car clean, not get in any of the Chase racers way and kind of learn the car and I felt like we did all that. I learned a lot today.”