Monster Energy Cup Rookie Ryan Preece Has Set His Sights High For 2019

Ryan Preece (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

Staff Report

NASCAR Wire Service

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Even JTG Daugherty Racing’s Sunoco Rookie of the Year candidate, Ryan Preece, can appreciate the irony. For a young talented driver renowned for his short track background and expertise, his best showing so far this year is a top-10 in the Daytona 500 on the sport’s most famous superspeedway.

Preece, 28, is genuinely optimistic, however, to feature those skills that helped him rise in the stock car ranks when the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series races Sunday in the STP 500 (at 2 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) at the Martinsville Speedway half-miler.

This is Preece’s wheelhouse, as they say.

He already owns a Martinsville grandfather clock trophy from a win there in 2008 – the first of 22 victories in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour – a series the Connecticut native won the championship in (2013).

“It’s what most of us that come through the ranks grow up doing,” Preece said of short track racing. “Heavy braking, getting the car turned, being able to drive off the corner, pick the throttle up as quick as possible. It’s something that I’m used to doing.”

“These mile-and-a-halves, that’s just a different package where you’re on the throttle so much, it’s kind of outside the nature of what I’m used to doing. Kind of going to a place like Martinsville, and I would say even the next few races, it’s going to be very familiar to what my background is.

“It makes me very optimistic. Obviously if you look back at JTG’s runs with AJ [Allmendinger] and even Chris [Buescher] last year, they ran really well. It makes me very excited to go there this weekend.”

Allmendinger, who previously drove the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet Camaro that Preece now drives, had five top-10 finishes in 10 Martinsville races with the team between 2014-2018, including a best showing of runner-up in the spring of 2016.

Six of Preece’s 17 career top-10 finishes in the Xfinity Series have come on tracks one-mile or shorter, including wins at Iowa Speedway (2017) and Bristol Motor Speedway (2018).

Even with his particular background and place atop the current Sunoco Rookie of the Year standings, he insisted this week he is at best cautiously optimistic about his Martinsville Monster Energy Series debut. It’s a careful balance of managing expectations and carrying confidence.

“Man, the expectations?” he said. “It’s hard to say without being there or running there with the team. I mean, my expectations when I go to a short track are to be a contender. Really at this point, it’s to have a really smooth weekend, run top-10 most of the day. If we can get a top-five, that would be fantastic.

“Definitely short tracks like Martinsville, Bristol, New Hampshire, those are kind of in my wheelhouse. It’s something I’ve been doing for a long time. When it comes to the restarts and all those moments of being aggressive, it’s something that I enjoy doing.

“As far as what I expect, I expect that we should show really well and at least be running top-10 and hopefully get a top-five by the end of the weekend.”

There should certainly be a good vibe at Martinsville for Preece. His success there initially put him on the map for NASCAR teams searching for young, untapped talent.

He acknowledged, however, his short track debut in NASCAR’s big leagues will be a definitive new test. The hard-nosed, bumper-on-you style that has long characterized this form of exciting full-contact racing will be a brand new arc on Preece’s learning curve. But, he said this week, he feels absolutely ready for it.

“I’ve never been anybody who really wants to put a bumper to someone,” Preece said. “I always try to find a way around them without doing that.

“At the end of the day, I think we all just look for respect. You’re going to race somebody the way they race you. I’m going to fully intend on going into the weekend just like I would a Modified [race], that’s finding a way around without using them up.

“At the end of the day, as long as we’re respectful to others, I believe you get respect back. That’s kind of how I’m going to approach it. I don’t fully intend on going there and smashing people.”

The style and philosophy has certainly worked for Preece, who leads the Sunoco Rookie standings for fourth time in the season’s opening five weeks. He’s ranked 25th overall, tops among the four-driver 2019 rookie class with one top-10 (his Daytona 500 debut). He was involved in wrecks at both Atlanta and Phoenix but responded last week with a solid 23rd-place effort at Fontana, Calif.

In six years, Preece has made 67 starts in either the Xfinity or Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, but had the chance previously to run only a single full season – the 2016 Xfinity Series schedule for team JD Motorsports. 

So the encouraging start to 2019 says a lot about Preece’s natural ability, but also about his huge drive to make good on this opportunity.

“It’s nice,” Preece said of leading the rookie standings. “It’s showing that we’re right there. But Daniel [Hemric], he’s shown a lot of speed, especially during the West Coast Swing. That’s something we addressed in the meetings yesterday.

“Our goal at the beginning of the year was to make the Playoffs. We’re kind of in a hole right now because of Atlanta and because of Phoenix. It’s really put us behind.

“We just really need to turn it around and get to where the 37 is running and hopefully sneak in some top-10s and be up front. It’s definitely not from a lack of effort. Hopefully we can turn things around and really fight these guys.”

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  1. “A solid 23rd place finish at Fontana”. Say no more. Line of the year right there. How many cars were in the starting field? Talk about sugarcoating. The car was junk throughout the West coast swing. Call it like it is. Maybe fortunes change at Martinsville. The Dinger always had that car near the front when he was in it at Martinsville.

    Sugarcoating. LOL, too funny.

  2. 5 races in, a solid top 10 at Daytona, then finishes about where that car is expected to run. As the great Doug would say the team is a second tier team which means 20th- 30th. Give Ryan some time, don’t forget he’s never seen allot of these tracks before. I think he’ll pick up in performance as the season goes along. He’s been solid in JR’s Xfinity car so far.

  3. We all have our own way of viewing how to judge Ryan’s season so far. I like to put it into some kind of numerical perspective before deciding.
    I look at everything Preece does through the prism of Buesher. Five races in Preece’s average finish is 25 and his team mate 19.2. No doubt the numbers say the team is under performing and Preece under performing on the team.
    After the switch to Hendrick power, Daytona and hoping the new racing package they talked about would be an equalizer of sorts many of us had raised expectations. Atlanta was a missed opportunity and the western swing just wall to wall disappointing. But they knew those tracks wouldn’t be good for the team as they headed west.
    Now we are all pinning our hopes on a track that is in Preece’s wheelhouse hoping for a turnaround.
    We all knew the team he joined and what they realistically could achieve. The Monster Cup is an aristocracy and the JTG Daugherty team with it’s charter is more of an Earl that rarely is invited to the kings castle for the ball. It doesn’t mean they can’t crash the party.
    My goal is for Preece to beat Buescher in the final standings, to do well on shorter tracks and to surprise on super speedways on occasion. I got a surprise on a super, it was a whopper so cha ching.
    Big modern tracks with big sweeping turns where power rules and there are few dusts ups are not our friends.
    In the next four races we have Martinsville, Bristol and Richmond. Then Talladega where another big one could happen and anything is possible.
    I think aside from Martinsville we are entering a zone of opportunity. Being optimistic is easy if we have faith that in the long Ryan’s skills will show themselves in places where there is opportunity.
    Like Daytona and hopefully the short track slug fests where some of these quiche eating pretty boys are uncomfortable in a full contact environment on every lap.

  4. Maybe it is too early to judge but you can’t argue he hasn’t seen these tracks. How many cup races did he run a few years ago? Plus a season and a half of Xfinity races. He has seen most of them. Obviously a lot if the guys he is racing have seen them a lot more. The 18 is making a mockery of cup right now anyway. The overall product has gotten worse this year. Preece has a relatable story if he can break though. Right now, they are a 25th place car. That’s Danica territory.

  5. JD,
    Not for nothing, but speaking to the “How many cup races did he run a few years ago?” comment. Before this season he made five total Cup Series starts, all coming in 2015 for what was essentially a start and park team. His experiences at the Cup level before this year was basically next to nothing.

  6. Is preece underperforming? Is it the lack of cup experience? Is the equipment he is in not all “top tier” level equipment? Maybe a little of all above?
    He is with a new team, which also means a whole new set of “communication” learning curves with team members, crew cheifs, ect.
    So, when he raced the full season with JD motorsports, he walked away at the end of the season, from a team that he thought he could go no further in. ( I know, it was Xfinity) Maybe at the end of this season he may have similar feelings about JTG. I don’t know, as only he would know that. What I do know, is I thought that one of the last paragraphs of the article, might have given me a sense of what he may be feeling when speaking about the rookie standings and Daniel Hemric. He made a comment about how Hemric has shown so much speed, particulary on the West coast. He also said how they were addressing that issue (speed?) at the team meeting. I’m sure that can be taken a few ways. I won’t sugar coat, I took it as that he may be a little disappointed in lack of speed, and or power. Only Ryan knows for sure.
    I’m pulling for the guy and hope it all comes together. But even at Daytona, for the top 10 finish, what I saw was masterfull driving avoiding wrecks. But on the same note, I feel the top ten was more due to that driving, and attrition. Not powerful equipment. He started in the top 5 on the last restart and car fell back. He could not stay in line, and run with them.
    In my opinion (I know, no one asked for it) I’m going to give him the season, and hope the team and equipment catch up with the driver, for positive results. I am certainly hopeful that the “top 25” status improves as the year progresses for Ryan. The guy has put it all out there, to get to this level.

  7. Preece qualifies 16th.

  8. Bob, supposedly, JTGDaugherty is using Hendrick engines. Let’s hope those engines are the same capability as the engines they put in their own cars, even though new rules have turned down the horsepower. So making every iota of horsepower isn’t as crucial as it used to be. Given that the cars should be running darn near the same HP, it makes performance more dependent on the chassis setup.

  9. Preece 2019 vs Allmendinger 2018 qualifying times. Daytona 47.44/47.28. Atlanta 31.08/30.59. Martinsville 19.59/19.86.
    Buescher 2019 vs Buescher 2018 qualfying times. Daytona 47.26/47.36, Atlanta 31.32/No time, Las Vegas 30.30/29.24,Martinsville 19.57/19.84
    I can’t come up with any stat that shows the Hendrick motors are making a clear speed difference but then again they changed the “aero package”.
    Hendrick motors may mean more in reliability then anything else. You’d think if they were a dominant factor the team cars would have jumped up in the pecking order. Yet they still seem to be in about the same place so far in the early going.

  10. Dareal; thats actually why I finished up by saying, I am going to give it the season. I totally agree. Hp should be the same or extremely close. I also agree, many, many new variables with new packages. I guess i was just impatient and overly optimistic to hope see gibbs/jr like equipment results in the jtg gear, this early in the season. See where it goes, cautiously optimistic for success. I know this. If it dont work out, its sure going to take a lot more than falmouth ready mix et al, ( not a slam) to get him to next teir of teams. Really pulling for him, as i feel his gambles at the Xfinity level for him to get where he is at this level, took some moxie.

  11. Bob, these new packages with the horsepower limits should reduce the dependency and advantage of the engine shops that only the largest teams can afford. This should put more emphasis on the chassis setup and less reliance on horsepower and engine shops.

    Horsepower can compensate for a missed set up, but no amount of set up can overcome deficient horsepower.

  12. Doug; good numbers, and i agree. You would think…… ok, maybe aero and the new learning curve. And yes, i know, first year in cup.
    I’m really not trying to be negative here, but have you ever known preece, not to drive the wheels off of whatever the equipment can give him in qualifying? No sugar coat. I love the guy because of the northeast and modified connection. He has extensive backround with him and jeff wrenching all the modified equipment. I’m really hoping that some of that translates to the cup level. And maybe, just maybe, if jtg is as dedicated as the racing articles show case them to be, Ryan can be an intrical peice getting them to the next level. I stand by what i said to drg. Giving him a season to see where it goes. The guy took a some risks to get to this level. I just really respect that, and wish him the best, and hope he has success.

  13. I don’t read your comments as negative at all Bob. In fact I’d say they’re downright nuanced and insightful.
    We don’t know what Preece or the team is thinking do we. There’s what they say in public and internally they have their own goals. I’m betting they don’t include some pie in the sky catapult into the top tier of racing but probably solid improvement over last year and more quality finishes. Not sexy but realistic.
    Knowing everything you know about Preece, the team he’s on and the challenges he faces can you say what a successful season would look like as far as you’re concerned?

  14. Here’s a little info about what is being done to choke the engines down:

    With an even smaller tapered choke, smaller than the previous restrictor plate, the power is slowly and effectively becoming a crate engine. Engine shops can try all the trickery they want, but overcoming such a small tapered restrictor will even out the horsepower. The aero packages are prescribed. This pretty much leaves the chassis setup, weight placement, springs, shocks, suspension geometry, and the moxie of the driver.

  15. Dareal; saw that article when it came out. Hp is a big factor for the package, as it can be different depending on the track. As long as everyone has the same, and there is no reason not to beleive that’s the way it is, you are correct, driver and getting the handling correct is paramount.
    Doug, for me personally, I was hoping to see consistant top 15, other than the mulligans, like getting run into on pit road.
    It appears I was overly optimistic (spoiler alert, I have yet to watch yesterdays race, it’s recorded) as to how difficult this really is, from my armchair! But, as they say, anything can happen! See where it goes. I appreciate the insight guys, thanks!

  16. You can’t compare 2019 times to 2018. Different rules package. Nascar slowed the cars for this season. Yesterday was a non aero race and the 47 held their own I suppose. The 2 whipped em all. Save Elliot yesterday, Chevy has been out to lunch as a whole all season. Penske and JGR are dialed in as dialed in gets right now.

  17. sour grapes of splenda says

    I like preece but stop sugarcoating. if he is in competitive equipment he will be that “competitive” if he is in sub par equipment he`s at or near the back.. case closed. I wont fault him for wanting to get to the dance. the problem is there are so few quality dance partners and turning down any offer apparently could ruin any young drivers chance at the big time. guys from new England with much more talent than preece ended up is lousy equipment and came home only to say they “got there”. would have succeeded in quality rides but got junk……. sad but true.

  18. The opposite is sour coating. Endless, perpetual, never ending negativity. Looking into the past to find negative things to propose for Preece’s future before the season has barely started.
    Being good fans is part of sports. Hoping your guy, gal or team exceeds expectations. Like Daytona.
    Preece got a really solid 16th at Martinsville. Kept the wheels on, beat some elite teams and beat his team mate.
    I’m with Bob. 15th or so would be a great season and completely attainable.
    You can be a good fan, be optimistic hoping for the best and remain completely aware this isn’t T-Ball. This is the bigs and in the bigs 15th or there about is more like the top 10% of all of racing. It’s making a great living , being paid well, having good benefits for you and your family and enjoying a measure of fame. It’s not having to hustle at local tracks to try to make ends meet while getting trophies and not enough money to pay the bills. Hopefully it will be lasting. If not it is an accomplishment that very, very few experience. One that I intend to enjoy no matter where this rocket ship lands.

  19. Speaking of Cup, 2020 Cup schedule to be announced on Tuesday. Expect changes. Already heard a double header weekend on tap for Pocono in exchange for one less race weekend. New dates for Martinsville, Atlanta and Homestead. The Martinsville change could open door for the modifieds return. Possibly a midweek show as well as extended off weekends in August.

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