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Preece keeps up with vets in Nationwide debut

July 12, 2013, Holly Cain, NASCAR.com

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NASCAR Whelen Modified points leader is 17th in final Nationwide practice

LOUDON, N.H. – Ryan Preece was all smiles and aw-shucks standing outside his team’s NASCAR Nationwide Series garage at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on Friday afternoon.

A dozen reporters -- local and national -- crowded around him. And he had plenty to talk about.

A proud member of NASCAR Next -- a class of upcoming young talent -- the clean-shaven, Preece looks even younger than his 22 years. But you’d sure have a hard time guessing he’d only turned 30 laps in a Nationwide car before arriving here for race weekend as he makes his series debut.

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He was a very respectable 17th fastest in the No. 8 East West Marine Chevrolet during Friday's final practice. He was clicking off laps faster than fellow New Englander Joey Logano and keeping pace with NASCAR Sprint Cup Series regulars such as Kyle Busch and Kasey Kahne who were just ahead of him on the speed chart.

“It’s going pretty good,’’ said Preece, whose car is owned by New York native and Cup team owner Tommy Baldwin Jr. “We’re still in the primary car. We’ve been learning, constantly picking up time throughout the day.

“I’m just having fun and I feel like I was pretty comfortable and I think there’s still some left on the table for our qualifying run (Saturday morning).’’

Like Busch and Kahne, Preece is doing double duty this weekend -- his however is Nationwide and the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series, where he currently leads the championship and has won three consecutive races. If he wins the Town Fair Tire (Saturday, 1 p.m., SPEED), he would join NASCAR Hall of Famer Richie Evans and nine-time modified champion Mike Stefanik as the only drivers in tour history to win four races in a row.

The two cars -- Modified and Nationwide -- are so dissimilar that Preece said the biggest benefit of running both divisions is getting valuable track time … and face time.

“I’ve been so busy running back and forth… I’ve never raced with these guys so none of them know me,’’ Preece said. “I know Austin Dillon a little bit. I really haven’t talked to anybody; I’m out here blind, getting behind people and trying to pick up some things.’’

He already has the art of gratitude down.

“The Next program had a big part in getting me where I was,’’ Preece said. “And Brett Bodine, Tommy Baldwin and East West Marine. I’m very thankful.

“This NASCAR Next group is what I feel will help me get out of just the Northeast. When you think of Northeast short track racing, I feel like I’m one of the guys you talk about. Then when you think nationally, you go, ‘Who’s that?’ Right now we’re trying to get my name out there, win races and keep the car clean.’’

Excited to be among so many drivers, he hopes to race one day, Preece conceded one driver he’d love to meet is reigning Sprint Cup champ Brad Keselowski, whose driving style he admires.

Even better is the thought of racing Keselowski one day soon.

First, however, he’s got his inaugural national series race to run.

“I’ve run a full-body car maybe five times in my life so to be doing as well as we’re doing right now is like a victory to me,’’ Preece said.

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