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NEW SMYRNA BEACH, Fla. — It’s been a mostly cloudy week for Ryan Preece thus far in the Sunshine State. That’s because the Modified hotshot’s southbound venture has more excitement than hoped.
“The good way to look at it is I have a fast race car,” Preece said Monday night at New Smyrna Speedway. “The crappy way to look at it is I can’t get through a day without having a problem.”
The ledger of recent trouble is long: Two random flat tires in a three-day span. A broken head gasket in Monday’s practice that prompted an engine change. Then, after starting from the pole and leading the first 43 laps of the 50-lap feature in the opening tour-type Modified event in the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing, Preece exited with a broken suspension part.
And all that was after Saturday’s big moment. A stuck throttle on the frontstretch at Bronson (Fla.) Speedway sent Preece’s No. 6 headlong into the Turn 1 wall. Momentum carried the low-slung car up and over the catch fencing. He emerged unscathed, his health — and sense of humor — intact, tweeting out a Dukes of Hazzard car-jumping GIF as an alternative to the grainy cell-phone footage of the crash circulating online.
Here’s a better shot for everyone saying the video was too grainy pic.twitter.com/MtcZnrKZ0x
— Ryan Preece (@RyanPreece_) February 11, 2018
The other thing Preece hasn’t lost: The racing mantra of getting back on the horse when bucked off.
“To be honest with you, as a racer, I don’t want to know what caused me not to get hurt or anything like that,” Preece said. “All I want to think about is my next race, so that’s the way I’m going to look at it. It is what it is. There’s nothing I can do, and nothing anybody else can do. There’s stuff I can do to prevent it in the future, which I’ve already made those changes and I’ll make damn sure it won’t happen again.
“As far as looking back and it making me think twice about sending it off into Turn 1 anywhere, that ain’t going to change anything I do.”
Preece will have opportunity to reverse the misfortune with four more nights of Modified racing this week during the World Series at New Smyrna. He shook off some of the adversity Tuesday night, winning the 35-lap event on Day 2 for the open-wheeled ground-pounders.
The 27-year-old Connecticut native also hasn’t lost sight of the promise that his 2018 schedule holds, with a beefed-up schedule in the NASCAR Xfinity Series with Joe Gibbs Racing and select Modified shows to keep him occupied.
Preece’s star was well-known in Northeast Mod circles when he cashed in last July on a sizable gamble, scraping together sponsorship funds for a two-race Xfinity Series effort with JGR. Preece’s bet on himself worked. He finished second at New Hampshire and prevailed for his first Xfinity win two weeks later at Iowa, proving his talent in top-notch equipment.
RELATED: Preece earns first Xfinity win
The impressive audition with Joe Gibbs Racing earned more starts at the end of the 2017 campaign and what Preece estimates is an 11-race Xfinity slate this season, with Rheem and Ruud jumping on board as sponsors. The show of support is plenty of incentive for inspiring confidence, but Preece seems to have a surplus in stock already.
“I believe in myself. I have people who know me that believe in me. I’ve always kind of felt like an underdog in a lot of ways,” Preece said. “Every race for me is another race, and I’m going to do everything I can to win, and that includes driving the piss out of it. I wouldn’t say I’m any more confident, but I’m sure as hell as confident as I felt going into New Hampshire and Iowa, Kentucky and Homestead.
“I’ve put a lot of work in and a lot of time into it. … I’ve put a lot into racing in the knowledge aspect, into undrstanding race cars because I want to make myself better. Sometimes holding a steering wheel and hitting a gas pedal is all well and good, but guess what: There’s little things you can do to make yourself better.”
There’s plenty to look forward to in 2018, but one storyline from last season still lingers — his late-race contest with Elliott Sadler in the Homestead-Miami Speedway finale. Sadler wound up second in the championship battle behind title winner William Byron, and he angrily confronted Preece post-race, arguing that their hard-edged battle for position cost him the Xfinity crown.
Three weeks ago — nearly two months removed from the incident — Sadler indicated that the events of Homestead still irked him, telling reporters on the NASCAR preseason media tour, “He better not get anywhere near me.” Monday night, Preece reiterated his stance from last November, adding that neither he nor Sadler had reached out to the other to clear the air.
“We wanted to win that owners’ championship. That’s what I wanted to do; that was my job,” Preece said. “I’m racing for a job. I’m racing for my life dream, so that’s what I’m going to continue on doing. I’m extremely excited to have Rheem and Ruud and Toyota and Joe Gibbs Racing put me in that No. 18 and give a short-tracker who’s been around pulling motors, doing whatever we’ve got to do to get on the race track, just like everybody else who’s at a race track on a Friday night, Saturday night, whatever night it is.
“I feel like I’m living the dream and I’m going to continue doing that and work my butt off to keep doing that.”