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Ryan Preece ready to rebound at Darlington with start from the pole position

For the first time in his NASCAR Cup Series career, Ryan Preece will start a race from the pole position.

The driver of the No. 37 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet is set to lead the field to green in Wednesday’s Toyota 500 at Darlington Raceway (6 p.m. ET on FS1, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Preece earned the front spot by finishing 20th in last Sunday’s The Real Heroes 400, which also took place on South Carolina’s 1.366-mile track.

“Who would have thought 20th place would get a pole?” Preece told NASCAR.com. “You love that.”

DARLINGTON: Sunday’s results | Wednesday’s lineup | Betting odds 

It’s because Wednesday’s lineup was set by Sunday’s final results. There will be no qualifying, as the sanctioning body makes an effort to keep events to one day only amid the COVID-19 outbreak. The top 20 finishers were inverted, with the bottom 19 starting from where they finished. Any new entries will be placed at the back of the pack.

Preece was well aware of this caveat toward the end of the 293-lap race.

“I knew we were in 21st in the last 10 laps,” he said. “We had a really good car to begin with, so it created the opportunity to get back by Bubba (Wallace). But that’s why I was really pushing the issue to get by him because that was the difference of 20 spots, right? It’s going to make you push that much harder.”

Wallace ultimately came in 21st and will therefore fire off 21st.

Through five races this season, Preece is averaging a 23.2 starting spot. He qualified 20th in the last three races before the sport’s on-track pause due to the coronavirus. His best start in 46 NASCAR Cup Series races overall was 14th at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s Roval last year.

Preece’s only national series pole — in a 2017 NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Iowa Speedway — did turn into a trip to Victory Lane.

“Track position — it’s funny — is so hard to get,” Preece said. “So if you have a good race car and you already have that track position, then it’s just about everybody executing the way they need to. Staying up front and keeping that clean air right in the front half, front third of the pack, it’s a big deal. That can pretty much set the tone for your race.”

Much like Kevin Harvick’s race-winning team, Preece and the No. 37 crew may bring the same car back to Darlington. Preece said he thought it ran really well and could be an even stronger contender with a few tweaks.

Preece started 25th. At the end of Stage 1, he was up to just 24th. But by Stage 2’s conclusion, he was seventh and gained four stage points. Things were fine until the No. 37 camp lost track position on the final round of pit stops.

“We know we have a fast race car,” Preece said. “It’s a bittersweet type of thing because I really felt like we had a much better car than 20th last week. Just circumstances out of your control really is what it is. But at the same time, it gives us an opportunity to rebound on that and have a solid day. Start us off on the right foot when it comes to it on Wednesday.”