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July 15, 2022

Ryan Preece embracing role at Stewart-Haas, still focuses on Cup goals: ‘I want to win’

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James Gilbert
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Ryan Preece is still waiting for his breakout moment in the NASCAR Cup Series.

The Connecticut native spent each of the past three years as a full-time competitor for JTG Daugherty Racing, following multiple years on a part-time basis throughout NASCAR’s national series.

Now, the 31-year-old finds himself back on a part-time driving basis but aligned with one of the sport’s powerhouse teams at Stewart-Haas Racing, signed by the program in January to serve as its reserve driver and work closely on simulation.

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It’s a different role for Preece, the 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion who returns to the open-wheel series Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway (6 p.m. ET, FloRacing). But the job is one he said he has enjoyed. In his current position, Preece sits in on every driver debrief and absorbs what each of his teammates has to offer in addition to analyzing the SMT data at his disposal.

A new aspect for Preece has been watching each driver’s different tendencies, learning whose strengths fall where and how he can maximize those skills in his limited 2022 opportunities.

“We all have things that we’re better at than others,” Preece told in a Wednesday teleconference. “And one thing that I feel like I’m extremely good at is pressure situations and late-race restarts and restarts and being aggressive. And those are the things that, put me against anybody and I feel like I can win. I will get the job done.

“But there are other things that I look at being around other drivers and I think to myself, like, man, he does a really good job with that. How does he look at this situation? Or what is he feeling at this moment in the race track? Like what is he doing different than myself? And I look at that and hopefully the next time I get on track or if I’m in that situation or my car is driving a certain way, I can look at some of that or some of the conversations that I’ve had and put that into place and try to be better as a race-car driver.”

Competing part-time – two Cup Series races with SHR-affiliated Rick Ware Racing, three with its Xfinity Series affiliate BJ McLeod Motorsports and six Camping World Truck Series races with David Gilliland Racing – is nothing new for Preece. But having access to simulation data is something Preece has never had.

“You have different opportunities like some others do, where they have the ability to go in and go to the sim or have done tire tests or other things,” Preece said. “And I think I’ve beaten that drum (that) I didn’t have those opportunities. I wasn’t able to do that stuff. So for me, it feels like I’ve been in the sport a long time. You guys have known me for six-plus years now. But really, as far as a full-time national series career, it’s not a lot.”

Logan Riely | Getty Images
Logan Riely | Getty Images

That’s why Preece centered his focus around building relationships around the sport to align himself with a winning organization. Previously, Preece gambled on himself and took what would have been full-season sponsorship dollars at a smaller Xfinity Series team and instead competed part-time at Joe Gibbs Racing. In those 19 Xfinity races between the 2017-18 seasons, Preece won twice and collected 11 top fives and 14 top 10s.

Four years later, he finds himself in winning equipment all over again and proved himself a repeat winner at Nashville Superspeedway behind the wheel of the No. 17 truck for DGR.

“I worked really hard to try and build relationships and get in with an organization that I feel like I can I can win with and be successful with,” Preece said. “I’m still working towards that long-term goal and I want to win. I want to win at the Cup Series level. I want to chase championships. I want to do those things and be full-time. I don’t want to be part-time.

“My entire career is known as that guy who just kind of fills in whenever somebody needs someone, or if they have eight races where they want to go out and they want to compete for a win. I don’t want to just be that guy. I feel like I’ve worked really hard in my career to continue to work and give myself opportunities. So I’m ready for that step. I’m ready for that role.”

Being on Stewart-Haas Racing’s payroll since January has brought plenty of speculation that Preece is the likely heir to the No. 10 Ford that will be vacated by Aric Almirola at season’s end.

Preece affirmed nothing is signed for his racing future in 2023 or beyond. But there is optimism.

“Here’s what I can tell you: I can tell you that I feel as confident as ever that partners and all these things could come together and it will be a great fairytale ending for myself,” Preece said. “But at the same time, there’s nothing, certainly by any means, on paper. And until all the stars and all those things align, I have absolutely nothing right now. It takes everything to fall into place.”

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The biggest piece to align remains sponsorship. While Preece’s potential ascent to the No. 10 car – a ride that Almirola has wheeled to two Cup Series victories – seems like an obvious dot to connect, nothing can be guaranteed without corporate partners attaching themselves to him or the vehicle.

That’s where Kevin Harvick, Preece’s quasi-teammate, comes further into focus. Harvick’s management company, KHI Management, represents Preece and has parlayed existing partners like Hunt Brothers Pizza toward Preece’s current deals.

“Nashville is a good representative of that,” said Preece, who was sponsored by Hunt Brothers when he won at the 1.33-mile Nashville oval in June. “And being able to be partnered with Hunt Brothers Pizza and Morton Buildings and I’m wearing (a) United Rentals (shirt). That’s somebody who we’ve created a relationship with and hopefully can continue to build that relationship and to win more races and have more opportunities.

“As a race-car driver, I want to win, man. I want to be full-time. I want to compete for wins. I want to be in the mix and hopefully, we all know where that that goes sooner than later.”