Months ago, Stewart-Haas Racing’s Nos. 14 and 41 cars sat unsponsored for the upcoming NASCAR Cup Series race at Talladega Superspeedway.
Chase Briscoe, driver of the No. 14 Ford, had an idea: “We should just do ‘Talladega Nights.’ “
On Sunday, Ryan Preece’s No. 41 Ford will feature the classic white and blue Wonder Bread paint made famous by Ricky Bobby in “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” the 2006 hit NASCAR comedy. Briscoe will don the Old Spice red and blue on his Ford Mustang, paying homage to Cal Naughton Jr.’s car from the feature film.
“Holy smokes, we’re actually doing this,” Briscoe said with a laugh in a Tuesday teleconference with Preece and NASCAR Studios.
The real-life teammates sat donned in their respective fire suits, clearly enjoying the splash of fun that stemmed from recreating classic moments from the hit movie that starred Will Ferrell as Ricky Bobby and John C. Reilly as Naughton Jr.
“It’s just been a lot of fun, to be honest with you,” Preece said. “We’ve been able to do a lot of different skits. When it comes to social media, obviously, it’s something that people are on constantly, and it’s created an opportunity for us to kind of show our personalities and really get into the movie. I’m pretty pumped about some of the stuff we actually shot earlier, and that’s going to come out here in the next day or so. So we’re gonna give people some laughs.”
Shakin’ and bakin’ all the way to Talladega. pic.twitter.com/nc8xvSj72J
— Stewart-Haas Racing (@StewartHaasRcng) September 25, 2023
While it’s a light-hearted callback to a funny flick that even famed director Christopher Nolan claims is a “remote-drop” movie, Preece had his own dramatic crash at Daytona International Speedway one month ago that left him thinking: “I’m flying through the air. This is not good.”
“Basically, the same thing as during the movie,” Preece said, recalling his thoughts from the serious tumble he took down the Daytona backstretch that Briscoe dubbed “his best Ricky Bobby impersonation.”
The wreck was significant — with five laps to go, Preece’s No. 41 Ford was jolted left across the nose of Briscoe’s car, sending both vehicles toward the grass before Preece became airborne and flipped side over side, end over end before landing on his wheels.
“Obviously, I don’t want to do that this weekend,” Preece said. “I’d rather have a successful day and a really, really good finish like we’ve all run all year. But the car kept me safe. In my eyes, it was the biggest wreck that I’ve had just because I don’t like flipping. I’d actually just got done telling my crew chief I didn’t want to race dirt midgets or anything like that because I didn’t want to flip like that, and then that happens. But yeah, moving forward, just going into the superspeedways with a plan, and we can hopefully execute that plan.”
Briscoe was a firsthand witness to his teammate’s unexpected flight, a frightening moment after wheeling his car back to pit lane.
“Actually, just through the corner, I’d tightened my belts up knowing that we’re kind of getting down to that time,” Briscoe said. “And I was going to the backstretch and saw Ryan just kind of coming out of the corner of my eye coming down across the track. And, you know, we made contact, and we’re kind of sliding. And from my vantage point, I could see his car go up in the air, and it was like on its side, and I knew that it wasn’t going to be good, right? Like he was already up in the air. And I knew we were in the grass and stuff.
“I was trying to save mine, and ours is all messed up. I drove back to pit road, and we qualified on the pole, so we’re in pit stall one. And I remember looking at the big screen, and they had a replay of it just being like, ‘Holy smokes, man.’ It literally looked like a sprint car (or) midget crash. So I was pretty worried. You’re worried for any guy in the field, I think; we all kind of have that camaraderie. But when it’s a teammate, somebody that you know — we’re around each other every Tuesday, Wednesday and then all through the weekend — so it’s definitely different. But at the same time, you know, like Ryan was saying, it’s part of the job.”
Indeed, while Preece’s Daytona crash was his biggest to date, it wasn’t his only significant impact this season. In the spring race at Talladega, a late-race crash sent Kyle Larson spin across traffic and directly into the path of Preece, who had nowhere to go but into the right-side door of Larson’s car, caving a hole into the No. 5 Chevrolet while Preece took a heavy impact.
NASCAR took both cars back to its Research and Development Center in Concord, North Carolina, and implemented changes in time for the July race at Atlanta Motor Speedway. Those changes appeared to prove effective both in Preece’s Daytona crash and one by Ryan Blaney that same evening, in which his No. 12 Ford went hard and nose-first into the Turn 4 SAFER barrier. The sanctioning body also took Preece’s Daytona car back to the R&D Center for further evaluation to see if further safety changes were necessary.
“My lower body is going to thank every adjustment that we’ve made because those hits can certainly feel really, really hard,” Preece said. “And I just do want to point out, as Chase would say, as well: We make them as safe as we can, but it’s not like jumping into your bed or landing in a cloud of pillows. So, it’s definitely been the right direction. Obviously, talking to Blaney after his (crash), how horrific that looks and how much the wall moved, he felt a lot better than he did previously at Nashville.
“So yeah, we’re heading in the right direction. But obviously, it’s something that we need to continue working on. Just that way, we, you know, we can always keep each other safe.”
In the meantime, Preece and Briscoe will aim to engage the slingshot on Sunday at Talladega (2 p.m. ET, NBC, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio) — where in true “Talladega Nights” fashion, if you ain’t first, you’re last.
LOOK OUT! THERE’S A COUGAR IN THE CAR! pic.twitter.com/hq3YgkgoYN
— Stewart-Haas Racing (@StewartHaasRcng) September 26, 2023
“Every weekend you go to the race track, there’s two guys dressed up just like we are right now, always in the grandstands,” Briscoe said. “So it’ll be cool to actually have those two cars on the race track, and no better place to do that than Talladega, obviously.”