By Toby Christie (Follow on Twitter @Toby_Christie)
Ryan Preece’s story book journey gained another chapter in 2018 as the 28-year-old drove nearly half the NASCAR Xfinity Series schedule for powerhouse organization Joe Gibbs Racing. In a 15-race stint, Preece continued to show why betting on himself in 2017 was a great idea.
The Connecticut product would get his first turn behind the wheel of the No. 18 Toyota Camry in the fifth race of the year at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California. Preece wouldn’t disappoint as he secured a ninth-place finish.
Preece followed this up with a fifth-place effort a race later at Texas Motor Speedway and then came the high point of the season at the spring race at Bristol Motor Speedway.
The former NASCAR Modified Series racer would start from the seventh spot. Preece led four times on the day for a total of 39 laps and in the closing laps he was able to hold off Justin Allgaier, Daniel Hemric and Elliott Sadler for the second victory of his Xfinity Series career.
After climbing from his car, an elated Preece mentioned the importance of making the most of his situation.
“Words can’t even describe,” Preece said. “My mom’s super happy, my dad’s super happy – I’m 27 years old and I’m not getting any younger. I’m looking for opportunities. We did it last year at Iowa and now we did it here at Bristol. I hope I don’t get labeled as a short track racer, I want to win on mile-and-a-halves soon.
Preece continued, “Nothing beats winning. That’s what I told somebody earlier today. They asked me what was the most exciting thing and I said winning – I hate losing more than winning. Today we did it.”
With his win, Preece pocketed the $100,000 Dash4Cash bonus as well.
After Bristol, Preece suffered a long layoff as his next race didn’t come until the mid-way point in the schedule at Daytona in July. Preece suffered the first of three DNFs on the season at Daytona.
When Preece took the checkered flag at Homestead-Miami Speedway to end the season, he had a win 7 top-5s and 10 top-10s in just 15 starts. Preece also secured top-five finishes at a slew of different style tracks including Road Courses, Short Tracks and Mile Ovals and 1.5-mile intermediates.
As Preece heads into 2019, the fairy tale continues as the kid who was barely scraping together start and park and lower tier rides has worked his way to a full-time Monster Energy Cup Series ride at JTG Daugherty Racing in the No. 47 Chevrolet Camaro ZL1.
Preece will join Chris Buescher as a teammate this upcoming season and sponsorship is all set with Kroger and a pile of their partners filling out sponsorship on both JTG Daugherty cars.
Tristan Smith will turn the wrenches as the crew chief once again of the 47 team and the raceteam also announced a partnership with Hendrick Motorsports which will include using Hendrick powerplants under the hood.
Preece has shown uncanny ability at short tracks and flat tracks such as New Hampshire Motor Speedway (where he logged tons of laps and won lots of races in the modified division). He should have a chance to elevate the 47 team into a top-10 contender at those events in 2019 as well as the road course races.
If Preece can get a little luck on his side, he could also contend for wins at Daytona and Talladega as JTG Daugherty Racing has put together some solid pieces in those races the last few years.
Expect Preece to log some top-10 finishes throughout the year, but realistically the expectation should be for the driver to run 15th-20th on most weeks.