Ryan Preece is the consummate racer. It’s not only his career choice, it’s the driving force that fuels his passion for winning.
The NASCAR Next alum began racing full-time in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour in 2007. The following year, he became the youngest driver in the series history to capture a pole. Preece won the championship in 2013 and claimed another first as the youngest champion in NWMT history. No stranger to winning, he moved up to the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2016, driving the No. 01 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports, where he faces the biggest challenge of his career.
Accustomed to winning, he moved up to the NASCAR XFINITY Series in 2016, driving the No. 01 Chevrolet for JD Motorsports, where he faces the biggest challenge of his career.
His season has been one of ups and downs and Preece is currently 18th in the XFINITY Series point standings. In 12 starts, his best finish was at Talladega where he finished 15th. It was his fourth top 20 finish this year.
I spoke to Preece about the different aspects of transitioning from the NWMT to competing in the XFINITY Series and why he still continues to race modifieds at every opportunity.
The trick, he says, is “managing expectations. Every week, we’re pretty much in that bubble where it’s 24th–18th. When you’re racing against teams that have quite a huge budget, our goal is, with everything we’re doing, maximizing what we can.“
“That’s why I still race my modifieds quite often, to manage the part of me that’s a racer and wants to win races. At the end of the day, racing against JGR, Roush and a lot of teams that have a lot of manufacturer support; I wouldn’t say we don’t have manufacturer support because we do. Chevy’s been really great to us, but their budgets are probably 10 times what ours is. It’s kind of hard to race against that.
“But like I said, that’s why I race modifieds, to fuel the fire in me that wants to win.”
Preece also explained how racing modifieds is a way for him to keep his confidence level high.
“Because it’s my first year full time, every time you get out of the car you’re looking at the speed charts and saying ‘hey, what can I do here? What am I doing wrong?’ Every race car I’ve ever been in my entire life, it’s usually been one of the quicker cars to winning races. Right now, not having that, you sit back, you look back and wonder, ‘Where are we missing this, what am I doing wrong?’
“That’s why I have to keep racing. I have to keep racing modified, I’ve got to keep racing whatever I can to keep winning races because it’ll mentally beat me up if I don’t.”
While racing on a limited budget against cars with more horsepower is not ideal, Preece maintains that being competitive on the track is a combination of several factors.
“To be honest with you,” he says, “I’m more of a person that’s going to say car goes 100 times further than motor. With the tapered spacer they run, horsepower is almost irrelevant. You’re on the throttle for so long especially with how much aero plays, you’re not out of the gas very much so that’s really the big thing.
“These cars have come so far as far as how they’re set up. Ten years ago, 15 years ago, everybody used to call them taxi cabs because they used to roll over, drive different. Now they’re pretty immaculate right off the truck. You’re really nitpicking for everything you can get.
“These cars that are top five, they’re nearly perfect. When you got a perfect race car, it’s hard to beat them. It’s the little things you got to start looking for.”
Preece compares it to a puzzle and he’s quickly learning how all the pieces fit together.
“There are always things I need to work on. I’d say right now it’s a lack of going to the racetracks experience. Even though I’m getting better with mile-and-a-half tracks, that’s something I’ve probably only gone to about six or seven times my entire racing career. I like them a lot but right now it’s just trying to find the feel we need. We’re getting closer, still just trying to find that feel because if you can’t find that feeling, if you don’t know what you’re searching for, it’s a struggle to find what you want and what you need.
“I’m starting to learn that with these cars. The way these cars are set up, how I would go about it in my modifieds is totally different than this. So understanding the pieces of the puzzle, to break down what I’m feeling on the racetrack and relate it to what Zach (McGowan, crew chief) needs to do in the garage, you’ve got to break through that barrier and understand all the different pieces of the puzzle.”
This year will certainly be a season of learning and growth for Preece and his team. But there should be little doubt that Preece will return to his winning ways; he simply won’t accept anything less.