LEBANON, Tenn. – It didn’t matter that Ryan Preece had never run a NASCAR Camping World Truck Series race coming into Friday night’s Rackley Roofing 200 at Nashville Superspeedway.
The Berlin, Conn., native and past NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion converted an opportunity with David Gilliland Racing into a victory in his Truck Series debut.
Preece, making his first of two scheduled starts with the David Gilliland-owned team, chased down and passed Grant Enfinger with seven laps left, then drove away from the son of his truck owner to win by .950 seconds.
It marked Preece’s first NASCAR national series win since he took Joe Gibbs Racing to victory lane in the Xfinity Series on April 14, 2018 at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
“That was a lot of fun,” said Preece in victory lane. “Chad (Johnston, crew chief) did an awesome job calling the race. We made great adjustments, it was an awesome truck from DGR. This Ford F-150 was pretty stout. Thank you to Kevin Harvick, KHI Management, Hunt Brothers Pizza and Morton Buildings for stepping up and allowing me to come out here and do this.
“This is why I love to race. I love winning.”
Preece became the fifth driver to win in their Truck Series debut and the first since 2008, joining Mike Skinner, Robert Pressley, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman in that exclusive club.
He admitted coming into the day that he “didn’t know what to expect,” but that didn’t show come race time.
“I didn’t know anything [coming in],” Preece said. “I was just taking the guidance from Chad and my teammates and told them I’d be better in the race than I was in qualifying and practice.
“Fortunately, I lived up to that.”
The strategy that punctuated the closing stage of the race was set up by a caution on lap 78, when the engine expired aboard the No. 27 Rackley W.A.R. Chevrolet of William Byron.
Under that yellow, Enfinger and a handful of other trucks pitted for fuel and tires, hoping to be able to stretch their tanks 70 laps to the finish and maintain enough pace to stay out front in the process.
To do that, Enfinger knew his team would need a handful of caution flags during the final 55-lap stage, and those yellows proved to be helpful when they waved with 47 and 40 laps to go, respectively.
The first of those two yellow flags waved on the green flag to open the final stage, when Johnny Sauter spun off the exit of turn two after receiving a pit-road penalty moments before which set him back.
Friesen took the lead on the outside just before the caution waved, but on the ensuing restart with 42 laps left, Enfinger rallied back to reclaim command before contact between Josh Berry and polesitter Derek Kraus sent Kraus hard into the outside wall in turn three on lap 111, necessitating another yellow.
Kraus, who won the opening stage and led the first 48 laps, was OK. He was scored 35th at the finish.
Racing resumed for good with 33 laps left, and when it did Preece was ready, roaring past Enfinger up high to lead lap 118 before Enfinger came back with a vengeance to take the top spot back a lap later.
From there, the top two pulled away into a cat-and-mouse game over the next 20 laps, with Preece pushing Enfinger to his limit and lurking two truck lengths – or less – back for most of that period.
Meanwhile, behind the lead duo, Todd Gilliland was picking his way through traffic in a hurry.
Gilliland passed Zane Smith for third coming to 19 to go and rapidly closed down on Enfinger and Preece, making it a three-horse race for the trophy as the race wound into its final stages.
Inside 10 to go, the trio was covered by a third of a second, and coming to eight laps left Gilliland looked inside Preece for second before Preece kicked his truck into high gear and went for broke.
A charge to the inside of Enfinger down the backstretch on lap 144 was the difference, and once Preece cleared Enfinger off turn four the die was cast.
Gilliland overhauled Enfinger for second with five to go, but at that point had nothing to run down Preece and challenge for the victory. He settled for a runner-up finish after starting from the rear due to an issue with the nose of his No. 38 Ford F-150 that was discovered during pre-qualifying inspection.
“Sometimes you luck into a second and you’re super happy with it, but tonight, I actually feel like we had the best truck here,” lamented Gilliland. “It stings not to get that last spot, especially because I was under the 17 (Preece) at one point and just got too loose.
“That’s racing and we’ll move on, but I’m super happy for my dad [David Gilliland],” the younger Gilliland added. “He was crew chief for me tonight and then his truck ended up beating me. So he had a good night.”
Enfinger crossed third, followed by Zane Smith and Stewart Friesen.
Sixth through 10th were Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes, Ty Majeski, Austin Hill and series point leader John Hunter Nemechek, who maintained the top spot in the regular season standings by 78 over Rhodes.
The NASCAR Camping World Truck Series season continues June 26 at Pennsylvania’s Pocono Raceway.