At the end of 2021, Ryan Preece was released from JTG Daugherty Racing after three seasons of disappointment.
The 2013 NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour champion had bet on himself in 2017, finding sponsorship to run a handful of NASCAR Xfinity Series races for Joe Gibbs Racing, hoping to prove his worth.
Preece proved it at Iowa Speedway that season, winning the race from the pole. Four top-10 finishes in four races with good equipment put Preece on the map.
Another successful part-time schedule with JGR followed in 2018, including a victory at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
The opportunity to race in the Cup Series full time came one season later with JTG.
However, nine top-10 efforts in three seasons of action sent Preece to the curb, without a ride.
Preece persevered, leading to him being named the reserve driver for Stewart-Haas Racing with a partial schedule in the Truck and Xfinity Series the past two seasons.
The 32-year-old won both Truck Series races at Nashville (Tenn.) Superspeedway during those two campaigns.
Then came Wednesday’s news that Preece will pilot SHR’s No. 41 Ford for the full Cup Series schedule next season.
What looked to be his last opportunity in 2021, took a turn for the better one year later.
“Usually, it works the other way around. Usually, when you go out of the Cup Series full time, you tend to be part time and then it seems like your career could be over,” Preece said. “This is that shot in the arm or shot of adrenaline that I feel like my career needed. My career in general has been unorthodox anyways.
“Most people, what makes the difference between winning and this opportunity more than JTG, I guess you could ask the same thing on why I didn’t win in 2016, or what made the difference between me winning in 2016 versus 2017 or ‘18. It’s just what I need as a race car driver to succeed. I see the same things at SHR that I felt like I needed at JGR and that’s ultimately what it’s gonna come down to.”
For Preece, he’s able to exhale after months of waiting to see if his name would be called at SHR.
“I’d say it’s definitely a feeling of relief. It’s something that it still really hasn’t sunk in,”” Preece said. “It’s definitely sunk in a little more than yesterday, but it’s that opportunity that being able to — first off, I’ve been somebody who has driven Fords all my life and to be associated with Ford Performance and Stewart-Haas Racing, somebody who I have idolized as well, just as a grassroots racer I’ve done the grind.
“I’ve done as much as you can possibly can on a short-track level trying to make it and the sacrifice that I’ve done to get to this point, so it’s definitely a feeling of relief and I’m really looking forward to it,” Preece continued. “It’s crazy, the season just ended for most, but I’m ready to start the season and get working with the team and, hopefully, start off running.”
While Preece waited for his opportunity at SHR, he made the difficult decision to turn down other rides that came his way.
“I did turn down Truck opportunities, Xfinity opportunities,” Preece said. “There were quite a few different teams that came to me, whether they were full time or part time, and I thought about if there was the smallest bit of opportunity for me to end up at Stewart-Haas, I wasn’t gonna walk away. I was willing to sit there until there was absolutely no hope and possibly be jobless, possibly not have a ride, but I was willing to take that risk. Ultimately, it’s worked out and this opportunity has come.
“It’s kind of like when I think back to 2017 and the risk that I took then. It’s five years later and I think about that risk and think to myself, ‘Man, that could have gone way different,’ just like this could have gone way different, but I’ve never been the conservative type of person,” Preece added. “I’m willing to risk it all and it’s worked out.
“It’s a great opportunity and something that not only myself, but my fans and a lot of the northeast has been very vocal about it. Tad and Jodi Geschickter were great to me and it just didn’t work out with us. It didn’t work out how either of us would have liked it to, but this is that next opportunity and something that, like I said, I’ve won so many races at different tracks and championships that this is what I’ve been trying to do all my life at NASCAR’s highest level.”
Preece betting on himself paid off again, as the Berlin, Conn., native has high hopes for the future with one of NASCAR’s prominent organizations.