Ryan Preece was going to be late. Due to his busy schedule leading up to the NASCAR Cup Series season, Preece wasn’t going to make it home in time for a scheduled Zoom interview.
Knowing this, Preece took a “hard right” on a Charlotte-area highway.
Sitting in his vehicle on the side of the highway, the 32-year-old modified star turned NASCAR Cup Series driver walked through the “northodox” path that led him to being the newest full-time driver for Stewart-Haas Racing.
He got the call on Nov. 15.
During his lunch break that afternoon, Preece was standing outside Afton Tavern in Concord, N.C., minutes up the road from Stewart-Haas Racing’s Kannapolis headquarters.
The caller ID on Preece’s phone showed that Tony Stewart needed to talk to him.
“This is either going to be really good or really bad,” Preece thought.
It “ended up being on the good side.”
Following a year spent as an SHR reserve driver, helping in the simulator, making sporadic starts in the NASCAR Cup Xfinity and Truck Series — including a second consecutive win at Nashville Superspeedway — Preece was getting called up.
After four disappointing seasons, Cole Custer was out of the No. 41 Cup Series machine.
Preece was in.
Another gamble by Preece in his racing career had paid off.
The first came in 2017 when he put together enough sponsorship for a four-race stint with Joe Gibbs Racing in the Xfinity Series.
Four top-five finishes and one win (Iowa Speedway) later, that turned into 15 starts, one win (Bristol Motor Speedway) and seven top-five results with JGR in 2018.
That led to three full-time seasons with JTG Daugherty Racing in the Cup Series where the Connecticut native only managed nine top-10 finishes.
Preece and JTG went their separate ways after the 2021 season.
“It didn’t bother me,” Preece told SPEED SPORT. “I had other things that I could do to make money. I’m not strictly a race car driver. I mean, I have no source of income. I figure out ways to make money in racing, whether it be driving race cars, working on race cars or whatever it may be. So I was willing to do whatever it took to try and get that opportunity with a team like Stewart-Haas.”
Preece said he turned down at least five other opportunities across the Xfinity and Truck Series as he bided his time at SHR last year.
“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,” Preece said in November. “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.”
It could be argued that Preece, starting with his gamble in 2017, was at the forefront of a wave of drivers who followed in his path, reaping the benefits of taking chances on themselves. That list includes Ross Chastain, Alex Bowman, Chase Briscoe and Josh Berry.
All drivers who toiled away in mid-pack situations or at the local track level and positioned themselves in the right place at the right time to be rewarded for their talent.