DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series rookie and longtime modified standout Ryan Preece made sure everyone in attendance knew he was there during Sunday’s 61st Daytona 500.
In his Daytona 500 debut, Preece gave JTG-Daugherty Racing a run to remember, taking the No. 47 Kroger Chevrolet to an eighth-place finish and running as high as third during the overtime restart that ended The Great American Race.
However, as rookies often are in the final laps at Daytona Int’l Speedway, Preece found himself shuffled out by several of the veteran contenders who were looking to win the Daytona 500 in their own rights.
That left Preece with no momentum, and he faded back through the pack coming to the checkered flag.
After climbing from his car, Preece was equal parts pleased and frustrated, knowing that he had a shot to win the Daytona 500 if he had just made a couple of moves a little differently.
“Sitting here watching the replay, I’m probably going to get frustrated with myself because there’s a couple things I could have done differently to help my chances,” Preece said. “I was so committed to pushing Joey [Logano] that I focused more on him than I did on some of the runs (from behind) that I probably should have focused on.
“All in all it’s a good day, though,” he noted. “It’s an eighth-place finish and a great day for JTG.”
Just to be in contention on Sunday night, Preece had to make some daring moves on-track, including missing two of the race’s three big accidents by mere inches as the laps wound down.
“That was something, wasn’t it?” Preece grinned. “At the end of the day, we did what we needed to do, and that’s finish this race. We got a little bit of damage – not as bad as some – but it could have been a whole lot worse, that’s for sure. If you look around, you see some of the carnage and we thankfully avoided a lot of that and got to the checkered flag.”
Preece was quick to point out that while he came away with a solid finish on Sunday night, he felt like he was in a whirlwind cram session all day as he tried to learn and adapt on the fly.
“I got taken to school, to be honest with you,” Preece admitted. “There was a lot of learning to be had this week. It was a big learning day for me all race long, but I just focused on something that a really good friend of mine once told me, and that’s to finish. I did just that, and I’m proud of that.
“This is my first run at Daytona, it’s a top-10 finish and we have a pretty clean race car. What more could you ask for than that?”
One of those who aided Preece in the closing stages was fellow Connecticut native and former Daytona 500 winner Joey Logano, who Preece thanked for working with him as long as he did on Sunday.
“I know he (Logano) does a really good job at these restrictor plate races,” Preece said. “I have a good relationship with Joey. Other than that, he’s really good at making holes. He got me to third; I just didn’t do a good enough job blocking and trying to help him move forward too.”
Logano was complimentary of Preece after the race and cited their racing connection, which goes all the way back to the grassroots level on the smallest short tracks in New England.
“That finish was as intense as you would expect with the Daytona 500 on the line, and I had a great push by the (No.) 47 of Ryan Preece … and I thought that was cool,” said Logano, who finished fourth. “We grew up racing quarter-midgets against each other in Connecticut and it just shows that dreams can really come true.
“I’m proud to be racing with him in the Daytona 500. I think that’s super cool.”
While Preece was the rookie of the race on Sunday at NASCAR’s highest level, he made sure to remind everyone before disappearing into the night that he hasn’t forgotten where he came from, being a former champion of NASCAR’s Whelen Modified Tour before advancing onto the national stage.
“This one’s for the grassroots guys,” Preece said as he flashed his trademark smile. “It’s proof that you can do anything you set your mind to and chase after.”