Preece Always Believed, Always Bet on Himself in Cup Return

Cole Custer returns to the Xfinity Series for Stewart-Haas with the potential to return.


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Speaking to the media on a Zoom call early on Wednesday afternoon was the newly announced driver of the Stewart Haas Racing No. 41, Ryan Preece, or as he designated himself in the video conference …

"Mr. Going to Bed."

That’s to say it has been an extremely busy and chaotic month for the 32-year-old who never knew for sure if his reserve driver role from this past season would manifest into anything more at the highest level.

Preece never lost his trademark confidence while spending a year largely in the Ford Performance simulator and at short tracks across the East Coast, but also still remained an immensely talented racer without the internal funding needed to get back to the Cup Series following a three-year stint with JTG Daugherty Racing that ended in 2021.

With the continued support of agent Kevin Harvick, and now Tony Stewart, SHR has provided him his first real opportunity with championship caliber equipment at the highest level.

"This is a second chance and it’s something where I’ve won in everything I’ve ever been in … and I’ve just wanted to do it at NASCAR’s highest level," Preece said. "I’ve bet on myself a lot throughout my career, and (Kevin Harvick Inc.) has bet on me as well when they helped me do those two truck races a year ago and we were able to go out and win Nashville, so it’s a great opportunity for me to do it with Ford Performance and Stewart-Haas Racing.

"I’m ready. I hear everybody talking about being ready for the off-season and kind of just disconnecting and decompressing, but I’m certainly not in any position to do something like that. I’ve never been able to turn off that switch anyways, so I’m ready to jump in."

Sounds like going to bed can wait a little bit.

To his point, Preece has literally won at every level he has participated in. He captured the 2013 Whelen NASCAR Modified Tour championship and that led to a full-time effort in the Xfinity Series with JD Motorsports. But Preece eventually left that full-time ride for a handful of races with Joe Gibbs Racing at that level and won at Iowa Speedway in 2017.

That in turn led to his stint at with JTG Daugherty Racing that was little more than a mid-pack ride that Preece took to two top-5 and nine top-10s in 113 starts. He lost that ride, not due to performance, but due to the team downsizing to one full-time car.

Harvick worked diligently with his management team to find Preece what he needed to become the next man up and SHR placed him in the No. 41 during a winter seat shuffle. During that time, Preece turned down multiple offers to race full-time in Xfinity and Trucks under the conviction that he would get an opportunity and that he would justify it once it came around.

"I am relentless (and) I think a lot of people have seen that this year," Preece said. "I feel like the perception of who I really am is someone who has won in anything and everything I’ve been in and that’s not going to change."

There’s that trademark confidence.

At the same time, the case could also be made that Preece is a rookie all over again because so much has changed in the Cup Series with the debut of the Next Gen car. Sure, he’s made three starts in it, but he will also be tasked with racing up front for the first time in his career at this level.

With that said, Preece isn’t interested in doing the yellow stripe thing again either.

"I think I have enough experience and people know who I am or have been around me enough," Preece said. "There’s definitely a truth to the racing up front. It’s a respect more than anything, so I would say you have to earn the respect of the people that are racing in the top five or top 10 week in and week out, but that’s something that I’ve done my entire career and I’ll continue to do that."

Preece compared his opportunity to the one earned by Ross Chastain and capitalized on this past year.

"He is somebody I was teammates with and before this year did you guys write him as going to the playoffs for the final four or see him as a contender week in and week out," he asked, rhetorically. "A lot of that comes down to how bad somebody wants it and what they’re willing to do, and I think my past experiences show that I’m willing to do whatever it takes. I’m not willing to lose. I’m not willing to fail."

It was that mindset that saw him turn down other offers that came his way throughout the summer and fall. Preece had faith that he would get this opportunity and he has conviction that he will justify it come next summer.

"I can tell you there’s been a lot of deep breaths and a lot of nights where you try to think of what more you can do, what more can you say," Preece conceded. "There are so many different factors when it comes to getting an opportunity like this: It takes people that believe in you. It takes sponsors that believe in you. It takes the blessing from multiple different people.

"I mean, I’m pretty sure that there were a lot of people that are really close to me that thought I was crazy a month-and-a-half ago, where people are asking you to drive their race cars and you’re basically saying I can’t walk away from this. I’m not willing to do that.

"I wasn't going to look in the mirror and wonder if I had just waited days, maybe even hours or a week, but I wasn’t willing to walk away from this. That (patience) might seem crazy to most, but it made perfect sense to me.

"I hoped for the best and I did all the things that I felt like I could do to help push it along and, at the end of the day, it took everything and everyone to make it happen and it’s happened."