NASCAR Cup Series
Inside the Most Unique Opening Day in NASCAR History
Feb 5, 2022
The task is clear for Ryan Preece.
He has to win.
"It's not even a goal," Preece told Racing America on Friday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. "It's what I have to do. There are no 'if,' 'ands,' or 'buts' if I want a career and keep moving forward and do this for a living, that’s what I have to do.
"I have proven it multiple times, but I have to do it, and that's what I intend to do."
Kevin Harvick Inc., Stewart-Haas Racing and Performance are giving Preece multiple opportunities to show his worth. The 31-year-old will begin his season this weekend with Rick Ware Racing in the Busch Clash at the Coliseum. The entry comes with support from Stewart-Haas in an event where everyone is starting from Ground Zero with the Next-Gen car.
Preece will make six other starts across all three NASCAR national touring divisions with Ford Performance supported programs. The Truck Series starts will come with David Gilliland Racing -- a team Preece won with at Nashville Superspeedway last summer.
If that doesn’t sound like a lot of opportunities, remember this is a driver that gave up a full season with JD Motorsports just to make four starts with Joe Gibbs Racing in 2017, where he posted finishes of second, first, fourth and fifth.
Preece has bet on himself before and it netted him a full-time drive in the Cup Series with the now defunct second JTG Daugherty team.
Now Ford, Stewart-Haas and KHI is betting on Preece, while also sending him to the simulator every week in advance of his eventual call-up, which could come sooner if a primary SHR driver is sidelined with COVID-19. Preece will serve as the reserve driver for all four teams.
This doesn’t even include the rest of the season, in which Preece will continue to race Tour-Type Modifieds and Super Late Models every chance he gets. Preece has always said its not enough to just race cars for a living. He needs to be in winning equipment and to perform in them.
It’s how he’s wired.
"It's just me as a competitor," Preece said. "I want to compete for wins. I'm probably one of the most competitive people you will ever meet when it comes to racing. I want to do it a hundred percent, between the Modified and Super, or whatever I get into.
"I'm going to put everything into it to achieve those goals. ... And as for this year, I'm excited because I know every time I walk through those gates, I will have an opportunity to win."
Reading the tea leaves, Preece could be poised to take over either the No. 10 or No. 4 at Stewart-Haas Racing after Aric Almirola retires at the end of the year … or when Kevin Harvick decides to call it quits. Harvick is currently under a multi-year agreement to drive the No. 4.
Preece has been represented by Harvick’s management firm for several seasons, and the 2014 Cup Series champion is a big advocate for what the 2013 Whelen Modified Tour champion brings to the table.
"I believe in Ryan and the ability he has," Harvick said. "Having those few opportunities and already seeing the things that he has done for Stewart-Haas Racing and knowing what the plans are for him to implement is something I’m looking forward to.
"A lot of that is going to have to be done through sim (work) and the simulator … but also keeping him sharp for those handful of Cup, Xfinity and Truck races. There is a lot more to his season than just those races."
Preece says Harvick has been hugely instrumental in guiding him both as a driver and an agent.
"Think about those Truck races, Nashville with Hunt Brothers and Morton Buildings, I wouldn't have had those opportunities without Kevin and KHI," Preece said. "It speaks volumes having someone like him in your corner.
"There are just other sides to him too. I have learned so much from Kevin just listening and being around him. You can soak in a lot from just being around him. He's taught me so much, probably without him even knowing it. I'm listening and paying attention."
But again, for now, Preece has to win.
That mission starts on Sunday in the Coliseum Clash, a race he absolutely believes he could win under the right circumstances. Then comes Speedweeks and the rest of the season in race-winning equipment across several disciplines.
That’s his pathway to a top tier Cup Series team.
"Whatever it takes, I'm going to do this," Preece said. "It doesn't matter how much work, or whatever it is, I'll do it. This year excites me because I know that every time I walk into a gate, there's an opportunity to win, and that's what I need to do."