This weekend at Dover Motor Speedway, Ryan Preece will make his first official start (he already drove in The Clash at the L.A. Coliseum) of the 2022 NASCAR Cup Series season.
He’ll be doing so behind the wheel of the Rick Ware Racing No. 15, through RWR’s alliance with Stewart-Haas Racing. It’s all part of Preece’s new position as SHR’s reserve driver, a role that will net Preece 12 starts in top-notch Ford equipment across NASCAR’s top three series. In addition to two Cup starts for RWR, Preece is running in three NASCAR Xfinity Series races for BJ McLeod Motorsports and seven Camping World Truck Series races for David Gilliland Racing, a team he won for in his Truck debut last year at Nashville Superspeedway.
Preece took the SHR reserve driver role after losing his ride at JTG Daugherty Racing, where he had raced the past three seasons. SHR teammate Kevin Harvick, whose company KHI Management represents Preece, was a big help in getting the 31-year-old Connecticut native the job.
Frontstretch caught up with Preece ahead of his NXS start at Richmond Raceway in early April to discuss what a reserve driver does, how he felt about taking a step back from full-time Cup racing, his relationship with Harvick and his future goals.
Michael Massie, Frontstretch: I was shocked to not see you out there in the Richmond Modified race [the evening prior]. How come you didn’t come back to defend your trophy?
Ryan Preece: Working on the reprocess of rebuilding. Obviously, my longtime modified owner and friend passed away after we won this race [last fall]. I’m starting to build my own modified and start my own team with my father and kind of, when we want to go race, go have some fun.
Massie: This year you’re back running in Xfinity races for the first time in three years. Obviously, it’s the series that kind of launched your name to the forefront when you bet on yourself and it paid off with a Cup ride. Do you feel like lightning could strike twice and you could have another magical moment?
Preece: Yeah, I think we can. This car is really good, and I’m really happy with it. I plan on it anyways, but you know, we also want to have a really good day. Actually, no, let me take that back. I want to win. That’s the only reason I came here.
Massie: They named you the Stewart-Haas Racing reserve driver this year. Can you explain exactly what that entails?
Preece: So if I trip and make someone fall and they get hurt and and they can’t drive that day — I’m just kidding. Really, a lot of it is I get to do some sim work with the simulator with Ford Performance and Stewart-Haas and sit in the meetings and be a part of the day-to-day operations. And if one of these guys [SHR drivers] happen to get COVID or get sick and they couldn’t race that day, that opportunity would probably happen. I’m ready to go whenever it needs to be.
Massie: So is it kind of the same role that Alex Bowman had with Hendrick Motorsports a couple years ago?
Preece: I think that’s what a lot of people are comparing it to, and it’s a great — it’s better than sitting at home on a couch and not knowing what was gonna happen. So, it’s awesome.
Massie: So say another team that’s not Stewart-Haas affiliated calls you for like a one-off race or something, would you be able to do like a one-off or are you exclusive to Stewart-Haas?
Preece: I’m exclusive with Stewart-Haas.
Massie: What’s it been like to change your lifestyle from almost 38 straight weeks on the road to now not racing as much?
Preece: So that’s a good question. If you actually look at my racing career, as far as being an OEM-backed race team, being full-time, that’s never happened. When I was with JTG, it was full-time. But my confidence as a racecar driver when I show up here with Stewart or BJ McLeod Motorsports and everything that we have going on, I feel confident in winning. Me as a racecar driver, I have a different type of energy when you put me in pressure situations or even just having all the resources that I feel like I need to win races or compete. I have that where I’m at right now, and it’s like a breath of fresh air.
Massie: Is this more fun than the weekly grind of a full schedule now that you’ve done both?
Preece: I’m gonna be honest with you, fun to me is winning. So yeah, it’s definitely — I feel like when I show up here at Richmond, I show up at Nashville later this year, I show up in that truck or Charlotte [Motor Speedway] with this team, I feel like I can win. And that to me is fun for sure. So yeah, I guess going back to your point, this to me is more fun.
Massie: Aside from these starts you have with Stewart-Haas and other teams, are there any other racing plans outside of NASCAR that you have set in stone for right now?
Preece: So in the modified and in the late model, I plan — I mean, everything’s always a week out. There’s a tentative plan of what I usually like to do, but the problem is I don’t have full-time employees. I got my father who lives in Connecticut, who’s a great help to me, and then there’s me, and I’m only one person.
On an ideal wish list, I’d like to do, with my super late models, the Slinger Nationals in July, the All American 400 and the Snowball Derby. And then with the modified, they have a lot of open shows. I plan on doing New Hampshire [Motor Speedway] and Martinsville [Speedway] with the Modified Tour. But basically, whenever my real job allows me to, I’ll go race.
Massie: How instrumental was Kevin Harvick in getting you this role with Stewart-Haas?
Preece: He’s been a huge part of everything since 2018. He’ll send me a text message early on in the season or when everything was getting going to be there, be present, be a part of it and learn the process. Even being in those debriefs every week on Tuesday and listening to Chase [Briscoe] and Cole [Custer] and Kevin and Aric [Almirola], just understanding from a driver standpoint what they’re going through and what the challenges are, to expedite that process, because there’s a ton to learn. And, yeah, he’s been extremely instrumental to everything that I have to this day and the opportunities that I get.
Massie: How did that relationship start with you and Harvick?
Preece: It was funny, I went up to him at California [Auto Club Speedway] in 2018, because he sponsors Stafford [Speedway] for a contingency program. And to a guy like myself, an extra $100 a week, I think it was — I don’t know what the actual number ended up being, but it was like, $150 a week or $250 a week — and at that moment in my racing career, if I won that night, that’s an extra tire, a little bit more gas.
So I went up and thanked him. And then when I won Bristol [Motor Speedway], he walked by and gave me the pound as I was pulling up to victory lane. I asked him for help. Me as a racecar driver, everything I’ve done to this point was based off of local support and people that believe in me, so he stepped in. He’s helped guide me to where I am today and continues to this day creating opportunities for me.
Massie: Long-term, this opportunity seems like it has a future to it. But was there any hesitation to kind of take a step back from full-time racing?
Preece: No, I’m actually the one — I’m a risk taker. I’m somebody who’s not afraid to take a chance and step back to give myself opportunities to win. Because at the end of the day, no matter what it is, winning is what matters. Bringing home trophies, it makes everything easy.
Massie: That Truck win last year, it seemed to kind of remind people how good you are. Do you feel that that win changed your future a little bit?
Preece: I think that certainly reminded people that I can win, even if I’ve never been in something or tested it or whatever. I mean, you give me an opportunity to work with great people, I’m gonna do great things.
That’s what it takes. It takes partners like Hunt Brothers [Pizza], Morton Buildings, Mohawk Northeast, who has been with me forever, new people that we continue to work with like RaceChoice.com. There’s United Rentals, and that’s another huge supporter of mine this year. Without them, KHI and Kevin, I’d probably be back in the Northeast, living in Connecticut, working right now, watching this on TV. It’s just about opportunities, and as a racer, your job is to already have learned and not make mistakes. It’s to go out and win, so that’s what I’m gonna do.
Massie: Almirola’s retiring from full-time racing at the end of the season. Harvick’s made it known that he’s only gonna do it a couple more years before he retires. So there are gonna be some openings at Stewart-Haas Racing. Is that kind of the end goal right now?
Preece: My end goal right now is to win races and see where that leads me. Because like I said, I gotta win. I wish it was as easy as some people say on Reddit or some people can kinda make it sound. But I promise you my day-to-day life, it’s nothing but having to win races and making things happen. So that’s all I’m focused on, and it’s a great opportunity.
Massie: Always easier on paper.
Preece: I’m sure there’s gonna be plenty of people one day, if it ended up being that way or not, they will say they knew the whole time.
Massie: You’re a guy from Northeast. It used to be in the Modifieds and Busch North Series, if guys had success there, there was a real shot they had at getting a Cup ride. And that wasn’t really the case when you came along. Do you think it’s kind of getting back to that way, or can you see it getting back to that?
Preece: I don’t know. I mean, I think I’m just a Northeast guy, was born and raised in Connecticut and traveled the East Coast going race to race. And luckily, Tommy Baldwin helped me a lot in 2013-15 and helped me see how things worked down here and give me that opportunity to start racing down here.
I don’t really know. I’m not really good at figuring that stuff out. I know there’s plenty of good talented racecar drivers in the Northeast that they’ll drive the crap out of anything. But as far as a pipeline goes, I’m not really sure, because I still haven’t kind of solidified myself here either. So I guess I’m still trying to figure that out.
About the author
Michael Massie is a writer for Frontstretch. Massie, a Richmond, Va. native, has been a NASCAR superfan since childhood, when he frequented races at Richmond International Raceway. Massie is a lover of short track racing and travels around to the ones in his region. Outside of motorsports, the Virginia Tech grad can be seen cheering on his beloved Hokies.