Ryan Preece admits he’s had a roller coaster year in his first full season on the Cup circuit.
He began his tenure in the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet strong with an eighth-place finish in the Daytona 500. That was a significant accomplishment, as prior to this season Preece had just five previous starts in Cup, all coming in 2015.
But in the four races since this year’s season opener at Daytona, the Connecticut native has been on a pendulum of sorts, finishing 35th at Atlanta (crash), 25th at Las Vegas, 34th at Phoenix (crash) and 23rd this past Sunday at Fontana.
“It’s been really up and down right now,” Preece said during media teleconference Wednesday. “We started off really strong at Daytona, accomplishing our goal of finishing the race. That got us to where we were. Then Atlanta, we were running really well, just didn’t really have anything to show for it.
“We went to Phoenix, Vegas and California. The West Coast swing to us, the 47, wasn’t really what we wanted.”
But the 28-year-old Preece has high expectations and hopes as the Cup circuit heads back East, starting with Sunday’s STP 500 at Martinsville Speedway.
“I feel like we’re on the right track for what we have to, for what I need,” Preece said. “Obviously (teammate Chris Buescher) showed a lot of speed (on the West Coast swing). It shows our cars are fast enough to be where we’re running.
“It’s early, it’s only five races in. The goal is to really just keep up and keep making gains and don’t fall behind..”
Admittedly, Preece has fallen behind due to the up-and-down results he’s posted. He enters Martinsville 25th in the Cup standings, 176 points behind series leader Kyle Busch.
But he also has raced at the .526-mile paper clip shaped track in south-central Virginia several times, including winning there in the Whelen Modified Tour in 2008 (below).
His game plan for this weekend?
“Just approach it like any short track that I’ve ever been to: be able to attack the corner (and) get it turned as quickly as possible.
“I feel good about our chances considering JTG with Martinsville, probably one of their best racetracks they go to. Definitely looking forward to going.
Preece believes Sunday could be a breakout race for him. He cut his teeth racing on short tracks in the Northeast, much like friend and reigning Cup Series champion Joey Logano. As a result, racing at Martinsville will kind of be going back to his racing roots.
“My expectations when I go to a short track are to be a contender,” Preece said. “Really at this point it’s to have a really smooth weekend, run top 10 most of the day. If we can get a top five, that would be fantastic.
“Definitely short tracks like Martinsville, Bristol, New Hampshire, those are kind of in my wheelhouse. It’s something I’ve been doing for a long time. When it comes to the restarts and all those moments of being aggressive, it’s something that I enjoy doing.”