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Ryan Preece feels he’s ‘on the right track’ heading to Martinsville

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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.”

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NASCAR America presents the Motorsports Hour, 5 p.m. ET on NBCSN

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This week’s episode of NASCAR America presents the Motorsports Hour airs from 5-6 p.m. ET on NBCSN.

Marty Snider, Danielle Trotta, Parker Kligerman and Steve Letarte will discuss multiple auto racing disciplines, including NASCAR and IndyCar.

If you can’t catch either of today’s shows on TV, watch online at http:/nascarstream.nbcsports.com. If you plan to stream the show on your laptop or portable device, be sure to have your username and password from your cable/satellite/telco provider handy so your subscription can be verified.

Once you enter that information, you’ll have access to the stream.

Click here at 5 p.m. ET to watch live via the stream.

Ricky Stenhouse Jr. throws perfect strike for Red Sox

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With the Boston Red Sox nearly 10 games behind their No. 1 rivals, the American League East-leading New York Yankees, they could use some additional pitching help.

A good southpaw would be a big help.

They got some help on Wednesday – for one pitch at least, that is – as Cup Series driver Ricky Stenhouse Jr. threw out the first pitch prior to the game vs. the Toronto Blue Jays at Fenway Park.

Scouts likely had a few raised eyebrows when Stenhouse threw a perfect strike.

 

I’ve thrown out first pitches at some minor league games, but Fenway Park puts it at a whole ‘nother level,” Stenhouse told NESN.com.

But Stenhouse, wearing a No. 17 jersey, delivered when it was his turn atop the mound. In a sense, it was a home game for Stenhouse, as Red Sox owner John Henry is a part-owner of Roush Fenway Racing.

Stenhouse and teammate Ryan Newman, who was also in uniform for the game, were in Boston on their way to this weekend’s Cup race at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Stenhouse is currently 19th in the standings and with seven races left to make the playoffs, he knows how significant this weekend will be for him.

It’s very important,” Stenhouse told NESN. “New Hampshire could be one of those turning points. We’re 19th in points and need to get to 16th. Or we could win and just lock ourselves in that way, too.

Hopefully, we’ll have a fast enough car and play the right strategy to put ourselves in a position to win. These next few races are definitely critical to us to make sure we do our part. We’ll need somebody else to falter a little bit, but we’re going to go out and do our job and see how things play out.”

And if Stenhouse doesn’t make the playoffs, he might want to keep that pitching arm warm and loose, just in case the Red Sox really need him.

 

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Ryan Vargas set for Xfinity debut at Iowa Speedway

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Ryan Vargas, a member of the 2018-19 NASCAR Next class and 2019 Drive for Diversity program, is set to make his Xfinity Series debut next weekend at Iowa Speedway.

JD Motorsports announced Wednesday Vargas will drive its No. 15 Chevrolet in the July 27 U.S. Cellular 250, which will air on NBCSN.

Vargas, 18, competed full-time in the K&N Pro Series East last year for Rev Racing. Vargas was let go by Rev Racing in December and has spent this season racing late models and competing for the Irwindale Speedway track championship.

The race at Iowa will mark Vargas’ national NASCAR series debut. Vargas said making his Xfinity debut at Iowa “just makes sense” given his seventh-place finish there last year in the K&N Series.

“Last year, I felt that I was able to run my best race all year at the speedway, and to have the chance to drive for a well-respected team owner in Johnny Davis really adds to the excitement heading into the weekend,” Vargas said in a press release. “I think if we can keep all the fenders on my No. 15 Chevrolet and run as many laps as possible, the weekend will be a success. At this point in my career, I want to learn as much as I can so I can keep moving up the NASCAR ladder, so I am not necessarily worried about what the results show.”

Vargas will be sponsored by Cranio Care Bears, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising awareness of Craniosynostosis, a condition that causes problems with a child’s brain and skull growth. Vargas underwent surgery when he was 11 months old to correct issues from it.

“It means a lot to me to be able to help bring awareness to this great charity in Cranio Care Bears through the sport that I love so much,” Vargas said. “I know that I will have a lot of little supporters cheering me on that look up to me as a role model in the Cranio community, and I want to show them that anything is possible, even with the condition.”

 

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Updated entry lists for NASCAR at New Hampshire

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The NASCAR Cup and Xfinity Series will be in action this weekend at the 1-mile New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, N.H.

The Gander Outdoors Truck Series is off until July 27 at Pocono Raceway.

Here are the entry lists for the Cup and Xfinity races at New Hampshire:

Cup – Foxwoods Resort & Casino 301 (3 p.m. ET Sunday on NBCSN)

There are 37 cars entered.

Quin Houff will be back in the No. 77 Spire Motorsports Chevrolet.

Andy Seuss is entered in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 51 Ford and will make his Cup debut. Austin Theriault will also make his Cup debut in Rick Ware Racing’s No. 52 Chevrolet.

Click here for the full entry list.

Xfinity — Roxor 200 (4 p.m. ET Saturday on NBCSN)

There are 41 cars entered.

Cup regular Paul Menard will be driving the No. 12 Team Penske Ford Mustang.

Ryan Truex will be making his third Xfinity start of the season in the No. 8 JR Motorsports Chevrolet.

Tyler Matthews will make his third Xfinity start of 2019 in the No. 15 JD Motorsports Chevrolet.

Harrison Burton makes his third start of the season in the No. 18 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota.

Kaz Grala is entered in his fourth race of the year in Richard Childress Racing’s No. 21 Chevrolet.

Canadian driver Alex Labbe makes his third start of 2019 in the No. 90 DGM Racing Chevrolet.

CJ McLaughlin will make his Xfinity Series debut, driving the No. 93 RSS Racing Chevrolet.

Click here for the full entry list.