Ryan Preece’s NASCAR career is back on the rebound after a season as a reserve driver in 2022, and he’ll now have a veteran crew chief who has been to Victory Lane several times to help guide him back to the front.
Preece will return to the Cup Series as the full-time driver of the No. 41 car for Stewart-Haas Racing in 2023 after the organization demoted Cole Custer from that ride to the Xfinity Series following the conclusion of last season.
Preece last ran a full schedule in 2021 when he drove his third and final Cup Series season with JTG Daugherty Racing. A prolific modified racer, Preece managed a pair of top-five finishes across those three seasons but never finished higher than 26th in the points standings.
Ryan Preece began his career as a highly successful modified driver
The 32-year-old Connecticut native gained his notoriety on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. He raced in that series full-time from 2007-2015 and finished in the top two in the championship standings five times. He won the series championship in 2013 and has 25 wins in 171 total starts on the modified circuit.
Preece’s only other full-time season in a NASCAR national series was in 2016, when he drove the No. 01 car for underfunded JD Motorsports. That season went as expected for a car of that caliber. He recorded a lone top-10 finish at Darlington Raceway and ended the year 17th in the points standings.
Preece changed his career trajectory soon after, however. Instead of full-time rides with small teams, he made a deal with NASCAR powerhouse Joe Gibbs Racing to drive four Xfinity Series races in 2017. He then won his second race in a JGR Toyota with a victory at Iowa Speedway.
He won again the following year for JGR in the Xfinity Series race at Bristol Motor Speedway after the organization expanded his schedule to 15 events.
His first full-time Cup Series opportunity was underwhelming
That led to the full-time Cup Series gig with JTG Daugherty, but he was now back with an organization similar to the Cup Series equivalent of JD Motorsports in the Xfinity Series.
JTG Daugherty had fielded cars in the Cup Series since 2009, but A.J. Allmendinger’s 2014 win at Watkins Glen International was its only victory. The win qualified Allmendinger for the playoffs that season, but the organization otherwise has never placed a driver higher than 18th in the points standings.
With his deal at JTG Daugherty up after the 2021 campaign, Preece signed a unique agreement with SHR to be the organization’s reserve driver in 2022. He spent the bulk of his year as the simulator driver to help the organization test setups at different tracks.
He also got a combined 15 starts across all three NASCAR national series.
His two Cup Series starts in the No. 15 car for backmarker Rick Ware Racing were forgettable, but he scored two top-10s, including a fifth-place run at Charlotte Motor Speedway, in three Xfinity Series starts. His Truck Series performance is what really stood out, however.
Preece finished 11th or better in all 10 Truck Series starts last year, including two pole awards and a win at Nashville Superspeedway. He ran six of those races with Chad Johnston as his crew chief, which should give Preece quite a confidence boost as he heads into the 2023 season.
Preece will have a familiar crew chief in 2023
SHR recently announced that Johnston will be Preece’s crew chief for the upcoming Cup Series campaign. Johnston has been a crew chief since 2011, spent two years atop the pit box for SHR co-owner Tony Stewart and has seven Cup Series wins on his resume.
Johnston began his Cup Series career with Martin Truex Jr. at Michael Waltrip Racing, which had yet to place a driver in the NASCAR Playoffs. Johnston and Truex made the 2012 playoffs and were on their way to a berth in 2013 until the infamous race-fixing scandal happened in the regular-season finale at Richmond Raceway.
The scandal effectively ended MWR, but Johnston caught on with SHR in 2014 as Stewart’s crew chief. That two-year stint led to an opportunity with Kyle Larson at Chip Ganassi Racing. The pair won six races and finished inside the top 10 in the points standings each of their four full seasons together.
Like Preece, the 2023 season will return to a full-time schedule for Johnston after he pieced together part-time schedules in the Truck Series the past two years.
Perhaps the shared experiences and rapport the two gained during their 2022 stint together will help put Preece and the No. 41 team a few steps ahead in his return to the Cup Series this upcoming season.