STORY & PHOTO BY: Kyle Souza
NEW SMYRNA, Fla. — Minutes after locking himself into the Daytona 500 at Daytona International Speedway, Ryan Preece buckled into his rental car and drove down the road to New Smyrna Speedway.
According to Preece, he even followed the speed limit doing it.
When he arrived, the NASCAR Cup Series driver for JTG Daughtery Racing piloted his No 6 Modified from a grid spot of 39th on paper, to victory lane, in the Tour Modified John Blewett Memorial 76. But, it was the decisions he made in the first half of the race that put him in position to get the job done. After chasing his way up to 14th spot, Preece was sitting behind Matt Hirschman — the Modified veteran that is best known for pacing himself, saving equipment and being there at the end of the race.
It was in that moment that Preece rode behind Hirschman for roughly 20 laps, saving his own equipment. When Hirschman decided to step it up, Preece did as well — and the two quickly worked their way into the top-10. When Hirschman got spun racing in fourth on a restart late, Preece got through the wreck. He passed Eric Goodale in turn three on lap 69 and led the rest of the day.
“The whole reason I put myself through what I do is to win races,” Preece said. “Showing up here tonight, starting last, and winning tonight pretty much makes it all worth it. I just did what Matt did — I had a good car regardless — but everything worked out in our favor. When it comes to the races when you can’t change tires, Matt is by far the best of anyone. I think tonight just shows that if you have a good car and you’re patient with the throttle, you will be fine.”
Hirschman makes a living winning big races. He didn’t earn the nickname “Big Money Matt” by finishing second. And Preece knows it. Preece also knows that the equipment factor in a long race at New Smyrna, specifically having tires left to race with, is critical.
“You know people are going to wreck in front of you when you start in the back and you just have to drive through it,” Preece said. “But when we had the long green flag run, and they started slipping and sliding, I knew I was content riding behind Matt and I’d pick up the pace when he did.”
Hirschman was appreciative of the compliments from Preece, but wanted to park his own ride in Victory Lane. He somehow charged back to second after the track, taking spot at the front again in just 15 laps, assisted by a few wrecks, but ran out of laps to try to get by Preece.
“Ryan and I have raced well together over the years, we’ve topped each other, and we seem to put on good races because have different styles but always seem to cross paths,” Hirschman said. “I’ve raced with other guys that I never remember racing, with even though they are top winners. He came out on top tonight, but I guess I could say that being older than he is, I taught him a few things over the years. I’d like to see him do well. I’d love to see him win the Daytona 500 and then they can say he beat Matt Hirschman at New Smyrna Speedway on Wednesday night. It’d be cool to see it happen.”
Preece is debuting a new FURY entry during the World Series of Asphalt Stock Car Racing at New Smyrna and it seems to be working well. But after so many years of working with other car manufactures, why make the switch in 2021?
“FURY is 15 minutes from my house,” Preece said. “The Troyer car I have, it’s a TA-2, but no one has it and I don’t know with everything going on up there if it is able to be produced. I think it was time to give this an opportunity. They have been great to me and I’m happy we were able to win the race with them. Everything has it own little tweaks. The FURY car drives a bit different but you just keep tuning on it and finding what it likes and doesn’t like.”
The only other challenger Preece really had to fend-off after he passed Goodale for the lead was Jon McKennedy, and that was a steep challenge. It was a flashback to Monday night — when McKennedy and Preece got together and McKennedy spun — McKennedy was vocal after the race that Preece was at fault, and the two crossed paths again on Wednesday night. McKennedy made it clear he wasn’t happy with Preece, blocking and brake-checking him, but Preece wanted nothing to do with the discussion post-race, while celebrating.
“I won the race. That’s all I care about,” he said. “I got a trophy. That’s all I care about, and all I come for.”
Preece now will turn his attention to the Bluegreen Vacations Duels on Thursday, February 11, the Daytona 500 on February 14, and the 2021 NASCAR Cup Series season, while also running the Richie Evans Modified 100, back at New Smyrna, on February 12.
“The intensity of the entire (Cup) team, not just about making the Daytona 500, is high,” Preece said. “The preparation is what gets you to where you want to be speed-wise. I could tell the first run out how fast we were by ourselves. That’s not really me — it comes down to the guys in the shop and those who set it up. Ultimately, hats off to every single guy that had their hand in building the race car.”