● Virginia is for Racing: With only two races left in the 2023 NASCAR Cup Series campaign, Ryan Preece and the No. 41 United Rentals Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) are returning to Martinsville (Va.) Speedway for the second time this season for Sunday’s Xfinity 500. The 263-mile, 500-lap event will begin at 2 p.m. EDT with live coverage on NBC, MRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
● By the Numbers: Sunday’s race will mark Preece’s eighth Cup Series career start on the .526-mile, paperclip-shaped oval. When the series last visited Martinsville in April, Preece had a career-best weekend. He won his first career Cup Series pole and led a race-high and career-high 135 laps. A mishap on pit road forced Preece and his No. 41 Ford Mustang to restart from the rear and he ultimately finished 15th. Aside from Preece’s experience at the track in the Cup Series, he also has quite the resume there in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. Preece has six Modified Tour starts at the track, the first coming in 2007. He has one win (2008), two top-fives, two top-10s, 423 total laps led, an average start of 7.8 and an average finish of 13.5 in those six races.
● Back to His Modified Roots:Preece, who is celebrating his 33rd birthday on Wednesday, will return to his roots this week at Martinsville in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour’s season finale, the Virginia Is For Racing Lovers 200. The race is set for 8 p.m. EDT Thursday and kicks off the weekend’s festivities at the track. The Modified Tour is NASCAR’s oldest division and is the only open-wheel series sanctioned by NASCAR. Compared to a Cup Series car, a Modified Tour car is 11 inches shorter in height and approximately 23 inches wider, weighing nearly 800 pounds less. Preece is the 2013 Modified Tour champion and the series is where he made a name for himself. The first win of his Modified career came at Martinsville on Sept. 20, 2008, when he led 265 of the race’s 300 laps. Preece built his No. 40 Modified in his personal race shop based out of Kannapolis, North Carolina with the help of his father, Jeff Preece, who will take on the role of crew chief Thursday. The Preeces and members of the No. 41 SHR team will be assisting him on race day in various crew member roles, including the pit crew. The 200-lap, 105.2-mile race will be streamed live on FloRacing beginning at 8 p.m. EDT.
● About United Rentals: United Rentals, Inc. (NYSE: URI), the largest equipment rental company in the world, is back on the No. 41 SHR Ford Mustang, serving as the primary sponsor for the remainder of the 2023 season. The partnership began with the non-points Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum, Feb. 4-5 in Los Angeles. United Rentals has an integrated network of 1,449 rental locations in North America, 13 in Europe, 27 in Australia and 19 in New Zealand. In North America, the company operates in 49 states and every Canadian province. The company’s approximately 24,700 employees serve construction and industrial customers, utilities, municipalities, homeowners and others. The company offers approximately 4,700 classes of equipment for rent with a total original cost of $19.3 billion. United Rentals is a member of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, the Barron’s 400 Index and the Russell 3000 Index®. The company is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut. Additional information about United Rentals is available at UnitedRentals.com.
● Turns for Troops – Making Every Lap a Lap of Honor: Join United Rentals in supporting military veterans and families through the Turns for Troops program. United Rentals will donate $50 for each lap that one of its three sponsored drivers completes for specific races throughout the season. So far this season, Preece has completed all 869 laps possible during the campaign in 2023, raising $43,450. This weekend, Preece has the opportunity to raise $25,000 if he completes every lap of the 500-lap race at Martinsville. This weekend’s race and Championship 4 weekend at Phoenix Raceway are both Turns for Troops events. Funds from the Turns for Troops program go to SoldierStrong and Operation Homefront. Click here to learn more.
● Last Weekend: The Cup Series competed for 400.5 miles on the 1.5-mile Homestead-Miami Speedway oval, where Preece and the No. 41 SHR Ford Mustang rallied for a 13th-place finish from their 29th spot on the starting grid. It was his 11th top-15 finish this season.
● Where He Stands: Preece heads to Martinsville 24th in the driver standings with 590 points.
You’re back at Martinsville Speedway this weekend for some short-track action. You won the pole there in April. What will it take to do that again?
“We’re once again putting a huge emphasis on qualifying this weekend. The focus will be on practice and seeing where our car stacks up. I think we’re going to be fast right out the gate and, from there, we’ve got to be strong in qualifying so we can start up front again. At a track like Martinsville – we’ve seen it at the other similar tracks this season – you don’t want to start in the back. That’s obvious from what happened to us in April. We started on the pole, led a ton of laps but when we had to restart at the rear, it was just so hard to get back to the front. It’s so hard to pass and move up front when you’re back there at these smaller tracks. So, we just want to qualify up front and stay there for the entire race this time. I like Martinsville a lot and I’ve got a Grandfather clock from a Modified race, so I’m looking forward to adding another one on Sunday.”
You’re going back to your roots this week and running in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour race at Martinsville on Thursday. When you go back to that series, do you feel like you’re back home?
“To be honest with you, it is well-received. They want me to come back and race with them. They enjoy it, I enjoy it. I’m really good friends with Doug Coby and Justin Bonsignore and many of the other racers that compete in that series. Even though we’re competitors, we’re really good friends. They’ve known me since I was a little kid and we’ve grown up over the past 15-plus years racing together. When they saw that I was going to race at Martinsville, I got a few text messages from them and they told me not to screw up their championship chase and I’ll do my best not to. But, I’m definitely looking forward to it. This will be my first Modified race since the beginning of the Cup Series season and it’s also extra track time for Sunday’s race.”
What is the racing like at Martinsville?
“To me, Martinsville is a big Coliseum and there are things we can take from that race and the other short-track races we’ve had this season. These short tracks have been our sweet spot this season. We showed speed earlier at Martinsville, same thing with Richmond and Bristol, too. I feel like our short-track stuff has been really good and we’ve shown a lot of promise, so I’m excited to get another shot at it this weeend. The racing at Martinsville is always very aggressive, you have to be aggressive to stay in it. You also have to be smart so you don’t get wrecked in the corners. I’m feeling confident heading into the race and I’ve got a lot of momentum on my side right now. I’m ready to get out there and get the finishes this 41 team deserves.”
Why do you continue to go back to the Modified Tour and run races?
“My passion for open-wheel racing and for Modifieds, when you go into that pit area, everybody there is pretty much a volunteer, we all have a passion for it and love it. It’s not like some of the other racing deals where it’s their source of income and living. They do this because it’s fun to them, so I would say the passion that the series has and that the people in it have, that’s the reason why I continue wanting to do it. I enjoy working on those racecars, I grew up doing it and I love it. Any time that there’s an opportunity to go do that, I’m going to. With the Cup Series season coming to a close, this was a good time to come back.”
You’re a guy who builds and works on your own racecars, and you built your Modified for Thursday in your own shop. Was there someone specific in your life who taught you how to do it and motivated you to keep at it?
“I think I have a whole lot of role models and not just national stars. You know, as a kid, my era was your Kevin Harvicks, your Tony Stewarts, your Mark Martins, Rusty Wallaces. I gravitated toward those guys. From a racing standpoint, throughout the years, I’ve had many different role models. There’s one guy named Dave Steele – and I’ll never forget this – he was a USAC racer and I was out in Indianapolis racing and he showed up. It was pretty much just him, and he went out and won that night. He was doing everything himself. I watched him that whole time do it all himself and it was impactful for me. In that moment, remembering that and seeing that, it helped me as I got older to realize that no matter how good you may be, if your car is not fast, you’re only going to go so fast. That was when I really figured things out and started to take a more hands-on approach in racing for myself. If I wasn’t getting what I needed, I felt that I could start taking more control and giving myself what I needed at the Modified level. And, there’s my father. There were times where if I was sitting at the end of the trailer doing nothing – kind of like many young kids do, right? – you’re just there, you’re the driver and you hold the steering wheel. My father would make me do things, and if there wasn’t anything to do, he’d make me pick up trash. He wouldn’t let me sit around. That’s a true story and that’s part of why I am where I am. I am always doing something and that’s who I am. Most people would have given up, they probably wouldn’t have chased sponsors, they wouldn’t have chased opportunities. A lot of those moments in life have made me who I am. Like, if you want something bad enough and you love something enough, you’ve got to just go make it happen. You can’t wait around for it to happen. That’s how racing is for me.”
What’s your favorite track to run at in the Modified Tour?
“New Smyrna. It’s the beginning of the year in Feburary during Speedweeks, it’s just a whole different level of racing. You’re with your guys and, most of the time when I go Modified racing, my team is my friends. You’re with each other, whether it’s 10 days or two weeks, we’re having fun. Even if it’s going out after the races for a few beers or getting up early to get the car ready, every day is another chance to get out there and win a race together. So not only is the racetrack really fun to race at because it’s really fast, but as a driver it’s also a good time to be with all your people. It’s what we all kind of live for. The reason our fans come out to the race is for that experience and to camp out.”