Sadler on Preece: “He Cost Us A Championship”

Elliott Sadler could see his first career NASCAR XFINITY Series Championship, and then it slipped away in a matter of seconds.

Battling JR Motorsports teammate William Byron in Saturday night’s Ford EcoBoost 300 at Homestead-Miami Speedway, he would complete the pass for fourth with 36 laps to go, ready to set sail. He was able to stretch it out to an eight car-length gap over the run, though as the event neared conclusion, Byron began to close the gap. 

The pair would catch third-place runner Ryan Preece with nine laps to go, with Sadler diving underneath the No. 18 Toyota entering turn three, but did not clear him. Instead, the No. 1 Chevrolet got loose, causing contact between the pair with Sadler brushing the wall. It was the opportunity that Byron needed, as he made the pass to take fourth and the championship.

“As long as you can hold your line and keep your momentum up, I don’t think the guys could have — no way he could have passed me, and I think when the 18 pinched me off so bad off of 2 and William got that run and cleared me into 3, I knew it would have been pretty much over with there,” Sadler said. “I mean, just the track position was very important.”

Sadler would try to pass Preece once again two laps later, but contact happened between the pair, punching a hole in the right front tire.  While Preece placed third with Byron fourth, Sadler ultimately crossed the finish line in eighth.

“He just cost us a championship, and he’s not even racing anyone,” Sadler told NBCSN. “You won’t get anywhere in this sport if you race someone like that. You have to race with respect. He cost us a championship. I don’t know what to say.”

Preece was fighting for a title of his own, though, as he was trying to bring home the owner’s championship for Joe Gibbs Racing. In the end, he came up short as Sam Hornish Jr. and Team Penske won with a runner-up finish. 

“I mean, really I got hired to race this race for the owner championship,” Preece said. “We weren’t anywhere near the 22 (Sam Hornish Jr.), but we were racing the 9 (William Byron). It’s pretty much what I said. If it was the 7 (Justin Allgaier) and the 1 (Elliott Sadler) or anyone else that wasn’t in for that owner championship, probably, I definitely would have just laid right over.

“I’ve been an Elliott Sadler fan growing up, so if I wanted somebody to win that owner championship or driver championship, it would have been him. Just, I cannot listen to my owner. I cannot listen to the guy who’s paying you in the end, so it’s just a tough deal. It’s crappy in the end – but I hate controversy.”

Preece went on to say that he was doing his job in making sure he beat Byron for second in the owner’s standings as the final four were JR Motorsport’s No. 9 driven by Byron, Team Penske’s No. 22 driven by Hornish, and Team Penske’s No. 18 driven by Christopher Bell. Though once Byron got by, he was willing to let Sadler go and fight for the title – and had planned on doing that when the contact happened.

“If there was no contact, I was going to let him go that corner,” he said. “I pulled down in the middle, not running the top because I was letting him go. I mean, I don’t know. The only thing I could’ve done differently was realistically given up second in the owner championship and finished third. You know, hindsight 20/20, we ended up there because of what happened, but I also – as soon as the 9 (Byron) got me, I was going to let him go.

“I don’t know much more than that I could do, other than, than layover on Joe (Gibbs) and Steve (deSouza, EVP of XFINITY and Development for Joe Gibbs Racing). If they came over the radio and said ‘hey, give up second in the owner championship and let these guys race,’ I would’ve done it. I’m just – team orders. I’m not afraid to lay over if it means – but just doing what I’m told.”

The explanation from Preece did not improve relations with Sadler, who said Preece was not racing Hornish at the time as “the 22 was a half a lap ahead of him.”

For Sadler, it marks the fourth time in the last seven years that he has finished the season as the runner-up in the standings.

“That’s pretty hard to swallow,” he said. “I’ve been racing a long time; y’all know that.  But I would say tonight is the most devastating and down and out I’ve ever felt in my career.”



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement


Joe Gibbs Racing Reveals 2018 Driver, Crew Chief Line-Up

Joe Gibbs Racing is certainly going to be part of the discussion for race wins and the championship next year in the NASCAR XFINITY Series after revealing their 2018 driver/crew chief line-up on Wednesday afternoon.

“Our NASCAR XFINITY Series program is so important to us at Joe Gibbs Racing,” said Joe Gibbs, owner of Joe Gibbs Racing. “We are focused on the opportunities we have this weekend in Miami of course, but excited about the talented lineup of drivers we will have competing for us in 2018. The addition of Brandon Jones to our lineup will provide tremendous competition to the Series and give us two opportunities to run for the XFINITY Driver’s Championship, as well as the Owner’s Championship next season. For as young as he is, Brandon has gained a lot of experience across several different series and we are excited to see what he can do in our equipment and with Chris (Gabehart) leading that team.”

As announced last month, Christopher Bell will run his first full schedule in the XFINITY Series behind the wheel of the No. 20 Toyota Tundra. Bell is one of the drivers in the Championship 4 for the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series title this weekend, and scored his first career XFINITY win at Kansas Speedway in October. 

Serving as the team’s crew chief will be Jason Ratcliff, who has spent the past five years calling the shots for Matt Kenseth in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Ratcliff led the No. 20 to eight wins and best points standings finish of second in 2013. 

Brandon Jones will move from Richard Childress Racing to JGR in 2018 to drive the No. 19 Toyota Camry full-time. Jones is currently in the midst of his second full season of XFINITY competition, currently 16th in the standings with three top-10’s; he finished 10th in points last year.

“I’m really fortunate to have gotten as much experience as I have to this point of my career and very thankful to have worked with so many great people and teams over the past several years,” said Jones. “When you look at what JGR has done with Toyota in the XFINITY Series over the past decade the results speak for themselves and I’m excited to go out next season knowing I have an opportunity to be successful each and every week.”

Chris Gabehart will call the shots for Jones, as he enters his second season on top of the box. Gabehart has been successful to date, scoring nine wins and 39 top-10’s in 64 races, including a fourth-place standings result with Erik Jones in 2016.

The organization will also continue to field a third entry, which will see their Cup drivers split time behind the wheel. Kyle Busch is expected to run seven races, along with fellow stars Erik Jones, Daniel Suarez, and Denny Hamlin. Also on-board to run some of the events is Ryan Preece with at least 10 races on his schedule in 2018. He ran three events in 2017, scoring his first series victory at Iowa Speedway. 

“Obviously I couldn’t be more excited about the opportunities that I have already had with JGR this season and now to be able to increase the number of races next season is a great step in my career,” said Preece. “I’m looking forward to going out there and make the most out of the opportunity.”

Eric Phillips will be the crew chief, entering his third season on the pit box with the team. He led Suarez to a fifth-place points finish in 2015, before scoring five victories (four with Busch, one with Hamlin) this season. 

“We’re proud of our crew chiefs in that series as well,” Gibbs added. “Jason (Ratcliff) is someone we obviously have a lot of confidence in having had great success for us in both the XFINITY and Cup Series. Having Chris (Gabehart) and Eric (Phillips) back gives us proven winners atop each pit box. We believe their experience and ability to work together will really help the development of our young drivers and help our veterans compete for wins each weekend.”



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement


Iowa Perfectly Captured Identity of XFINITY Series

The two stand-alone NASCAR XFINITY Series races at Iowa Speedway are always among the best events of the season.

2017 proved no different as each visit to the 7/8-mile oval featured a first-time winner, season-best finishes for many drivers, and produced great racing.

The compelling competition resulted from the absence of Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series drivers and always unpredictable short-track racing.

In June, Christopher Bell made his second career series start, led a race high 152 laps but fell short of victory by the finish as William Byron earned his first triumph. 

On Saturday, young talent was on display once again as multiple competitors who aren’t typically the classes of the field impressed.

Ryan Preece has made the most out of his two starts with Joe Gibbs Racing this season. After finishing second at New Hampshire, he prevailed over teammate Kyle Benjamin and captured his first career series victory in the U.S. Cellular 250.

While Preece proved successful when racing against Cup Series drivers at New Hampshire, fewer experienced racers in the field provided him an improved chance to showcase his potential given a top ride, and he delivered.

Benjamin finished in the runner-up position in the car that Kyle Busch typically competes in, capturing his best career series finish.

Former Cup Series drivers were also able to shine as Brian Scott finished third and Sam Hornish Jr. placed in the top-10 in each stage before crashing late.

The success of the up and coming competitors and veterans who can still climb behind the wheel and run well is what makes the XFINITY Series unique.

When drivers competing for smaller teams like Ryan Sieg, Ross Chastain, and J.J. Yeley capture their best finishes of the year in these races, it also adds to the appeal of series.

These are also common characteristics of short-track racing which is often the proving ground for drivers looking to make a name for themselves.

While the grand stages of Daytona and Indianapolis are important, races like Iowa are what define the series.

Iowa provided some of the best racing of the season and working towards having more events play out similarly would be an excellent way to enhance the identity of the series.



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.


Ryan Preece Finds Victory Lane at Iowa in Pressure-Packed Performance

NEWTON, Iowa — Ryan Preece’s short-lived, but ambitious 2017 NASCAR XFINITY Series schedule began three weeks ago at his de facto home track, New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

It ended Saturday in the U.S. Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway — as confetti swirled and soared to highlight his first career series triumph in Victory Lane.

Preece, held off a hard-charging Kyle Benjamin in a green-white checkered finish that came after the third restart in the race’s final 17 pulse-quickening laps.

“I thought this race would never end, that’s for sure,” an emotional Preece told the NBCSN after finally slowing his fast Joe Gibbs Racing No. 20 car to a stop. “But man, nothing’s going to beat today.”

No one could beat Preece, who ran full-time in 2016, but chose to funnel his 2017 XFINITY Series resources into this two-race stint with JGR.

That high-stakes gamble clearly paid off — as Preece beamed and raised his arms, his season over, but his future visibly brighter.

“I don’t even know what to say,” said Preece, who owns 17 career NASCAR Whelan Modified Tour wins, including two this season. “I’ve got to thank everybody.”

So he did.

Benjamin settled for second, which also is his best career finish. Veteran Brian Scott took third in his first start of the season.

“I was very nervous,” said Benjamin, who also runs part-time for JGR. “I wanted to make it happen right there.”

Preece did just that, from start to finish, with a slight hiccup in between.

He earned his first career Coors Light Pole Award earlier Saturday, powering to a lap of 24.072 seconds at a top speed of 130.857 mph. That dominance carried over into the first stage, which Preece led in its entirety.

He dropped to sixth off pit road, however, which allowed Justin Allgaier to surge to the front. Allgaier would narrowly hold off Preece to win the second stage and gain a coveted playoff point, but a later gamble would reap misfortune instead of reward.

Drivers faced a dilemma when Spencer Gallagher hit the wall, drawing the caution flag with 80 laps to go. Every top contender eventually dove onto pit road. Everyone except Allgaier, that is, whose team hoped another caution would help the decision pay off.

That didn’t happen, as Allgaier swiftly dropped from first to seventh, then to 15th — and finally,  to a green flag pit stop that came with 25 laps to go. That longed-for caution finally flew shortly after Allgaier returned to the track when Sam Hornish Jr.’s No. 22 Ford hit the wall.

Allgaier’s second bad break in as many weeks preceded that nerve-fraying — and caution-filled — finish.

Points leader Elliott Sadler raced near the front most of the day, but ended up 12th. He maintains a 54-point lead over William Byron, who finished ninth.

Preece clearly wasn’t racing for points. Only a win.

And he edged Benjamin by a mere .054 seconds — a fitting margin to conclude a sprint-sized season that ended in happy incredulity.

“I’m so at a loss of words right now,” Preece said. “I don’t know what to say. This is what emotion is, I can tell you that.”


Preece’s Performance Attests to Struggle Between Funding and Talent

A long standing struggle in NASCAR between sponsorship and talent was again showcased in Saturday’s NASCAR XFINITY Series Overton’s 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

Ryan Preece made his first of two scheduled starts with Joe Gibbs Racing this season and excelled.

He finished second to teammate Kyle Busch and beat many prominent Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series competitors and XFINITY Series regulars including William Byron, Kyle Larson, and Brad Keselowski.

Loudon marked Preece’s 37th series start but the first with a top-tier organization. He previously competed with Tommy Baldwin Racing and JD Motorsports but never had the quality of equipment that earned him a career-best finish on Saturday.

By thriving when climbing behind the wheel for arguably the strongest team in the series, it showed Preece’s skill but also served as a reminder that a lack of sponsorship often keeps Preece and other talented drivers out of competitive rides.

Alex Bowman has faced a similar situation over the last couple of years. After racing for smaller teams in the NASCAR XFINITY Series, an opportunity to compete for JR Motorsports arose and changed the landscape of his career.

He captured seven top-10 finishes in 11 starts for the organization after only scoring six in 39 races previously.

Those impressive performances put him in a position to fill-in for the injured Dale Earnhardt Jr. in one of the best  Cup Series cars last season and earned him the full-time ride in the No. 88 car beginning in 2018 following Earnhardt Jr.’s retirement.

Preece similarly showed promise with JGR and could follow in Bowman’s footsteps if additional opportunities surfaced. 

While the 26-year-old had caught the eye of those in the sport before New Hampshire, he believes this performance turned even more heads.

“It means a lot to do it at this stage,” Preece said. “To prove to people that I feel like I belong to be here. I would only get better with seat time.”

Although it’s an unfortunate truth that many competitive drivers will never have the chance to compete for a high-quality team because of funding, it highlights the challenge of reaching the top levels of racing.

The importance of sponsorship will always be a given in the sport but seeing talented drivers such as Preece not able to land a competitive ride because of funding continues to be a difficult reality to accept.



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.


“They Said What?” Memorable Quotes – XFINITY Series

Sometimes when you stick a microphone in front of a driver’s face – especially when they’re mad, you have no clue what they may say and a couple of times you’ll hear something that surprises you or gives you a bit of a perspective.

Throughout the NASCAR XFINITY Series season, I had the opportunity to speak to a bunch of different competitors, whether for features or following events. During those interviews, there were some quotes that stood out. So it seems only fitting we take a glance back through the year at what was said.


“I think it’s a rule change that somebody felt needed to be done – fans, media, whoever doesn’t like that Kyle Busch wins so much. So they’ve made a rule to protect against Kyle Busch. I don’t think we have a Cup driver problem. I think we have a problem with one driver and people don’t like it. I want to race against him each week so I don’t care. I want to race against him and try to beat him every week, so I can get better. So for me, it’s a rule they’ve made, it’s in place and it’s done. We’ll fight through it; we’ll keep racing, and hopefully it results in some more wins for us. But in the end, I still wish they were racing against us.”

Brendan Gaughan‘s opinion on the new “Competition Guidelines” for Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series regulars in the XFINITY & Camping World Truck Series.


“Matt (Kaulig) is such a loyal guy, and has stuck with me since the first time he sponsored me three seasons ago. It’s tough to succeed in this sport as it takes time, but that’s what it takes. You just need to find someone who will stick with you through the good and bad, and have your back. Matt has my back and believes in me, as well as everybody at Leaf Filter Gutter Protection, and my team at Kaulig Racing. Chris Rice and I have a good relationship, and that’s what it takes – good relationships to make it.”

Blake Koch on his relationship, partnership with Kaulig Racing owner Matt Kaulig


“It’s not the ideal situation, but it’s what we’re dealt with because we don’t have a $1 million plus to drive for them, so we have to do it ourselves. I’m still fortunate to be able to it, though. It’s just tough. We don’t have the money, engineering, all the people that they have. It can be hard and impossible to outrun them in certain places, so it’s frustrating, but at the end of the day, it’s still gratifying when you can get close to them and on some days, run right there with them and sometimes beat some of them. That keeps you going for sure.”

Jeremy Clements on driving for a small team against some of the big teams in the series, like Joe Gibbs Racing and JR Motorsports.


“It’s tough. We don’t have as much funding as the other teams but are hopeful that will change. We have maybe five guys at the shop, and those guys need to be at the track, so it’s hard to maintain the cars. We may be running the same car week after week, where other guys have new cars as they have them ready.”

Joey Gase on driving for a small team against some of the big teams in the series.


“I’d really like to. I’m not hiding the fact that I’m good on road courses in the car, but I could be good on an oval. I believe that I like the feel of the car and I think it suits my driving style.”

Alex Tagliani on wanting to eventually run an oval event in one of NASCAR’s top-three divisions. 


“I’m driving racecars for a living and it’s pretty amazing to get to do what I love to do. I’m fortunate to be surrounded by a great race team and great partners like Lilly Diabetes and American Diabetes Association. I’m just trying to enjoy myself and enjoy the work process and trying to get better each week and spend time at the shop with the guys, and just try to have a lot of fun. Like I said, appreciate the whole process a little more rather than focusing just on the end goal.”

Ryan Reed 


“I have to say that it’s a dream come true. I’ve worked really hard to get to where I am and to accomplish the goals that I have accomplished. It’s great to have the opportunity to move up the ladder and give myself a shot to run in the XFINITY Series.”

Ryan Preece on his opportunity last year to drive for JD Motorsports full-time.


“I always set my expectations a little higher for myself than others would. I sometimes leave the track disappointed more than others, but in a good way because I’m trying to push myself harder. The main thing right now is completing all the laps and not getting caught up in any wrecks so we can complete all the laps.”

Brandon Gdovic on his goals and expectations for the season. 


“It’s kind of been the rebuilding year. Everybody is starting to realize that Corey LaJoie can drive again.”

Corey LaJoie’s thoughts after pulling together a string of solid finishes this year, compared to the lack of success in a previous XFINITY attempt with Richard Petty Motorsports.


“Our car chief (Brent Wentz) this week said it the best – the races and championships aren’t won at the track, they’re won during the week with the preparation that we do in the shop. I definitely believe in that as that’s the approach that we had on the 2 car, so that takes a lot of pressure off on the weekend if you’ve done your work during the week and feel good with where you’re at the shop.”

Brian Wilson on whether there’s pressure on him to win as the crew chief for the Team Penske’s No. 22 entry. 




The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.


Chastain to Return to JD Motorsports as Team Solidifies 2017 Lineup

With the 2017 season rapidly approaching, JD Motorsports is working on finalizing their plans for the NASCAR XFINITY Series schedule.

Ross Chastain will be a part of those plans as he will return to the team for the third consecutive season. The team is also working with Garrett Smithley, who finished a solid 18th in the final championship standings this past season.

“We’re 99 percent sure Garrett will be back with us,” said team owner Johnny Davis. “But we’re still working on funding and sponsorship issues to get everything lined up.”

JD Motorsports has a vacancy in their third entry as Ryan Preece has left the team to pursue other opportunities.

Chastain finished 16th in the XFINITY Series points standings last year, with 17 top 20 finishes with a best finish of 11th coming at Daytona in July. The Florida Watermelon Association will return as a primary sponsor for Chastain next season.

“Ross is a smart kid and an intelligent driver,” Davis said. “We’re lucky to have him back with us next year. He brings a lot to the team, and he works with our guys really well. We’re looking to step up our program with him.”

Smithley competed in 32 XFINITY Series races this past season with a best finish of 12th at Talladega in May.

“We’re working hard every day on getting things ready for next year,” Davis said. “It’s a complicated process to get everything in line to compete at the highest levels of stock car racing. Hopefully, we’ll be set long before it’s time to head to Daytona Beach in February for the season opener.

“Our goal is to always have our teams and our drivers in a position to show the best marketability for everybody. We take a lot of pride in our cars and our sponsors and how we showcase the drivers and the companies that work with us.”



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.


Preece Earns Top 10 in Darlington Debut

JD Motorsports earned its first top 10 of 2016 when the No. 01 Chevrolet driven by Ryan Preece crossed the finish line 10th at Darlington Raceway on Saturday.

Preece, a XFINITY Series rookie, knows his finish at the track called “The Lady in Black” was hard-earned after qualifying 22nd and flirting with the top 15 for the first 100 laps of the 200-mile event.

A four-car accident in Turn 4 on Lap 103 brought out the final caution of the race and ensured Preece would have a decent position on the restart and a lead-lap finish.

“Track position was pretty important and that caution just happened to fall our way when the 13 [Carl Long], Ryan Blaney, Kyle Larson and my teammate, Ross [Chastain], ended up wrecking,” Preece told POPULAR SPEED. “That caution came out at a good time for us because it was kind of between pit cycles. We hadn’t talked about pitting yet.

“I knew after that [caution] that we were going to pit soon because tires were so important. That caution came out when we were on the lead lap. We restarted ninth and ended up staying 10th, so it all worked out. It’s a worn out racetrack, and personally, I like it.”

The South Carolina track is notorious for giving racecars the “Darlington Stripe,” which happens when a car brushes the outside wall on one of the turns. Inexperienced rookies of any NASCAR series are particularly susceptible to the “Stripe” and often become victims of the track that can be “too tough to tame.” But Preece kept his JDM machine in fine shape by the race’s end.

“[The track] goes toward the feel that you’re looking for. In [Turns] 1 and 2, there’s so much throttle time, and you’re driving off the right rear of the car. In 3 and 4, it’s a combination of right rear [drive] and overall grip,” Preece said.

Preece’s goal for the rest of 2016 is to remain a top-15 car. At the season’s start, he aimed for top-20 finishes every weekend, but as the summer has progressed and he improved, he feels confident in more opportunities at top-10 results.

He expects to be back with JDM for the 2017 XFINITY season, along with teammates Garrett Smithley and Chastain.



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.


Preece Eager for NHMS Weekend Following Kentucky Rebound

After a blown tire and a 32nd-place finish in Iowa followed by an engine failure at Daytona, Ryan Preece appeared to be stumbling into the summer stretch. But with a 15th-place finish at Kentucky and his home track next on the schedule, the Connecticut native feels his luck is about to turn for the better.

Preece’s result in the Alsco 300 on Friday night tied his best finish of the season, which came at Talladega in April. The XFINITY Series heads to New Hampshire Motor Speedway next — a track that brings positive memories for the JD Motorsports rookie.

“It was definitely a good week to have a good run,” Preece told POPULAR SPEED. “Especially heading into a place like New Hampshire, which I consider to be my home track among the three [national] series.”

Preece has five top fives and a pole at New Hampshire in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour, amidst his career totals of 80 top 10s and 14 poles in the series. The 2013 Modified champion also made his Sprint Cup Series debut there in 2015 driving for Tommy Baldwin Racing in the No. 98 Chevrolet.

Preece called the first half of his season “a tough pill to swallow.” He and team owner Johnny Davis want the No. 01 to be a top-20 car every week, and have scored six of them in 16 races. 

“There’s been a lot of misfortune,” Preece said. “But I had a good feeling about this weekend, in terms of a really good car. We’ve been looking for a feel in the car, and I think we found it tonight.”

The 25-year-old will compete in two Modified events before the XFINITY race at New Hampshire — the Modified All-Star Shootout on Friday and the New England 100 on Saturday. He hopes the extra track time will benefit him for the AutoLotto 200, which will take place after Saturday’s Modified race.

“We’re all making good progress,” Preece said. “I’ve learned that I can’t drive a tight racecar — I need it a little free. I had a car like that tonight, and it’ll work really well there, too.”

Preece sits 18th in the XFINITY standings. He is 19 points behind his rookie teammate Garrett Smithley and 100 points outside the Chase cutoff with 10 races left until the series’ inaugural playoffs begin.



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.


XFINITY Series Rookie Teammates Exceeding Expectations

LONG POND, PA. — Ryan Preece and Garrett Smithley, rookies for JD Motorsports in the XFINITY Series, are racing full-time in a NASCAR national touring series for the first time in their careers, and the opportunity is, as Smithley humbly expressed, a “dream come true” for the duo.

One-third through the season, Smithley and Preece sit 17th and 18th in the points standings, respectively. Both drivers, like the rest of the XFINITY regulars, will race for the first time in the series at Pocono.

Preece had never driven on the track until Thursday’s practice session, but Smithley’s experience at Pocono includes a 14th-place finish in an ARCA Series race in 2013.

“It’s one the few tracks where I have a lot of racing experience,” Smithley told POPULAR SPEED. “I’ve raced here twice in the ARCA Series and once in the [Camping World] Truck Series.”

Smithley piloted the No. 0 for every race except for Daytona in February, but even though he’s not actually signed to a whole-year deal in the car, he’s earned it based on his weekly performance early in the season.

“As of right now, if nothing changes, I will be full-time in the No. 0 car for the rest of the year,” Smithley said. “When we started the year, Eric McClure was in the car at Daytona, but we planned on running the first three races after him to see where we are.”

Preece is signed for the full season in the No. 01 car and said the XFINITY Series has been an adjustment from running modified car events, which don’t race every week.

“The traveling has been a never-ending thing here,” Preece told POPULAR SPEED. “It’s a different atmosphere because for everyone here — this is their job, where on the modifieds, they’re volunteers.”

Both rookies rely on their teammate in the No. 4, Ross Chastain, for information and advice. Chastain raced full-time in the No. 4 for JD in 2015.

“Being in the car full-time and learning has helped me,” Preece said. “The toughest thing is trying to find the feel in the car that I’m looking for, but I feel like we’ll be like Ross, who has had a lot of speed.”

All three JD Motorsports drivers are in the top 20 in the points standings, and Smithley feels that momentum is on their side.

“We finished 12th at Talladega and finished 15th last weekend at Charlotte,” Smithley said. “We are exceeding all expectations, and hopefully, we can just build on that and continue the season.”

Chastain’s strong performance at Charlotte, where he led a lap was a testament to the second-tier organization’s strength.

“We’re one of the top-level race teams here that don’t have a Cup affiliation,” Smithley said.

Both drivers said it’s hard to relax with races occurring every weekend, but they appreciate having a shot in one of NASCAR’s top series.

“They’re a hard-working bunch of guys,” Preece said. “I feel like, as a group, we’re exceeding expectations. I’m very happy for this opportunity.”



The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.