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.”
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