DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As he stood amidst a throng of reporters, Ryan Preece kept staring at a large video board replaying the white-flag lap of his first Daytona 500.
It was a sterling showing for the JTG Daugherty Racing rookie, who finished eighth in his Great American Race debut.
But as he watched the replay unfold, Preece kept sounding more as if he was trying to talk himself into believing it.
“Sitting here watching this, I’m probably going to get frustrated with myself because there’s a couple of things I could have done different to help my chances,” Preece said. “I was so committed to pushing Joey (Logano) that I focused more on him than I did on some of the runs I probably should have focused on. All in all it’s a good day. It’s an eighth-place finish … ”
His voice trailed off as the reality of losing five spots in the final 2.5 miles seemed to take root
“And that is so frustrating watching it,” Preece said with a smile. “We were in third place on the white flag lap, and we got flushed.”
Sure, but it still was another fine chapter in one of NASCAR’s greatest current underdog stories.
Preece is the Modified champion from Berlin, Connecticut, who bet on himself by arranging funding for some Xfinity rides with Joe Gibbs Racing and won to help land his new No. 47 ride.
There were no guarantees he would even have this ride a year ago, much less have a chance entering the final lap to win the season’s biggest race in his first try.
But that’s not how Preece, 28, looked at it, nor how he would be processing the finish during the long drive back to North Carolina.
“A lot of you guys might not know me, but I’m from a racing background,” he said. “Typically I’m competitive. I’m going to nitpick myself right now, but when I get in my truck and drive home, I’m going to be happy, but I’m going to sit here and watch this finish and say I could have had fifth, I could have had third.
“But at the end of the day, it’s still a great day.”
There were some hairy moments for Preece, who started 21st. He sustained only minor damage in the 21-car pileup on Lap 191 by shooting the gap through the middle. He narrowly missed two more pileups in the next 10 laps.
“Yeah, it was something, I guess,” he said. “I don’t know. We did what we needed to do, and that was finish this race. We got a little tore up car, not as bad as some.”
While some other veterans made some major mistakes, Preece kept it clean and earned the respect of Logano, who finished fourth.
“I had a great push by the 47 of Ryan Preece, and I thought that was cool,” the defending series champion said. “We grew up racing quarter-midgets against each other in Connecticut, and it just shows that dreams can really come true. I’m proud to be racing with him in the Daytona 500. I think that’s super-cool.”
Though he was pleased to hear the compliment from his friend, Preece still couldn’t help thinking about – and watching — that last lap.
“I’m really just disappointed in myself right there with not being more aggressive with blocking,” he said. “How can you be upset with a top 10 in my first Daytona 500? Really happy.
“So what I take away from this type of stuff is learning when to be aggressive, learning not to be aggressive. And just hopefully making some friends in the future so I can get some help when I need help instead of, ‘He’s a rookie.’ If I were them, I’d do the same they were doing to me, that’s abandoning ship. I don’t really blame them. I’m happy for everything we did.
“I felt we had a shot (to win). I just need to get more aggressive when it comes to blocking cars at the right time.”