Eric Phillips: “He wants to tell me what left rear spring to run.”
Ryan Preece doesn’t fit the mold of a new NASCAR driver. As of late, it’s almost a requirement to be teenager.
At age 27, Ryan Preece is whooping all their asses. In his last 7 starts, Preece has two wins, a runner-up and six top-10 runs. Most recently, he claimed the NASCAR Xfinity Series win at Bristol Motor Speedway.
He didn’t come through the ranks of a manufacture’s development program. Preece took out a loan from friends, went to victory lane and now he’s being paid as a part-time driver for Joe Gibbs Racing.
What does Ryan Preece bring to Joe Gibbs Racing that the development drivers do not?
“It brings good and bad,” crew chief Eric Phillips says from the Bristol Motor Speedway media center after his driver took the $100,000 Xfinity race win.
“His understanding of the race car is far superior to most the young kids today. You compare him to [Christopher] Bell who I worked with a lot last year…”
“Christopher just gets in and drives. Ryan’s the opposite, he wants to tell me what left rear spring to run. It’s always too big. But, I end up winning on that, most of the time.”
“His knowledge of the race car, understanding. He wants to know. He’s over there the other day trying to get my engineers to show him how to run the sim. Which I don’t think’s a good idea either.”
“He just understands race cars a lot more. I think Kyle’s that way, he understands a lot of the cars.”
“A lot of these young kids didn’t grow up working on cars, like I did. So, they don’t understand that. They drive, they do the simulators. They’re all talented. They just got there a different way.”
“I grew up — You learned to work on the race cars, then you drove it. That’s the biggest difference.”
Why is it like that for most rookies?
A lot of these kids come into racing with NASCAR as the goal from the beginning. They are given everything needed to get there. A lot of times, that includes a crew chief all the way through the ranks from go karts to stock cars
I don’t fault them at all. If that works for them, it works. For some, I’m sure it’s better for the driver to focus on one thing, driving the car. They still need to be knowledgable on the car setup but most aren’t under the car tweaking the setup or putting together a fast setup for the race on Saturday night. They have car chiefs and crew chiefs that take care of that for them, again, all the way through the ranks.
The old model was to work on the cars first then begin your racing career at age 16. A driver wouldn’t reach the NASCAR Cup Series until they were in or close-to their 30’s. Then, Jeff Gordon came along and he set the mold for younger and younger drivers.
Today, these kids are now starting their racing career at 5 years old. I’m sure there’s some 5 year olds out there working on race cars but it’s far from the norm. The days of getting in a race car at age 16 following several years of crew member work are also all but gone. Given those two things, less of these kids come into the sport understanding setups and wrench turning.
Yet, Ryan Preece steps in and snaps the current mold in half. Ryan Preece is a championship winning asphalt modified driver. He’s a full-time wrench turner on the #16 modified and a part-time driver in the #18 for Joe Gibbs Racing.
That wasn’t the first win for Preece at Bristol. The above picture is from 2015 in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Series. Pictured is Ryan Preece as he went to victory lane for the first time at Bristol Motor Speedway.