Column By: REID SPENCER / NASCAR – CONCORD, NC – In 2017, Ryan Preece placed a sizable bet on himself. On Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, he cashed the winning ticket.
Preece will succeed AJ Allmendinger as the driver of the No. 47 JTG Daugherty Racing Chevrolet, the team announced during a press conference in the CMS media center.
The hiring marks the culmination of a bold gamble on the part of Preece, a star in the Modified ranks who used his bankroll to fund two events in Joe Gibbs Racing equipment last year and won in his second start at Iowa after a runner-up finish at New Hampshire.
For the money those two races cost, Preece could have raced an entire season with JD Motorsports, for whom he had run in 2016. But Preece wanted to show what he could do in top-of-the-line equipment.
“Last year, when I was going to JGR and running those couple of races, I read (team owner) Joe Gibbs’ book about his journey of being a head coach and kind of how whenever he forced something to happen, it never panned out,” Preece said.
“I could relate to that because in my career, whenever I’ve tried to force something to happen, it really just doesn’t happen. For instance, when I left JD Motorsports, not really having a ride of anything and then Carl (Edwards) retired, it just opened up.”
Would JTG Daugherty co-owner Tad Geschickter have noticed Preece if he hadn’t taken the leap of faith and won in the JGR car?
“To answer it honestly, I think you have to win at the level you are at before you look at the next level,” said Geschickter, who confirmed Friday that JTG will switch engine suppliers from Earnhardt-Childress to Hendrick Motorsports next season.
“So, obviously, the fact that he has been able to win in Xfinity against the best of the best, that put him higher up on the list, but certainly, his accomplishments in his career and the way we researched things, he was definitely on the radar anyway. So I don’t know how to answer that other than to say that it didn’t hurt.”
FULL CIRCLE: DANIEL HEMRIC PROMOTED TO RCR’S NO. 31 CUP TEAM
Thirty-four years ago, team owner Richard Childress installed a driver from Kannapolis, N.C.—Dale Earnhardt—as the full-time occupant of the No. 3 Chevrolet.
Together, Earnhardt and Childress won six Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series titles together and established one of motorsports’ most iconic brands.
On Friday at Charlotte Motor Speedway, Childress announced that Kannapolis native Daniel Hemric will take over the driving duties in the No. 31 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Hemric succeeds Ryan Newman, who will part with the organization at the end of the year and drive for Roush Fenway Racing in 2019.
A contender for the NASCAR Xfinity Series championship this year in the No. 21 RCR Chevrolet, Hemric has yet to win in the series, but that hasn’t muted the confidence of his boss. Hemric is doing double duty at the Charlotte Road Course this weekend, including a second Cup start in the No. 8 RCR car.
“He will get his wins,” Childress said. “And I think it could happen here Sunday. His No. 8 car is really fast. He’s a great road racer. Don’t be surprised if we’re not sitting here Sunday afternoon. Write that down. We’re going to be trying.”
Childress sees similarities between the blue-collar approach to racing that Hemric shares with the late Earnhardt.
“Dale Earnhardt’s career… he had to work his way up,” Childress said. “I remember seeing him on dirt, seeing him in the Late Models and the things that he did. To see Daniel and all the racing he did over here at Charlotte and all the different tracks that he’s run, the Late Models, I think he’s proved that he’s well capable of being here—no different than Dale Earnhardt did in his day.”
Currently second in the NASCAR Xfinity standings to Christopher Bell, Hemric seemed overwhelmed by the opportunity. As a young, aspiring racer, Hemric lived less than five miles from Dale Earnhardt Inc.
“It’s very special to be able to see what the pinnacle of the sport was,” Hemric said. “And to be that close to my house, and to be able just to see his face. He came from the same home town and grew an empire to what it was.
“And to have that stuff all come full circle here at Richard Childress Racing and have the guy he called his boss be my leader moving forward with the company I dreamed of racing for my entire life—it’s unbelievable how it’s come full circle, and I’m sitting here today.”
AUSTIN DILLON DAMAGES HIS CHEVROLET IN CHAOTIC OPENING PRACTICE
If opening practice was an indication, Sunday’s Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series race at the Charlotte Road Course might be even more chaotic than predicted.
During a session with a non-stop succession of incidents, the right side of Denny Hamlin’s No. 11 Toyota jumped two feet off the pavement when Hamlin rolled over the six-inch-high “turtles” (prohibitive curbing) in the backstretch chicane.
Bubba Wallace spun his No. 43 Chevrolet, then spun again. Ricky Stenhouse Jr. went for a wild ride, smacking the wall in Turns 3 and 4 with the rear of his No. 17 Ford. Kyle Busch scraped the tire barrier at the exit from Bus Stop.
And those were just the highlights of the first 20 minutes.
Playoff driver Austin Dillon sustained the most visible damage while making a mock qualifying run. His No. 3 Chevrolet slid at the entry to the Bus Stop, and before Dillon could regain control, the left front of the car clobbered the tire barrier, peeling back the front fender like the top of a sardine can.
“Tried to get too much,” Dillon acknowledged on the radio, an indication that the search for speed on a brand new track might have some dire consequences during Sunday’s race (2 p.m. ET on NBC, PRN and SiriusXM NASCAR Radio).
“I’m trying to hit every corner here before the race starts,” Dillon quipped later. “I have two or three out of the way, but there’s a couple left.”