Notes of Interest
● Ryan Preece kicks off his second season as driver of the No. 41 United Rentals Ford Mustang for Stewart-Haas Racing (SHR) with Sunday’s non-points Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum. The 33-year-old from Berlin, Connecticut, competed in the previous two Clash events held on the purpose-built, quarter-mile, asphalt oval inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, where he showcased his short-track prowess each year. In his SHR debut a year ago this weekend, Preece finished fourth in his heat race to put him 16th on the grid for the 150-lap feature race. He made an impressive drive toward the front, eventually passing Bubba Wallace for the lead with 68 laps to go. Preece then paced the field for the next 42 laps before a fuel pump issue with 30 laps to go left him fighting for a seventh-place finish.
● Driving the No. 15 Rick Ware Racing Ford in the inaugural Busch Light Clash at The Coliseum in 2022, Preece raced his way into the feature in one of the Last Chance Qualifiers, then worked closely with the team to prepare for the main event by wrenching on the car himself. His bid for a strong finish in the feature was foiled when an oil pressure issue ended his bid at the race’s midpoint.
● Preece made a name for himself on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour – NASCAR’s oldest division and the only open-wheel series sanctioned by NASCAR. Preece won the Tour championship in 2013 and worked hard to leverage that title into additional opportunities in the Xfinity Series – NASCAR’s stepping-stone division to the elite Cup Series. After spending all of 2016 in a scrappy effort with an underfunded team that delivered a best finish of 10th, Preece mortgaged his house to secure two races with Joe Gibbs Racing (JGR) in 2017. In equipment finally befitting his talent, Preece finished second in his JGR debut at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in Loudon, then won in his second start at Iowa Speedway in Newton. In his next five Xfinity Series starts, Preece never finished outside the top-10, a run capped with his April 2018 victory at Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway.
● In 151 career NASCAR Cup Series starts, Preece has three top-five finishes and 11 top-10s. His first season with SHR in 2023 featured his first career pole and 135 laps led in the April race at Martinsville (Va.) Speedway, the shortest track the Cup Series races on outside of the Coliseum.
● Riding along with Preece this weekend is SHR partner United Rentals, Inc. (NYSE: URI), the largest equipment rental company in the world. United Rentals has an integrated network of 1,449 rental locations in North America, 13 in Europe, 27 in Australia and 19 in New Zealand. In North America, the company operates in 49 states and every Canadian province. The company’s approximately 24,700 employees serve construction and industrial customers, utilities, municipalities, homeowners and others. The company offers approximately 4,700 classes of equipment for rent with a total original cost of $19.3 billion. United Rentals is a member of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index, the Barron’s 400 Index and the Russell 3000 Index®. The company is headquartered in Stamford, Connecticut. Additional information about United Rentals is available at UnitedRentals.com.
● In true L.A. fashion, almost any NASCAR Cup Series team can show up at the Coliseum, but not everyone is getting past the velvet ropes to participate in the 150-lap main event. Because the track at the L.A. Coliseum is only a quarter-mile in length – the shortest track the NASCAR Cup Series will compete on in 2023 – only 23 cars can compete in the feature. Getting to the main event is much more arduous than walking the red carpet and slipping the bouncer a $100 bill. Here’s how it works…
● On Saturday, NASCAR Cup Series competitors will take to the track for a dual practice/qualifying session that determines the starting order for four, 25-lap heat races consisting of 10 cars each. Below is a breakdown on how Saturday’s heat races will be filled out:
The field will be split into three practice groups, with each group receiving three sessions. The fastest lap time from each competitor’s final practice session will determine the starting lineup for the four heat races. The top-four overall lap times in final practice will earn the pole for each heat race, while the fifth- through eighth-fastest lap times will make up the other half of the front row for each heat.
The complete field for each heat race will be filled using this methodology: Heat one will be made up of cars listed in overall positions one, five, nine, 13, 17, 21, 25, 29, 33, 37 on the final practice timesheet.
The top-five finishers (20 total cars) from each heat race automatically advance to the Clash, with the winner of heat one winning the pole and the winner of heat two earning the outside pole.
The winners of heats three and four will fill out the second row, with the remaining order being determined in the same manner.
The remaining finishing positions from each heat that did not advance will continue to Sunday’s 75-lap Last Chance Qualifying (LCQ) race. Below is a breakdown on how the LCQ will be filled out:
The starting order will be determined based on finishing positions in the heat races.
The sixth-place finisher from heat one will be on the pole for the LCQ race. The sixth-place finisher from heat two will be on the outside pole. This pattern will continue to fill out the remaining LCQ field.
The top-two finishers from the LCQ race will advance to the Clash, filling out positions 21 and 22.
The 23rd and final spot in the Clash will be reserved for the driver who finished the highest in the 2023 championship standings who does not transfer on finishing position in their heat race or in their LCQ race.
All other drivers will be eliminated from competition for the remainder of the event weekend.
Ryan Preece, Driver of the No. 41 United Rentals Ford Mustang
Your very first outing in the No. 41 SHR Ford was an impressive one a year ago this weekend. You led 42 laps in last year’s Clash at the Coliseum main event before a fuel pump going bad dropped you to a seventh-place finish. How uplifting was that to kick off your inaugural season with the team?
“It certainly helped when I went into a style of racing which I grew up doing, and it’s a style I feel like some of these guys hadn’t done in quite a long time. When you grow up racing quarter miles and you really figure out what you need in a racecar on how to pass, how to make speed when your car isn’t necessarily doing what it does or does not want to do, there are just a lot of tools that I have in my toolbox to be able to go out there and either get the most out of the racecar or drive from 16th to the lead. Track position’s always nice at a place like that, but for me, if I start 18th, I don’t think the race is over for me, I think I can still get to the lead and win that race.”
The year before, in the inaugural Clash, driving a Rick Ware Racing Ford, you raced your way into the main event in one of the Last Chance Qualifiers after working closely with the team and even wrenching on the car yourself. Talk about that.
“It’s funny, I can remember the entire setup of that car that day because it’s pretty similar to what I’d run in my Modified, which is probably why we kept locking up the left-front. But it was just Tommy (Baldwin), myself and Rick Ware Racing going out there and kind of doing the things that we know how to do. Tommy grew up at Riverhead Raceway (in Calverton, New York) and I grew up racing there, and when you have that foundation to work from and understanding what it takes to get around a paperclip, a quarter mile, you know what tools to go for. It was a lot of fun. When we made that race, I know Rick was pretty pumped, and I was so focused on getting the car changed over to get in the race. I’m sure there were a lot of people that day who probably counted us out. If we didn’t lose brakes in the feature, I feel like we probably could’ve ended up in the top-10.”
What kinds of things have you and the team been focusing on as you’ve prepared for the 2024 season?
“It would be nice to go and win the Clash. I feel like last year’s was one where Martin (Truex Jr.) was really fast, but it would’ve been really difficult for him to get by us for the lead without having to wreck me. Between the Clash, Daytona, Atlanta, Vegas, it’s a really interesting dynamic. You’re going from a quarter-mile to a 2.5-mile superspeedway, and then Atlanta, and then you’re going to Vegas. You’re really going to have an understanding of where you are on the short-track side, and then with two weeks of superspeedway-style racing, you’re going to see where your cars are at superspeedway-wise. And then we get to answer a lot of unanswered questions about this new-style body. There’s a lot of potential, a lot of things we’re looking forward to with this new Dark Horse Ford Mustang, so we’re going to have a pretty intense three to four weeks ahead of us and that’s going to help guide our season to see what we are really excited about and at the same time work to make our cars better. Hopefully our cars are just super fast.”
You grew up running short tracks. The Coliseum is the shortest of short track. Was there any track that you ran on back in the day that you feel has similarities to the track at the Coliseum?
“I want to say they modeled that track after Bowman Gray (Stadium in Winston-Salem, North Carolina), somewhat, so there are a lot of similarities. From the grip standpoint, it’s always fresh pavement, so you’re going to have plenty of grip. Bowman Gray is really difficult to pass at just because it’s outside a football field. I feel like L.A. reminds me so much of Riverhead (Raceway in Calverton, New York) when it comes to setting a pass up in how they’ve laid out the places where you can change the shape of the turn to give yourself an advantage over the guy in front of you instead of just driving through him. I think that style of racing takes so much craft to be able to make your way forward rather than just harpooning somebody and moving them out of the way. I enjoy that side of it.”
When it comes to the Clash, and short-track racing in general, what’s acceptable and what isn’t when it comes to on-track contact?
“I’ve always been under the influence of, ‘I’ll race you the way you race me.’ So if you’re going to race me with respect, I’ll do the same to try and get by you. If you’re going to stick a bumper to me, I’m probably going to put my brass knuckles on and take care of it. That’s just how I think all of us racers are, you see how you treat one another, and if the gloves come off, the gloves come off.”
The Busch Light Clash takes place in the nation’s No. 2 media market and tees up our version of the Super Bowl – the Daytona 500. Talk about being a part of that moment for NASCAR in getting the train rolling, and getting us to our biggest event.
“A lot of sports have their biggest moment at the end of the season where we kind of have two – we have our Phoenix finale, but we have the Daytona 500 to kick off all that hype. For me, it’s always great going to the 500, being a part of something so big. The energy that comes with that event is untouched, in my opinion. But at the same time, it’s a big deal for me because the last time we were at Daytona, I wasn’t able to drive out of there. I was driven out of there in an ambulance. So it’s going to be nice to get in there and go out, race that race and do our best to put ourselves in position to win it, but at the same time be able to drive myself out of that track.”