RYAN PREECE, No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Mustang Dark Horse – THIS IS YOUR FIRST RACE COMING BACK HERE AFTER THE CRASH. WHAT GOES THROUGH YOUR MIND COMING BACK HERE FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE THAT CRASH IN AUGUST? “Nothing. I look at this race or this track no different than I did a year ago. And as I said, I think it did more, I don’t want to say harm, but gave people more mixed feelings about this racetrack for my wife and my father than it did me. But as a racer I feel like we’re, like I said this morning, at least I’ll speak for myself, I’m numb to these things and getting in the race car and having that happen. Crappy deal. I was pissed off more that we had such a fast race car and wasn’t able to finish the race. So it would be nice to go into the 500, and we’re going to see how our speed is with this new Mustang Dark Horse tonight. And we certainly had really fast Ford Mustangs last year. So I’m eager to get out there tonight.”

WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST REACTION WHEN YOU SAW A REPLAY OF THE WRECK? “Not much. I think it’s really like you understand the severity of it the more times that you watched it. So it probably took about 30, 40 times of watching it to understand how bad it really was and obviously things happen really fast. So, for your brain to really interpret everything that that happened throughout that wreck. You just remember more and more. 

YOU SAID YOU KEPT PICKING UP STUFF THE MORE YOU WATCHED THE REPLAYS, WHAT WAS THE MOMENT WHEN IT SEEMED REALLY DANGEROUS TO YOU AFTER WATCHING IT 30 OR 40 TIMES? “I knew how dangerous it was but as a driver, you’re numb to it. So it really doesn’t impact me one way or another when I was watching it at first. And then as I watched it more and more, I was like, okay, yeah, that was pretty big.”

YOU SAID THE CARS HAD SPEED, LAST YEAR, BUT THE RESULTS ON PAPER FOR SHR AS A WHOLE THE RESULTS WERE NOT PLEASANT LAST YEAR. HOW IMPORTANT IS THIS WEEK, ATLANTA, YOU GUYS AS A TEAM AND AN ORGANIZATION GETTING OFF TO A FAST START TO HOPEFULLY PUT SOME OF THOSE DEMONS FROM LAST YEAR TO BED? “When you look at Daytona, you can have the fastest race car in the world and still not win this race. You can get collected in the big one. And I think that was honestly the fact for many of us. I think when you look back at last year, the 10, the 4, the 14, and myself, we ran top four, lead laps, whatever it may have been, all of us. And it wasn’t just from a track position move. It was having speed and pushing people and doing all the things that it took. Atlanta’s tough. That’s a handling track as much as it is a speed track. But certainly, the beginning of our season, it’s very diverse. It has super speedways, it has short tracks, it has intermediates. And having two superspeedway style races at the beginning of the season can certainly put you in a hole really quick or it can give you a little bit of a cushion and make you feel good.”

HOW SOON DO YOU THINK YOU’LL KNOW THEN AS FAR AS WHERE SHR IS AT AS AN ORGANIZATION THIS YEAR? “I would say it’s going to take six races to see the intermediate gains. We don’t get to Vegas until the third race of the season so that’s the one that we have circled.”

HOW MUCH HAS CHANGED THIS OFF-SEASON WHEN COMPARED TO THE LAST NOW THAT KEVIN HARVICK IS IN THE BOOTH AND NO LONGER BEHIND THE WHEEL? “Well, I think it you have four drivers with four completely different personalities. I’m different from Chase and Noah and Josh and as they are from me so I feel like there are certain traits that I have that push them as well as certain traits that they have that push me so I feel like it complements each other as well as us at Stewart Haas, we hear everybody, we hear you guys, we’re not just ignoring it. And as you heard Tony say, mediocrity isn’t acceptable. I’m a race car driver. I’m somebody that’s very passionate about what I do. And I do it outside the Cup series and I don’t accept mediocrity. I know within our 41 team we didn’t have the year we wanted, but we set some of the foundation that we needed going into this year and now we’re going to go do what we need to do. As a race car driver, to have a long-lasting career, you need to win races, and I’m sick of talking about not winning.”

TO HELP KEEP CARS ON THE GROUND, ARE YOU SATISFIED WITH THE CHANGES THAT NASCAR MADE AFTER YOUR CRASH AND THE CONTINUED IMPROVEMENTS AROUND THE RACE TRACK? “I feel right now with our rules packages, with the limiters and the diffuser and everything that we have, that was the best alternative that we needed to do. Certainly, I don’t want to see any driver have to fly in the air like that. Because at the end of the day, I was certainly lucky. I understand that. You’re inches away from possibly not walking out of here or seeing your family again. So for me, I’m happy they did it. And it was a step in what needed to be done to keep these cars on the ground.”

YOU’VE HAD A LOT OF SPEED ON THESE SUPERSPEEDWAYS. I KNOW IT’S GETTING OVERSHADOWED BY WHAT HAPPENED HERE LAST AUGUST BUT WHAT’S THE MINDSET COMING IN HERE WITH AN OPPORTUNITY TO WIN THE STATE? “A lot of the preparation. Track position is huge right now with what we have but certainly you prepare for those last couple laps understanding the pack energy. I don’t know if fans really understand what we’re dealing with and doing. Trying to block lanes or have air push us, propel us forward, or what car we have behind us pushing us, or even what OEM. I know I have a list of drivers that I’m going to try and hook up with and get ourselves to the front and stay there.”

WITH THE OEMS, I’M CURIOUS, HOW DO YOU FEEL LIKE THE DUELS ARE GOING TO LOOK TOMORROW NIGHT? OBVIOUSLY, YOU’VE GOT THE NEW FORDS, THE NEW TOYOTAS, AND THE CHEVYS HAVE TO FIGURE OUT HOW TO DRAFT WITH BOTH OF YOU GUYS TOO WHILE YOU’RE STILL FIGURING OUT HOW THE CAR REACTS IN TRAFFIC, SO WHAT WILL THE DUELS LOOK LIKE TOMORROW? “No different than any other race we’ve ever seen. Action-packed and we’re going to, someone’s going to end up in Victory Lane.”

QUESTION INDAUDIBLE: “I am biased. I am from the Northeast so I can complain a little bit. It is something that I wish, selfishly, that we had 1200 horsepower. I want to feel like I have an egg underneath that gas pedal. Right now we are in a time, an era of needing every little bit of downforce you can, which has always been the case. Whichever team has their tools in tune with what is going on is what separates each of us as a driver. Going into Vegas I feel really good about the Ford Mustang Dark Horse and some of the information we have seen coming into the year. All the gains that we made that we were all working towards last year. They were able to win the championship even with what we had but the Mustang Dark Horse will make It better.”

WE HAVE HEARD THAT ONE OF THE CHANGES ON THE MILE-AND-A-HALF TRACKS IS THAT YOU DON’T GET SUCKED AROUND QUITE SO EASY. HAS THAT HELPED THE RACING? “I think it has just changed some of the things. You are always going to have challenges. We are at 180 miles per hour and dirty air is a thing. We certainly do fight dirty air with these cars because they aren’t sucked and sealed off. When you get within two or three car lengths of somebody, the amount of air on that car is different than if you are in clean air. Trying to control that balance is a real thing. To your point, we aren’t leaning on sideforce to get around race cars. The mechanical aspect is different from what it was before.”

HOW IS THE RACING SIMILAR DAYTONA TO ATLANTA AND ALSO DIFFERENT? “The runs that we get at Atlanta are far greater than any other superspeedway runs that we get but the handling in Atlanta means so much more. It is actually tricky. Some teams concentrate on trimming out and I think a lot of it is weather oriented but you need to have a really good handling car at Atlanta.”

WITH THE NEW MUSTANG, HOW DOES THAT AFFECT THE SHORT TRACK RACING BECAUSE YOU GUYS WERE STOUT LAST YEAR ON SHORT TRACKS? “I feel like it is a good baseline. With the changed rule package I don’t really know. If you show up exactly how you did last year you are going to be in trouble. From what I saw in some of the testing, honestly, I wish we would stop touching things. I don’t think that some of these changes are going to help us. If we are ultimately going to fix some of what we all want, we need horsepower. I want 1200 horsepower, not 800. We need a lot more and that will help.”

IS THAT THE ONLY THING THAT FIXES IT? “I think it is a combination. I think tires, horsepower would certainly fix things. I will say that Goodyear has done a phenomenal job taking big steps outside their comfort zone and I for one, as a race car driver really appreciate it. We will continue to work on those things so that way us race car drivers feel like we continue to keep making a big difference and hopefully keep trending in those directions.”

HOW DO YOU EXPLAIN TO RACE FANS YOUR STANCE ON WANTING MORE HORSEPOWER? WHY? WHAT WOULD IT DO? “As a race car driver, the way a car handles means so much but it makes us feel like we can manipulate what the car is doing under braking. Right now if I go to a mile-and-a-half, if I touch that brake pedal I am running 36th. We need to make it so you don’t even go near that. Essentially I feel like we are go kart racing and I haven’t done that since I was 10 years old. I don’t wanna go back to that. I want to have high horsepower race cars where I as a driver over the years have fine tuned my skills to make grip or speed doing different things and not feel like I have to just hold the gas pedal wide open the whole time.”

GUYS MAKE A MISTAKE NOW, ESPECIALLY ON A SHORT TRACK, IF THEY DOWNSHIFT THEY DON’T LOSE ANYTHING, BUT DO YOU FEEL LIKE WITH MORE HORSEPOWER YOU FEEL LIKE YOU CAN MAKE GUYS PAY FOR THEIR MISTAKES MORE? “Absolutely. Honestly, that whole shifting conversation, I have my own opinion on it. I wish we didn’t take it away. It created an added tool for us drivers to be able to do things. The added horsepower would just give you so many different ways to manage your race and how you decide to take care of your tires versus not, especially if the tires you can blow them off in 20 laps. You have to be smart as a race car driver to manage them.”

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