Ryan Preece used a fast race car and a perfect strategy to nail down his second straight victory in the Spring Sizzler Sunday afternoon at Stafford Motor Speedway.
At 200 laps in length, the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour portion of the Spring Sizzler has always been a race of both speed and strategy. But with even more rules regarding live pit stops in 2018, being able to nail down the correct strategy was tougher than ever before.
The rules for the race stated that teams could take only fuel or just one tire change per stop. During the race Sunday, teams took their fuel early on and their tires later, with some teams pitting two to three times over a yellow flag period and some spreading them over multiple yellows.
Ryan Preece, Patrick Emerling and Chase Dowling emerged as the three fastest cars not to be swept up in the multiple yellows that slowed the race. Dowling took his fuel and tires during caution periods on Laps 51 and Lap 98, Emerling spread out his tire changes to the first and second half of the race, while Preece took his fuel early on Lap 37, but wanted to wait until later in the race to take all his tires.
Everything appeard to be going Preece’s way until Lap 116, when Emerling pushed through for the lead, with Preece fading quickly through the field. One of the longest green flag runs went until Lap 152, when Preece made three stops for all three of his tires, with Emerling also giving up the lead to Dowling while he bolted on his final tire.
But after what would be the final restart on Lap 159, Preece went on a tear through the top 10, eventually running down Dowling on Lap 171 to take the lead for good. Preece recorded his second straight Spring Sizzler win and his first NWMT win of the 2018 season, while Dowling settled for second.
For Preece, the winning strategy in the end was one that evolved over the first half of the race.
“I think everything is just a mess with me, man. I told my father sometimes some times over preparing is a bad thing,” Preece said after the race. “Sometimes you just got to come up with a basic plan and it constantly changes. I thought I was going to pull a Riverhead 300, lead most of the race and give it away. Fortunately everything worked out and we got a caution and took three (tires).”
The past two years have been eye-openers for Preece, who celebrated his second career NASCAR XFINITY Series victory on April 14 at Bristol Motor Speedway. He has remained very loyal to the Modified ranks, working full-time for car owner Eddie Partridge on the No. 6 since the beginning of 2017. It has been that effort that Preece has been especially proud of.
“Last year was the first year I started working for Eddie and then I got my first win. My father helps me a lot, but when I’m setting it up, you take a lot of pride in it,” Preece stated. “When I got my first win last year, it was a feeling I had never experienced before. That’s what I realized racing was about, it’s not just about going fast and knowing how to not wreck racecars; it’s about hard work and perseverance.
“A lot of hours spent, I built this car from scratch this winter. We’ve been really good with it and I’ve been really happy with it.”
Not only has Preece been proud to continue racing in the Modifieds as much as he has, he also believes it will continue to make him a better driver in NASCAR’s upper ranks.
“I think Kevin Harvick said it a while ago, I can’t remember for sure, but he said something about guys kind of doing appearances versus going to their short tracks where their fans are at. I think that does go a long way, so I’m going to continue racing short tracks and working on my Modifieds until I’m told I can’t.
“Nothing is more gratifying and satisfying than winning, just because I’ve won in an XFINITY car doesn’t make it easier to win here. There’s guys that are really tough here to beat, when I show up I don’t walk through the gates thinking I’m going to win; I’m hoping I can do everything to outwork a lot of people at the end of the day. Just because they are in the grassroots doesn’t make it easy for me.”
Preece also has a great appreciation for the tour’s history, especially the Spring Sizzler.
“Winning the Sizzler, it’s a big deal man. Guys 30 years from now, they’re going to think of me like I think of Bugsy, Richie, and Teddy like when he did those years when he did it in a row,” he claimed. “That’s what I want, I want to move up, but at the same time I want to make a name for myself, and that’s what I’m trying to do.”
Many believe that Preece has reopened the Tour for future drivers to move up the racing ladder. But it also includes a number of the present young guns on the Tour, including Sunday’s runner-up finisher Chase Dowling.
Dowling has had race cars capable of winning races on multiple occasions, with a potential victory escaping his grasp after a restart violation sent him to the rear earlier in the month in the Icebreaker 150 at Thompson Speedway Motorsports Park. While another second-place finish has added some fire to Dowling’s resolve, it has not taken away the pride he has felt in the No. 15 LFR team’s efforts thus far.
“It brings a lot of drive, the guys that worked hard all day, they want to go back to the shop again and they’re into it. They know that win is coming quick,” Dowling said. “We almost had one at Thompson and almost had one today, but consistency is the key and that’s what’s going to be part of the season. We bring really fast race cars here, nothing to hang our heads about.”
Behind Dowling, Rowan Pennink came home in third in his second race back after back surgery, while mid-race leader Patrick Emerling finished fourth and Craig Lutz recorded his second straight top five.
The NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour will next head to Seekonk Speedway on Saturday, June 2 with Justin Bonsignore leading the points by just one point over Dowling and five over Lutz. Jon McKennedy and Rob Summers complete the top five in points exiting Stafford.
-By: Connor Sullivan, Speed51.com Northeast Editor – Twitter: @Connor51CT
-Photo credit: Speed51.com/Rick Ibsen