Ryan Preece made his first start of 2018 behind the wheel of the No. 18 Rheem Toyota Camry at Auto Club Speedway. The Berlin, Conn., native qualified his red and white Camry in the eighth starting spot for the fifth race of the 2018 NASCAR Xfinity season.
At the drop of the green flag, Preece kept his No. 18 Rheem Camry in the top 10 and was running ninth with 15 laps remaining in Stage 1. A caution flag flew on lap 31 for a single-car incident in turn 2. NASCAR would not get the race back to green before the end of Stage 1 on lap 35. Preece informed his team that he was a little too tight and need some adjustments to compete for the win. Crew chief Eric Philips summoned his driver to pit road for four tires, fuel and a round of adjustments. The 27-year-old driver took the Stage 2 restart 10th.
Preece continued to run in an around the top 10 but was still battling a tight-handling condition on his No. 18 Rheem Toyota Camry. A caution flag flew on lap 69, right before the end of Stage 2, for John Hunter Nemechek on the front stretch. Philips once again summoned his driver to pit road for tires, fuel and more adjustments.
At the halfway point of the Rosanne 300, the young driver was listed eighth but was able to work his way up to sixth just two laps later. Two quick caution flags flew on lap 104 and lap 109 for Preece’s Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Christopher Bell. With different pit strategies playing out, Preece found himself 11th on the lap 114 restart.
With 30 laps remaining in the race, another caution flag flew and Preece was scored seventh. Philips opted to keep his driver on the race track during the caution period and he took the restart sixth with just 26 laps remaining. On lap 131, Preece made a veteran save and was still able to maintain a top-10 running position. A final caution flag flew on lap 138 for debris on the race track. Once again, Preece brought his Rheem Camry to the attention of his pit crew. With several teams opting to stay on the racing surface, Preece restart the eight lap shoot out 10th. Preece was able to gain one spot in the closing laps to cross the finish line ninth in his 2018 NASCAR Xfinity debut.
Joey Lagano won the race followed by Justin Allgaier, Elliott Sadler, Austin Dillon and Daniel Hemric
How would you evaluate your first NXS start this season?
“We were really good on restarts and thought we were going to be really good on the long run, but we struggled there and for a place like this, it’s going to bite you. Overall, we got ninth so a top-10 and we’ll build on this for Texas.”
How will this race help you prepare for Texas in a couple weeks?
“Seat time is everything so the more and more we’ve got going – we made the car better, we just couldn’t complete the corners. If you break a car down into five points, the fourth and fifth points – to make the straightaway as long as possible, we just struggled. Overall, I’m happy we didn’t wreck. Solid day I guess, but we need to build on it to keep climbing that ladder a little bit.”