If JTG Daugherty Racing was looking for a quick fix last season to its ongoing status as a mid-pack team, the answer wasnât found in the swap that put Ryan Preece in its No. 47 Chevrolet in place of AJ Allmendinger. Preece, now 29, completed his rookie NASCAR Cup Series season with a 23.1 average finish and wound up 26th in the final standings.
But it would be a foolâs errand to expect that Preece, the 2013 champion of the Northeast-based NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and more recently a two-time race winner as a part-time driver in the Joe Gibbs Racing Xfinity Series program, could significantly improve this teamâs status during his first foray into Cup competition. JTG Daugherty as an organization has one win in its 11-year, 504-start existence and an average finish of 21.7.
âI think we had our moments where we had some solid days where we overachieved, but I also think there was underachieving too,â Preece says. âSo I think I would just sum it up as a rookie year, I guess. Weâre just going to continue to keep working. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.â
But Preece sees the upside, too. There were strong moments. And there was plenty to learn from heading to 2020.
âWe had a third at Talladega, but I think my most proud moment this year was at Michigan when we finished seventh on a [two-mile track],â Preece says. âThatâs not an easy task. Itâs just building that baseline, finding where we need to be week in and week out and just keep punching to keep that same consistency.â
He was also buoyed by the teamâs ability to overcome an unusual situation before the fall race at Kansas Speedway. En route to the track, the teamâs hauler caught fire and burned alongside the highway â torching racecars, tools and equipment in the process. Still, the team managed a 12th-place finish with backup cars and spare or borrowed tools; it was one of only four top-15 finishes last year.
Preece will have a new teammate this season thanks to Chris Buescher moving to Roush Fenway Racing. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., whom Buescher replaced, will assume the duties in Buescherâs place. Amid the swap, the team opted to switch Preece into the teamâs No. 37 entry this season, while Stenhouse will drive the No. 47.
More important, Preece will have a new crew chief this season. Trent Owens, who held the same position last season with Buescher, takes over Preeceâs team as his third crew chief. Last season, Eddie Pardue replaced Tristan Smith with six races remaining.
Owens will get to work on the new Chevrolet body design coming this season, which Preece hopes will open some new avenues aerodynamically for the team to explore. Owens also brings with him knowledge of how a JTG Daugherty effort can run slightly better â perhaps even close enough to make a surprise entry into playoff eligibility. Last season, Owens helped Buescher nail down a 17.8 average finish that tied the organizationâs best full-season mark.
âWith a little bit of luck, [Buescher] probably could have been in that [playoff] conversation,â Preece says. âIt all depends on how the beginning of the year goes, I think. But I feel like if everything goes right [we can make it to the playoffs]. You need every bit of consistency and help to do those things.â
Vegas Betting Odds to win 2020 Cup Championship: 1000/1 (per Sportsbook.ag)
(Top photo courtesy of ASP, Inc.)