Ryan Preece picked up the 5th last-place finish of his NASCAR Cup Series career in Sunday’s Jockey Made In America 250 Presented by Kwik Trip at Road America when his #37 Maxwell House / Kroger Chevrolet lost an engine after 6 of 62 laps.
The finish, which came in Preece’s 97th series start, was his first of the season and first since July 19, 2020 at Texas, 38 races ago. In the Cup Series last-place rankings, it was the 43rd for the #37, the 706th from engine trouble, and the 810th for Chevrolet. Across NASCAR’s top three series, it was the 49th for the #37, he 1,105th from engine trouble, and the 1,793rd for Chevrolet.
After a difficult and frustrating 2020 season, Preece was once again set to run the #37 for JTG-Daugherty Racing, but this time would do so without a Charter. With only enough sponsorship for 24 of the 36 races, Preece’s Charter was sold to Spire Motorsports, which expanded to two cars. Preece responded well to the pressure, qualifying fastest of the “open” cars for the Daytona 500 and finishing 6th on race day, followed by a 9th on the Daytona Road Course. His 8th-place run at Pocono was his first finish since then that was better than 14th, though he’d failed to finish only three times, down significantly from the 8 DNFs scored last year.
Preece’s spirits were further buoyed last month at Nashville, where he had the opportunity to make his first career Truck Series start. Driving David Gilliland’s #17 Hunt Brothers Pizza Ford, Preece qualified 6th and took the lead with eight laps to go, beating David’s son Todd to the finish by less than a second. The ride earned Preece a trip to victory lane – where NASCAR had made the one-time decision to not allow post-race interviews on the frontstretch – and secured him another ride with Gilliland at Pocono. There, he started 8th and finished 9th.
At Road America, Preece turned just one lap in practice and anchored the charts due to an on-track incident. He apparently carried too much speed exiting the Carousel and ran off-course into the grass, causing significant damage to the left-front corner of his splitter. The team rolled out their backup car and ran a cautious lap of 105.19mph (2 minutes, 18.531 seconds), good enough for 32nd on the grid.
The backup car meant Preece would have to drop to the rear, joining six other drivers. Kyle Busch didn’t even turn a lap in qualifying and his #18 Skittles Red, White, and Blue Toyota was set to start 40th in his own backup after he spun into a wall in practice. Issues in qualifying for Bubba Wallace left him 36th before a transmission change on his #23 Dr. Pepper Toyota and Justin Haley surrendered 22nd due to an engine change. Unapproved adjustments were the cited reason for 33rd-place Quin Houff in the #00 8 Ball Chocolate Whiskey Chevrolet, 27th-place Josh Bilicki in the #52 Screamin’ Sicilian Ford, and 30th-place Kyle Tilley in the #78 Bremont / Battle Associates Ford.
When the field came to the green flag, Houff had taken over last place from Busch, and was 5.285 seconds back of the leader. By the time they completed the first lap, Houff had climbed to 38th, dropping Kyle Tilley’s #78 to last place. At the time, Tilley was already a full 1.162 seconds back of new 39th-place runner Ryan Eversley, making his NASCAR debut in the #53 Nurtec ODT Preventative Ford. At the start of Lap 3, Eversley had dropped Houff back to 39th, and Tilley remained 1.225 seconds back of the #00 in last place. Moments later, NASCAR reported a car was stalled on track.
This was the #99 Good Sam Chevrolet of Daniel Suarez, who just like at COTA had been stopped due to a transmission issue. There was some delay getting Suarez pushed as the medical truck arrived before a proper push truck. He was already a lap down by the time it arrived, and he was pushed to the garage entrance just before Turn 14. The crew prepared to work on the top of the transmission, and by Lap 6 had pulled it out completely.
The next time by, Ryan Preece was in heavy traffic heading into Turn 5 when his car erupted in smoke. He drove onto the run-off lane and slowed as he entered the rear garage entrance on the other side. Not far behind him, Kyle Tilley had also overshot the corner, and managed to stay on the track. Preece’s car had apparently stalled at this point, as Preece asked “I mean, is NASCAR gonna send the push truck, or---?”
On Lap 13, under a caution caused by Tilley getting stuck in the gravel trap in the Carousel, Suarez re-fired his engine in the garage and returned to the track 10 laps down. Needing to turn four laps to drop Preece to 40th place, he accomplished this on the 17th circuit, at the same moment NASCAR’s garage official reported “37 out, engine.”
Suarez went on to finish 36th ahead of the day’s only three other retirees. Ryan Eversley pulled into the garage off Turn 5 and ultimately retired with rear gear trouble. That same lap, Austin Cindric, who had been battling for the lead in his #33 Pirtek Ford, had also suffered a mechanical failure and spun, ultimately sending him behind the wall. Cindric ended up finishing ahead of the #53, but behind Anthony Alfredo, whose #38 SpeedyCash Ford exploded the left-rear brakes in Turn 1 and spun into the gravel trap.
*This marked the first last-place finish for the #37 in a Cup Series road course race since August 10, 2009, when Tony Ave’s #37 Long John Silver’s Dodge had transmission issues after 8 laps of the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at the Glen.
*Preece is the first Cup Series last-place finisher at Road America since Junior Johnson, who on August 12, 1956 scored the 2nd last-place finish of his career after his #296 1956 Ford had clutch issues after 1 lap.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
40) #37-Ryan Preece / 6 laps / engine
39) #53-Ryan Eversley / 27 laps / rear gear
38) #33-Austin Cindric / 35 laps / rear gear / led 2 laps
37) #38-Anthony Alfredo / 42 laps / brakes
36) #99-Daniel Suarez / 53 laps / running
2021 LASTCAR CUP SERIES OWNER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Stewart-Haas Racing (4)
2nd) JTG-Daugherty Racing, Spire Motorsports (3)
3rd) Chip Ganassi Racing, Motorsports Business Management, Rick Ware Racing (2)
4th) Front Row Motorsports, Hendrick Motorsports, StarCom Racing (1)
2021 LASTCAR CUP SERIES MANUFACTURER'S CHAMPIONSHIP
1st) Chevrolet (12)
2nd) Ford (6)
3rd) Toyota (2)
2021 LASTCAR CUP SERIES DRIVER'S CHAMPIONSHIP