MARTINSVILLE, Va. – Leading the most laps and winning a stage doesn’t mean you get to take the trophy home.
Ryan Preece experienced exactly that with a late pit road speeding penalty, relegating him to a 15th place result at Martinsville Speedway in the NOCO 400.
“I sped off pit road, I guess,” Preece reflected. “That ultimately cost us the track position. We had a really fast race car, so once we got in the back it was so hard to do anything, so that’s on me. I’ll take blame for that. I was trying to beat them out and ultimately got snapped speeding.”
The speeding came from a mathematical guess that was mere inches away from factoring out in their favor. After earning his first career NASCAR Cup Series pole during Saturday’s qualifying session, the No. 41 HaasTooling.com Ford Performance Mustang elected for the first pit box during pit selections for Sunday’s main event. Since NASCAR judges pit road speed by average time over distance and not current speed, the distance from the end of their pit box to the end of pit road looked to be an advantage for Preece to hit the gas with no concern about speed.
They were off by a fraction of a mile an hour.
“I didn’t think we could (speed), to be honest with you, but I guess it’s my job to know that,” Preece admitted. “It’s unfortunate, but when we had track position I think it showed that we had a really fast HaasTooling Ford Mustang, but you can’t do those things. You can’t make mistakes.”
The reason for no mistakes is NASCAR’s current short track package, which has been gaining mixed reviews. Short tracks typically see many cautions from hard racing and crashes throughout the years. Since 2010, most races have seen double-digit totals at Martinsville. During the NextGen era, the 0.526 mile short track has only seen at most six total caution flags, including two during stage breaks.
But Preece didn’t give up. During the first run after his penalty, he fought through nearly half of the field. The struggle came later in the day as competitors became tougher to pass without intentionally moving them out of the way.
“That first run I think we climbed to 23rd or 21st,” he continued. “So I thought there was opportunity, but after three pit stops everybody else got their car that much better. You saw Joey (Logano), they stayed out and gained track position and he ran second. I mean, he was gonna go a lap down for a while, so you can’t make mistakes.”
Stewart Haas Racing has struggled for the last few years, but recently have started to put good runs together with a few resulting in strong finishes for the organization. Preece knows he can’t hold his head down in what is his first full-time return to the Cup Series.
“I pride myself on not making mistakes, so that was pretty brutal there,” said Preece. “But, like I’ve said, we have a fast race car and really felt like we could have probably swept the stages and ran top three or top five. We were just as good as anybody, but it’s really tough. Dirty air against the pack. You didn’t want to smash them out of the way, but it was really hard to move around.”
Preece currently sits 27th in the championship standings after a fourth of the season has gone by. The Cup Series races next at Talladega Superspeedway next Sunday on April 23.