NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour regular Ryan Preece gambled on a dream in putting together a deal to run two Xfinity Series events for the powerhouse organization Joe Gibbs Racing.
On Saturday, that gamble paid off in the ultimate jackpot in Newton, Iowa, for the Berlin driver. And he used his experience at Thompson Speedway to pull it off.
Preece used the high line to hold off a charging effort from his Joe Gibbs Racing teammate Kyle Benjamin over the green-white-checkered overtime finish to win the Xfinity Series US Cellular 250 at Iowa Speedway.
"I knew [Benjamin] was actually better at the end," Preece said by phone after the win. "I was struggling to get off the corner and struggling to get going on those restarts. I knew what happened was the outside became the preferred lane. I just did exactly what I would do at Thompson [Speedway]. I made sure I got a good launch and kept it in that preferred lane and kept my momentum going. That's really what was able to get me to victory lane."
It was the first career XFinity Series victory for Preece, 26, a regular on the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour and the 2013 series champion. He is also a former SK Modified division champion at Thompson and Stafford Motor Speedway.
"I don't even know what to say," Preece said. "I've got to thank everybody. … I'm so lost for words right now. I don't even know what to say. This is what emotion is. I thought this race would never end, that's for sure. But man, nothing's going to beat today."
It was the second event Preece has run this year for Joe Gibbs Racing. He finished second to NASCAR Monster Energy Cup Series star Kyle Busch in the Overton's 200 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway on July 15.
Preece started the day by winning the pole for the event, his first career pole with the series.
Preece led every lap of the first stage. He spent most of the second stage battling Justin Allgaier for the top spot, with Allgaier winning the second stage. Allgaier stayed out during a caution on lap 169 while Preece and the rest of the leaders pitted for tires. Preece went to the lead following the lap 178 restart and Allgaier faded. Allgaier was forced to pit under green for tires and finished 20th, two laps down.
On the decisive final restart, Benjamin was able to stay in the low lane under Preece and fight for the lead during the two-lap overtime shootout. The two came to the checkered flag side-by-side.
"To do this at NASCAR's second highest level in my second start [with Joe Gibbs Racing], it's just a lot," Preece said. "It reassures me that I can do it, that I can go out and win races and do it at NASCAR's highest level.
"I take a lot of pride in [being a short track racing regular]," Preece said. "To be honest with you, I know a lot of race car drivers out there that are really good and I'm sure those last few restarts, they could have done the same thing. It comes down to being aggressive and what racing is built on. … I am a short tracker. I race week in and week out, wherever I can go race. You don't see a lot of guys in the top three series that really do that."
Preece has 17 career Whelen Modified Tour victories in 137 series starts dating back to 2007. He was the 2011 SK Modified champion at Stafford Speedway and won SK Modified championships at Thompson Speedway in 2012 and 2014.
Preece was making his 38th career Xfinity Series start Saturday.
At this point he's unsure what the gamble to run the two events with Joe Gibbs Racing will bring him.