CHARLOTTE, North Carolina (AP) — Tony Stewart has won the battle with partner Gene Haas for next year’s NASCAR lineup by giving backup driver Ryan Preece a chance with a top-tier Cup organization.
Preece spent that entire year doing simulations for Stewart-Haas Racing that helped the organization adapt to NASCAR’s new car. Haas said last month that he and Stewart disagreed over the direction of the No. 41 Ford, with Stewart wanting to promote Prius but Haas preferring Cole Custer back for a fourth season.
Haas, the founder of the NASCAR team, seemed inclined to follow through on Stewart’s talent assessment and became official on Wednesday when Preece was awarded the seat. Custer would remain in SHR but be relegated to the second-tier Xfinity Series.
“Ryan Preece has been a real asset to our racing team this year as we developed the next generation car,” said Stewart. “The time and effort he put into our show, along with his real-life racing experience, earned him this opportunity.”
Brees opted at the end of the 2021 season for a reserve role with SHR rather than take a full-time Cup trip with a mediocre team. Alex Bowman took a similar path and now drives the No. 48 for Hendrick Motorsports.
Brice hoped he would do enough behind the scenes to earn a cup seat when one opened. Preece represents the company owned by SHR veteran Kevin Harvick. Haas said Harvick has told the organization he plans to retire at the end of 2023.
In addition, Aric Almirola said before this season that it would be his last, then he backtracked and will be back next year. Any way he looked at it, Brice believed SHR would eventually have openings and being an integral part of the organization made him a frontrunner.
“This is the opportunity I’ve been working towards,” said Bryce. “Nothing was guaranteed at the start of this year, but I felt that if I took the time, whether it was in a race car or in a simulator, SHR was the place for me. It’s a company built by racers and racers, and it’s exactly where I want to be “.
Brees made his way from Berlin, Connecticut, to the NASCAR National Series with the Whelen Modified Tour, NASCAR’s oldest division and the only compelling open wheel series. The 32-year-old won the Modified Championship in 2013, the same year he made his Xfinity Series debut.
He made his Cup debut in 2015, and two years later he mortgaged his home to fund two Xfinity races with Joe Gibbs Racing. The superior equipment allowed Bryce to finally show his talent and he finished second in his JGR debut and won the next race at Iowa Speedway.
Preece parlayed it into 17 more Xfinity races with JGR – a run that included a win in 2018 at Bristol, and finally in 2019 a chance in the Cup Series on a three-year deal with JTG-Daugherty Racing.
“Ryan has bet on himself a few times in his career and it always pays off. Now we’re betting on him,” said Stewart. “I’ve done some modified Tour races and it’s a tough series with a lot of talent. Ryan’s Mod Tour Championship speaks to his talent, and I think he proved that when he pushed all his chips to the middle of the table and bet on himself by getting Xfinity Series races with Gibbs.
“When he finally got the right opportunity, he hit it big. Now, Ryan’s got the right opportunity in a Cup. We’re proud to have him and look forward to seeing what he can do with our race cars.”
Brice’s first stint in the Cup was unremarkable, except for 2021 when JTG did not have a charter for his car and Brise was still eligible for every race. He was in the only car not rented full-time, and JTG had been lacking sponsorship for at least a dozen races. The car shut down at the end of the season, which led Bryce to the backup role at SHR.
Next year he will be teammates to Harvick, Almirola and Chase Briscoe. Harvick is the 2014 champion and he and Briscoe have made the playoffs this season.
Custer, the son of SHR CEO Joe Custer, won Cup racing in his rookie season of 2020, but his success has come mostly in the Xfinity Series. He’s won 10 times at Xfinity, including a February win in one of five matches.
He will drive a second, new Xfinity Series car as a teammate to Riley Herbst, who is being brought back by SHR for the third consecutive season.
“Cole Custer has been a part of SHR since 2017 and we are thrilled that he is staying with us,” Stewart said. “Cole’s experience will be invaluable to Riley Herbst as he continues his development on the Xfinity series.”