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Ryan Preece had a sweet victory on Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway.
Preece – in his seventh race for Joe Gibbs Racing after a two-race deal last season – pulled away off the final restart with 10 laps remaining to win the Fitzgerald Glider Kits 300 for the Xfinity Series.
With the win, Preece also captured a $100,000 Dash 4 Cash bonus.
“It’s Bristol. It’s the last great Colosseum,” Preece said. “It’s one of those tracks that when you grow up as a short-track racer that you want to win at. We came here and unloaded for practice and I was really happy with the racecar.
“We didn’t qualify where I thought we would but I knew we had a good racecar and slowly with track position and patience we got where we needed to be, the caution fell when we needed it to happen and then we had the restart we needed and Eric (Phillips, crew chief) made the adjustments there to get us out front.”
Preece’s win highlighted a busy day of on-track activity that included two practice sessions for the Monster Energy Cup Series.
In the Xfinity Series race, veteran Justin Allgaier damaged the splitter on his No. 7 JR Motorsports Chevrolet earlier in the race and that affected his car’s handling as he pursued Preece in the closing laps. He couldn’t close the gap and finished second.
“I was trying to run him down the best I could,” Allgaier said. “We were just way too tight with the splitter being gone. I tried everything I could do in the car but the bottom lane at that point was just too fast. It was one of those days that we just got outrun on that last restart.”
Daniel Hemric, who also was eligible for the bonus, likened Preece’s accomplishment to the American dream. Hemric finished third in the No. 21 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet. Elliott Sadler in the No. 1 JR Motorsports Chevrolet and Spencer Gallagher in the No. 23 GMS Racing Chevrolet also finished in the top five.
Jones led a race-high 106 laps and finished ninth in the No. 19 Toyota.
A caution with 17 laps to go sent the leaders onto pit road for fresh tires after a long stretch of green-flag racing. Jones was first onto pit road and first off of it. His team opted to change left-side tires only while those behind him changed all four.
“That caution right there on that long run just killed me,” Jones said. “I just put my head down when I saw it because I knew we were so much better than the 18 up off the corner.”
Preece led 39 laps overall in a race that was slowed by 12 cautions, two shy of the series record at Bristol.
The final stage was relatively clean compared to the first two stages Saturday.
A seven-car wreck marred the start of Stage 2. It started at the exit of Turn 2 when Allgaier and Jones made contact. That caused a chain reaction behind them involving five other cars.
On the restart, Hemric passed Preece for the lead. The race was stopped with 143 laps complete after a three-car crash in Turns 3 and 4 that took rookie Christopher Bell out of contention for the win and the Dash 4 Cash bonus.
It started when Cody Ware and Vinnie Miller made contact entering Turn 3. Their cars drifted up the track and hit the wall. Bell was running third at the time and followed Ware and Miller into the corner. When he braked, the rear end of his car fishtailed to the right, sending him into a slide.
The passenger side of Bell’s car hit flush with the front of Miller’s car. The incident mangled both cars but neither driver was injured.
“That was our worst run handling-wise,” said Bell, who led 35 laps earlier in the race and finished 29th. “I thought we had a car capable of doing it and then a guy that’s a couple seconds off the pace spins out in front of me.”
Hemric was leading with Preece in second and Jones in third. The red flag lasted for 7 minutes.
Preece led the final seven laps of the stage.
The opening 85-lap segment was slowed by four cautions, including a nine-car pileup and a four-car crash, but ended with the four drivers eligible for the Dash 4 Cash bonus running in the top four.
As for the four drivers who will be eligible for the next Dash 4 Cash bonus, NASCAR announced after the race that Hemric’s car failed post-race inspection and that he would be replaced in next week’s Dash 4 Cash field by Jones and the No. 19 team.
Joining Jones will be Allgaier, Sadler and Gallagher. Allgaier didn’t begrudge Preece for collecting the bonus Saturday despite not being a full-time driver in the series.
“That kid works as hard or harder than anybody in the garage area,” Allgaier said. “He’s setting modifieds up. He’s racing his own stuff, winning races up in the northeast and all over the country in modifieds, and has a cool opportunity to come here and do this and he’s making the most of it. That goes a long way.”
As will the $100,000 that he won Saturday.
“It feels really good,” Preece said. “I don’t think you can say winning $100,000 isn’t good. I know what it’s going to do for me with my life and I can officially say I’m going to be paid off with everything that I risked last year. This is a big day for me.”