Ryan Preece selects 2021 by leading NASCAR underdogs
Best dog: Ryan Preece
While the vast majority of attention was rightly on Championship contenders 4, the NASCAR Cup Series underdogs looked to end their 2021 seasons strong at Phoenix Raceway (November 7). The action matched the desert heat all over the pitch, sadly burning a few underdogs catastrophically.
Several of them collapsed or suffered setbacks in a tough race for underfunded teams. Outlining them all was perhaps the underdog facing the greatest uncertainty: Ryan Preece. Preece entered the 312-lap race with his future on the line, with his No.37 JTG Daugherty Racing team shutting down after the season. When will he be back behind the wheel of a Coupe car? It could be next year, it could be multiple seasons, and it’s very possible that it will never happen again.
But Preece is too talented to miss it, and I have a feeling he will prove it regardless of what race he sets up for next season. For now, he’s done what NASCAR drivers do: focus on what’s in front of them. No, he didn’t make the playoffs. No, he had an extremely slim chance of winning. And yes, it was his last race with JTG Daugherty after three years with their program. However, there was still a race to run and pride at stake for all involved.
In Phoenix, Preece won a top 20 in the end. While its underdog competitors suffered from contact and tire bursts, Preece endured a solid result. It was an overall calm day for the 31-year-old, as he spent much of the race trying to find some grip outside the top 20. After progressing steadily on the final stage, the Berlin native , Conn., stayed there to capture his 13th top 20 of the season.
After starting the year with consecutive top 10s, Preece has had a quiet year. However, he had a career-high top 10 (4) and an average result (24.0). It was a marked improvement over a tough 2020, but for JTG Daugherty it wasn’t enough to keep him on board for 2022.
Outside of the Cup Series, Preece has had a year to remember. On his first NASCAR Camping World Truck Series start, Preece won the Nashville Superspeedway, becoming the sixth driver to win on his truck debut. Additionally, he won three consecutive NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour races which involved some thrilling finishes.
All in all, Preece is a very talented driver no matter what he is behind the wheel. The former Modified star is set to ring his phone for a ride in an inferior streak, looking to reset his career and strive for wins elsewhere in 2022.
Outside of Preece, there weren’t too many noteworthy races by the other underdogs. Daniel Suarez was behind Preece in 21st, followed by Erik Jones (22nd) and Michael McDowell (23rd). Corey LaJoie, Anthony Alfredo, Quin Houff and Bubba Wallace all suffered crashes throughout the race, ending the days of three of those drivers. But a race doesn’t define the year as a whole for underdogs. Here are some highlights.
It started in the most illustrious way for this group, a true Cinderella story. Michael McDowell defied the odds and dodged the chaos of the final round to adjust to the glass slipper and win the Daytona 500, his first career Cup victory. The victory sealed McDowell’s place in the playoffs, Front Row Motorsports’ second appearance. He was knocked out in the round of 16, but the opening moment of 2021 shone on a veteran driver who had lived it all in a career once devoted to starting and parking.
McDowell wasn’t the only dog to find his way to victory. In the second year of Kaulig Racing’s appearance on a part-time basis, AJ Allmendinger, the ace of the road and NASCAR Xfinity Series championship contender, marked Kaulig’s rapid but patient rise in its short history. Allmendinger claimed a wild victory in the inaugural road race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. It was Allmendinger’s second career victory and another defining moment in his efforts to help this growing team on their rise to the Cup Series.
Not one, not two, but three underdogs picked up a win in 2021. To top it off, Bubba Wallace took an emotional, rain-cut win at the Talladega Superspeedway. So many takeaways and moments were learned, as Wallace won 23XI Racing and co-owners Michael Jordan and Denny Hamlin their first team victory. With Kurt Busch coming in 2022, this group is one that has a lot of enthusiasm and momentum for their future.
The victory was not the only decisive moment for the underdogs. In addition to 23XI Racing, Trackhouse Racing Team also entered full-time in 2021 as one of NASCAR’s newest organizations. Owned by Justin Marks and Pitbull, the No.99 has made a lot of waves this season, sparking new interest and taking unorthodox routes to have their shining moments.
TRT driver Daniel Suarez has enjoyed a career-boosting season in a sense after experiencing numerous lows over the past two years. On top of all this, perhaps, the team has dramatically improved their prospects for the future, buy all the assets of Chip Ganassi Racing and the signing of Ross Chastain. CGR is ending their NASCAR presence after a 20-year race, and now their legacy will be continued by Trackhouse.
Wallace’s victory at Talladega was surprisingly the latest in a historic weekend. In the NCWTS race, underdog Tate Fogleman survived a crash-filled end of the race to claim his first career victory. Hours later, journeyman Brandon Brown claimed his first career NXS victory in shortened events in the dark. And what about Jeremy Clements? The veteran driver made the underdog highlights as he headed to the NXS playoffs after a year in his career.
There have been many exciting moments in 2021 around the underdogs, and I would run out of space to mention them all. Whether this is the start of Live Fast Motorsports, Erik Jones’ first season at Richard Petty Motorsports, LaJoie joining Spire Motorsports, Starcom Racing’s final season as a charter team, James Davison “knotty” backup in the Coca-Cola 600, or the Cinderella playoffs, so many memories were created by the companions of NASCAR.
Small team program of the week … and of the year
In the last week of the season (still can’t believe it), many teams had another drop to end the year. For Anthony Alfredo’s # 38 Front Row Motorsports Ford, they brought the heat several times in 2021. In Phoenix, that included a new program with sponsor Boot Barn. Unfortunately, Alfredo suffered a brutal fall on lap 249 which ended his day.
– Motorsports in the first row (@Team_FRM) November 7, 2021
As for the season, I could sit all day and list a bunch of candidates for this award. However, one team that never disappointed in the program department was Trackhouse Racing Team. They cashed early and often with the # 99 Chevrolet CommScope, one of the sport’s finest mainstream sponsorship programs. I didn’t always choose it just to keep things cool, but it was one of the nicest cars of the entire season.
Talladega. It’s time. @CommScope
– Daniel Suárez (@Daniel_SuarezG) April 25, 2021
What to expect next
Phoenix was the callback for the 2021 season. Next year NASCAR will have a completely different look… and a chassis. The Next Gen car will officially make its Busch Light Clash debut at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in February. The cars feature advanced numbers, more classic bodies, a single lug nut, and plenty of other futuristic changes.
Aside from the car, there will be several driver movements around the underdogs. 23XI Racing and Trackhouse Racing Team will likely take the next step, with their multi-car growth forcing them to leave this group. Preece and Alfredo’s future hangs in the balance as we await confirmation of their future employment.
Meanwhile, Team Hezeburg is joining Kaulig Racing as a new team in 2022 with Loris Hezemans at the wheel. How many cars Rick Ware Racing fields is always a question mark. As with any other year, it will take training to learn all the changes for next season (just kidding).
To all the loyal readers who brought this column to life, thank you very much. Remember that the little dog is always in the fight.
What they say
Thank you @RyanPreece_ for your dedication, leadership and friendship during your time behind the wheel of # 37. We appreciate and are grateful for the accomplishments you have made, Team Leader @wtrentowens and the whole team. Good luck today @phoenixraceway! pic.twitter.com/YHbfpILY90
– JTG Daugherty Racing (@JTGRacing) November 7, 2021
Well that’s it. One last Sunday of the race.
It has been an unforgettable season and you have all been a part of it. Grateful for all of your support – let’s get out there and make some more noise.
Final of the coming season. pic.twitter.com/yk7Z5G8mGg
– 23XI Racing (@ 23XIRacing) November 7, 2021
– Justin Marks (@JustinMarksDG) November 7, 2021
Not the season finale we were hoping for, but I’m very proud and grateful for @ Team_FRM. It has been an incredible season that we will never forget. Thanks to all of our partners. Looking forward to testing the Next Gen car in a few weeks and getting ready for 2022. #Out of season pic.twitter.com/hazZRWlLGY
– Michael McDowell (@Mc_Driver) November 8, 2021
Big success today. Cut a left front tire in the last step. Sad to end the season this way. The number of uncontrollable incidents this year is unfathomable. Do my best to remember that God has a plan. https://t.co/jIe2g83BWF
– Anthony Alfredo (@anthonyalfredo) November 8, 2021
The last checkered flag waved the 2021 season. So proud of what this team has accomplished since December 1, 2020.
Thanks to everyone who was a part of it! pic.twitter.com/ga718XlLQe
– Spire Motorsports (@SpireMotorsport) November 8, 2021
It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to our StarCom Racing fans. After the championship this weekend, our charter # 00 will take back possession. Thank you very much to all of our fans for the fun memories and loyal support over the years! # z00m pic.twitter.com/VPVmegCuDQ
– StarCom Racing (@StarcomRacing) November 5, 2021
Here it is, the last Gen 6 hot rod after 312 difficult laps in the desert.
End of an era, start of a new 🤙 pic.twitter.com/ofhaIhgjlp
– Richard Petty Motorsports (@RPMotorsports) November 8, 2021
RACE WEEKEND CENTER: PHOENIX
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