Saturday’s motor sports: Preece wins Xfinity race
Newton, Iowa — Ryan Preece had waited his whole career for a chance to race in a car as strong as the No. 20 Toyota of Joe Gibbs Racing.
Preece then went out and proved what he could do with top-notch equipment.
The 26-year-old Preece survived a green-white-checkered finish to win the NASCAR Xfinity race Saturday at Iowa Speedway for his first career victory.
Preece, running the second of a two-race deal with the powerhouse JGR team, started from the pole and held off Kyle Benjamin on three restarts in the final 17 laps.
Preece, the Connecticut driver who is a regular in the lower-division NASCAR Whelen Modified series, crossed the start-finish line less than a car-length ahead of Benjamin.
“To be honest with you, I believed in myself enough to do it,” Preece said of using his Xfinity budget for just two races. “It is very risky. I had multiple people in the business tell me that it was a little (riskier) than they would do.”
The 19-year-old Benjamin was a career-best second, followed by Brian Scott, Brennan Poole and rookie Cole Custer.
William Byron, who began a streak of three wins in five races at Iowa last month, finished ninth and Justin Allgaier was 20th after leading 106 laps.
Preece finished 17th in the series a year ago, with only one top-10 in 33 starts.
For this season, Preece went back to the Modified series — where he won a title four years ago — while striking a deal with JGR to run twice in one of the best cars in the series.
Preece was second to Cup star Kyle Busch in New Hampshire in his first shot with the No. 20 car.
On Saturday, he held off Benjamin to make his season-long gamble pay off.
“I knew what I felt like I had to do to get attention, to make noise, and I felt like these two races were my shot,” Preece said.
It was an encouraging finish for Benjamin, who started on the front row for the fourth time in as many races but finished above 16th for the first time.
“I’m really happy to finish second — I really needed that,” Benjamin said. “But to be as close as we were to winning, it kind of hurts. It makes you think about what you could have done better.
It was another gamble, by Allgaier earlier in the race, which helped put Preece and Benjamin in position for their thrilling finish.
Allgaier won the second stage and was leading when he decided to stay out on a caution about 75 laps from the finish.
The rest of the contenders went in for fresh tires and Allgaier’s No. 7 car, on old tires, quickly fell back while Preece grabbed the lead.
The hope for Allgaier was that a caution would allow him to put on a new set of tires, and thus have the advantage for the finish.
The yellow flag came too late though, as Allgaier was forced to pit for fuel just a few laps before Sam Hornish Jr. drew a caution.
Preece, who spent much of the race battling Allgaier for first, led 141 laps.
At Long Pond, Pennsylvania, Kyle Busch dominated another NASCAR race and was clearly the driver to beat until a late wreck knocked him out of the race.
Kyle Busch Motorsports still took the checkered flag.
Christopher Bell passed John Hunter Nemechek for the lead with six laps left and held on to win the Truck Series race Saturday at Pocono Raceway.
Bell chased down Nemechek and held off Ben Rhodes over the final two laps to win for the fourth time this season. Bell crashed out of one race but hasn’t otherwise finished worse than ninth in 12 races this season.
“Once I got to second, I kind of saw where (Nemechek) was struggling and started reeling him down,” Bell said. “I knew I needed to just follow him, regroup and rethink where I was going to pull the trigger at.”
Rhodes, the pole sitter, was second, followed by Ryan Truex, Nemechek and Johnny Sauter.
The 22-year-old Bell leads the series in wins, poles, playoff points, laps led and top-10 finishes in the No. 4 Toyota. He also holds an 18-point lead over Sauter and leads the point standings.
Busch, with two wins this season, led most of the race until he connected with Justin Haley and spun into the outside wall. Haley, who won Friday’s ARCA race at Pocono, blamed himself for the wreck.
With 48 career Truck victories, Busch was on pace to make it 49 with wins in the first two stages. His departure forced drivers to consider how they would have fared had Busch stayed in the race.
“You don’t want to be the guy that wins and people say, ‘It’s because Kyle Busch wrecked,’ ” Truex said. “I would have liked to have raced him. I would have liked to beat Kyle Busch. So there’s no, what if. You beat the best.”
Bell, who won for the sixth time in 42 career races, would like to think he could have held off his boss.
“I think if I was out in front, it was going to be pretty tough for him to pass me,” Bell said. “But if he was out in front, it was going to be really hard for me to pass him.”
KMB won the Truck race at Pocono for the third straight year: Busch won in 2015 and William Byron took the checkered flag last year.