NASCAR Next driver hoping to get more seat time in XFINITY Series Ryan Preece came up just shy in his pursuit of a second consecutive NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour championship this year, but his strong closing kick may translate to bigger things as he prepares for an offseason of transition. Preece locked down his third runner-up finish in the last six seasons this year, completing a three-year run in team owner Eric Sanderson's No. 16 with back-to-back victories in the tour's final two races of the year. One day after the dust settled on the season, Preece announced he'd join car owner Eddie Partridge's No. 6 team full-time in the northern-based series in 2015 With the track championship from Thompson Speedway in his home state of Connecticut in hand, the NASCAR Next driver extended his hot streak by winning the non-points North-South Shootout at Caraway Speedway in North Carolina, making his first start for Partridge. But before he continues his career in the ground-pounders from NASCAR's oldest division, he's still getting his feet wet on the national-series stage. "It was really good," Preece said of his season over the weekend at Homestead-Miami Speedway . "To end it with the 16 and then start it with the 6, it started really well. Obviously I hope we carry momentum into next year with the Modified stuff, but this is definitely something different here." Something different came in the form of his third career start in the NASCAR Nationwide Series in last Saturday's Ford EcoBoost 300 . Though Preece started 33rd and finished 28th in the scrappy Tommy Baldwin Racing No. 36, he emerged with a lead-lap finish in his first Nationwide start outside of New Hampshire Motor Speedway . The race marked Preece's first start on a track that size, all in a series -- which will be called the XFINITY Series starting in 2015 -- that the 24-year-old driver hopes to spend more time in next year. His Modified schedule is set, but Preece said he has "some other stuff in the works" as his complete plans for 2015 take shape. Until then, he's been reaping the benefits of participating in the NASCAR Next youth initiative for the second straight year. While Preece enjoyed the exposure from championship weekend festivities in the Miami area, he said he's eager to get back on track to keep the good vibes of 2014 going. "They bring me different places, they've put me in front of certain people," Preece said, "and now it's just up to me to get seat time and get out there." MORE: READ: Latest Chase news PLAY: Monitor your Chase Grid Game picks WATCH: Latest NASCAR video FOLLOW LIVE: Get RaceView FULL SERIES COVERAGE • Latest news • Standings • Schedule
RELATED: Qualifying results LOUDON, N.H. – Posting the fastest lap of Friday’s time trials late in the final round of knockout qualifying at New Hampshire Motor Speedway , Carl Edwards knocked Kevin Harvick off the pole for Sunday’s Sylvania 300 , the second race in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup (2 p.m. ET, NBCSN, PRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). Edwards covered the 1.058-mile distance in 27.604 seconds (137.980 mph) to earn his third Coors Light Pole Award of the season, his second at New Hampshire — completing a season sweep of the top starting spot at the Magic Mile — and the 16th of his career. "To be honest, that third round surprised me, how fast we were," said Edwards, who was 11th fastest in the second round. "I think it helped me almost to struggle through the second round, 'cause I thought, 'Aw, heck with it,' and I just kind of went for it in the third round. "The car has a ton of speed. I hate to admit how poorly I drove it the first and second rounds, but I think it really says a lot about how fast the car is." Needing a victory or an extremely high finish to restore his hopes of repeating as NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion, Harvick (137.845 mph) posted a lap .027 seconds slower than that the pole winner to earn the second-place starting spot. "I felt like I probably left those few hundredths of a second not being aggressive enough off the exit of Turn 2, and as good as the car was off of Turn 4," Harvick said. "Small crumbs. It's hard to balance that here, because if you push the car too much, you wind up giving up two or three tenths (of a second) instead of two or three hundredths." Harvick, however, declined to address his confrontation with Jimmie Johnson after last Sunday's Chase opener at Chicagoland Speedway . Side-to-side contact with Johnson’s Chevrolet ultimately flattened the left rear tire of Harvick’s No. 4 Chevy, sending him spinning into the Turn 3 wall and relegating him to a 42nd-place finish. That result left Harvick last in the 16-driver Chase standings and incensed at the six-time champion. When Johnson approached the reigning champ in the motor coach lot after the race, Harvick responded with a blow to Johnson’s chest, as one of Harvick’s handlers tried to keep the drivers apart. Asked whether Johnson might have something to worry about in Sunday’s race, Harvick replied, "I don’t look back. I just do what we have to do to focus on what we need to do looking forward. I’m not going to use you guys (the press) to make threats. I can do that myself." Kurt Busch , Harvick’s Stewart-Haas Racing teammate, qualified third at 137.800 mph, followed by Brad Keselowski (137.671 mph) and Johnson (137.621 mph), as Chase drivers claimed the top five positions on the grid. Non-Chaser Kyle Larson was sixth fastest, while Chase drivers Denny Hamlin , Joey Logano , Ryan Newman , Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr . qualified seventh through 11th, respectively. Other Chase competitors will start as follows: Matt Kenseth , 13th; Kyle Busch , 17th; Paul Menard , 20th; Martin Truex Jr ., 21st; Jamie McMurray , 23rd and Clint Bowyer , 26th. Bowyer was the only Chase driver who failed to advance past the first round. Travis Kvapil failed to make the 43-car field.
Get the latest Ryan Preece news, media, stats, and standings for the NASCAR Nationwide Series driver only on the official site of NASCAR.
NASCAR Next driver looking to build off successful 2013 Whelen campaign
Becomes youngest champion in 29-year history of the tour
RELATED: See how Blaney won at Kentucky On the surface, it's a bit of an unorthodox NASCAR schedule for Ryan Blaney . The 21-year-old is running part-time in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series with Wood Brothers Racing in the No. 21 Ford and the NASCAR XFINITY Series with Team Penske in the No. 22 Ford, all while making a handful of starts in the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for Brad Keselowski Racing in the No. 29 Ford. "By the time all the races are added up, it's almost a full schedule," Blaney told NASCAR.com last weekend at Kentucky Speedway . "It has its positives and negatives to be running part-time in everything. The great thing is I get to run three great series with amazing race teams that I know will go out and have a fast car or truck every weekend or every time I get in them. Those are big positives that I can drive different things every single week." And the negatives? "It's hard to get in a rhythm of running the same car, so that's kind of tough," Blaney said. "That takes myself and the team time to get back acclimated to the driver and me to the race car. It has its ups and downs, but I'm fortunate to be with three great race teams and be able to do what we love and be competitive." Blaney did not have trouble finding a rhythm as he wheeled the No. 22 Ford to Victory Lane in the XFINITY Series VisitMyrtleBeach.com 300 at Kentucky Speedway . He led a race-high 81 laps and used a strong restart on a green-white-checkered finish to take home the win. The victory was the second time in three years that Team Penske has swept the season's two Kentucky XFINITY races. "Honestly, I've never seen a team be so dominant at a race track," Blaney said after the win. "It feels like every time we come here, the 22 car is one of the favorites to win and usually does it." Greg Erwin, the No. 22 team's crew chief, has noticed Blaney's growth firsthand since seeing him in 2013. In addition to the Kentucky win, Erwin and Blaney teamed up for a win in August at Iowa Speedway . "He's certainly a little more polished," Erwin noted of Blaney's development as a driver. "I think his communication is a little more precise. I think his confidence is certainly high and I think he's got the talent, certainly that it takes, and the rest of that will come with time behind a steering wheel. That's the hardest thing right now I think, is jumping in, running in all three series and getting as much time on the race track as he can." In his young career, Blaney has four wins each in the XFINITY Series and Camping World Truck Series. And in his first part-time Sprint Cup Series season, he scored his best Sprint Cup finish in May at Talladega with a fourth-place result. His Wood Brothers No. 21 team has had speed, but qualifying rainouts have been the bugaboo. RELATED: Blaney discusses 'very frustrating' Cup qualifying rainouts Along the way to becoming a rising young talent in the sport, Blaney has had some guidance, namely from his dad, Dave, as well as 2012 Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski . "Brad's been one of the biggest mentors for me right after my dad," Blaney said of Keselowski's impact on his career. "He gave me an opportunity in 2012 to drive his trucks for him and I did that for a couple years, which opened the doors at Penske and it opened the doors at the Wood Brothers. He's kind of been the main guy that’s started me off in my career getting racing in the top three series and I can't thank him enough for that. He's taught me so much on the race track, off the race track. He's been really helpful to me. "Brad's a unique teacher. To be able to drive for him has been really cool too, because you can kind of see the owner in him. And then when he would drive the other truck sometimes and I could race against him that was really, really neat. ... You'd ask him a question and he'd give you part of an answer and then you would kind of have to figure the rest of it out, and I really liked that. It's kind of the way my dad did it. "He's obviously one of the smartest racers out there, I feel like, when it comes to strategy and always thinking inside the car. That's something I've tried to take from him. ... Not only on the racing side, just thinking of other things too, whether it's underneath the car to try to make it faster, things like that." Dave Blaney , a veteran of 473 Sprint Cup Series starts and the 1995 World of Outlaws Champion, has impacted his son's career as well. Ryan credits his dad with teaching him a lesson that has become invaluable to him with extended seat time and longer races in the Sprint Cup Series. "Patience is one of the biggest things in racing, especially now that I've gotten started doing some Cup stuff," Ryan Blaney said. "Five-hundred-mile races, one 600-miler that we do ... those are long races. A lot longer than Truck and XFINITY races and that's really been a big learning curve for me of how you have so many opportunities to work on your race car and you have to be really precise with how you change things. "That was the biggest change to me. Running Trucks for a couple of years, the races are so short. You only have a couple of chances to work on your truck, so you take huge swings. In the Cup car, you can't really do that, you have to take littler steps and kind of fine-tune things. That was one of the biggest things he taught me early and now I'm kind of figuring it out for myself." And with silly season talk running rampant throughout the garage and in the media, Blaney remains focused on finishing out 2015 strong. With a Kentucky win in his pocket, Blaney is on the entry list for Saturday's XFINITY Series Hisense 200 at Dover International Speedway (3:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio). "Honestly, we'd like to do more races but that's a lot easier said than done," he said. "I think the best thing we can do is try to focus on winning races in this 22 car, try to bring home a (owner's) championship (in XFINITY ) and finishing out the season strong with the Wood Brothers is going to be really big for our cause. We're working on it. Hopefully, we will know something soon."
RELATED: Practice results Kyle Busch topped the leaderboard early during Thursday's opening XFINITY Series practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway , wheeling his No. 54 Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota at 181.886 mph. Current series points leader Chris Buescher ranked second on the charts, rounding the 1.5-mile oval at 181.330 mph in his No. 60 Roush Fenway Racing Ford. Richard Childress Racing 's Ty Dillon posted the third-fastest speed in his No. 3 ride (181.318 mph), while Kasey Kahne -- who is piloting the No. 88 ride for JR Motorsports this weekend -- was fourth with a top pace of 181.020 mph. Ryan Reed rounded out the top five with a fast lap of 180.499 mph in his No. 16 Roush Fenway Racing ride. Reigning series champion Chase Elliott was 12th-fastest in the field, propelling his No. 9 JR Motorsports Chevrolet at 179.295 mph. The XFINITY Series is back on track at 5:30 p.m. ET for the final practice session (NBCSN/Live Extra).
RELATED: Full practice results Wheeling his No. 4 Stewart-Haas Racing Chevrolet at 193.500 mph, Kevin Harvick surged to the top of the leaderboard during Thurday's opening Sprint Cup Series practice at Charlotte Motor Speedway . Matt Kenseth 's late lap of 192.892 mph sent his No. 20 Joe Gibbs Racing ride to the second spot on the leaderboard. Roush Fenway Racing 's Greg Biffle also made a late lap, his No. 16 ride clocking a third-best speed of 192.885 mph. Team Penske 's Joey Logano used a fast lap of 192.458 mph to snag the fourth spot, while Kasey Kahne propelled the No. 5 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at 192.321 mph to round out the top five. Having paced the field for the majority of practice, Ryan Blaney settled into eighth by the session's end, rounding the 1.5-mile North Carolina track at 192.048 mph. Kyle Busch was the slowest among the 12 Chase Contenders, coming in at 21st-fastest with a top pace of 191.049 mph. The Sprint Cup Series is back on track at Charlotte at 7:20 p.m. ET for Coors Light Pole Qualifying (NBCSN/Live Extra).
The importance of Jimmie's Chase dismissal, Junior's close call at Dover RELATED: Subscribe to NASCAR Illustrated " Harvick shoves Johnson post-race If you're a regular reader of Herman Unplugged, you know that clairvoyant Kenny Wallace called for Kevin Harvick to win in "walk-off" fashion once again at Dover. He was on the record early and this wasn't Phoenix, where Harvick has a habit of making victories look routine. He'd never won at the Monster Mile … until Sunday. Now? "I really feel that Harvick's gonna win Charlotte and lock himself in again," Herman said. "When you look at the last two races at Loudon and Dover, two completely different race tracks, this is speed we haven't seen since the Jimmie Johnson glory days. He has utterly dominated these last two races, so I don't know why that would stop going into Charlotte. "The only thing that's gonna stop him is a blown tire, wreck or parts failure." NASCAR ILLUSTRATED: Speaking of that, a faulty inexpensive axle seal felled Jimmie Johnson at Dover and dropped him from the Chase. That's a bad beat… HERMAN: "Some of the smallest items in the history of building a car have cost such big deals. An axle seal is a complete fluke. I don't think I've ever seen one go out of a passenger car much less a Sprint Cup car. One would think that with all the engineering and all the machinery at Hendrick, they're probably making their own axle seals, so it was probably the rubber that they used that was a freak deal. Who in the hell would have ever thought it would be an axle seal?" NI: Pretty riveting back and forth battle between McMurray and Junior at the end of Dover race. How important was that for the sport with Junior grabbing the final playoff spot in this next round? HERMAN: "It was bigger than big, no doubt. I was asked on the prerace show: 'Will Dale Jr. make it into the Contender Round?' And I said no because I thought Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick would outrun him and they did. But what we did not see was Jimmie Johnson falling out of the race. Nine times out of 10, Dale Jr. is gonna outrun Jamie McMurray , right? These were two drivers that really wanted it bad and this incredible drama built and at the end it looks like Jamie is gonna do it. Even Dale Jr. said it was that caution. The caution came out and it changes our sport moving forward. If that last caution does not come out, 70% of our fan base remains depressed and sad. That was pretty incredible to see that last late race restart." NI: The other remaining Hendrick driver, Jeff Gordon , did what he needed to do as well but he's winless on the season. Do you have any problem if a winless driver claims the championship under this format like Ryan Newman nearly did a year ago? HERMAN: "I have never had a problem with someone scoring more points than the other person. Special things happen when things change sometimes. Every time you look up at the end of the year now, Ryan Newman is there without coming close to winning a race. If Jeff Gordon continues to run consistent and keeps getting better and buying himself more time, we still got seven races to go, and maybe that team can find him some speed. But how do you deny somebody scoring more points than the other person? I know people feel like you have to win but throughout our whole history as a sport it's never been based on wins, it's been based on points." NI: Logano would be leading Harvick by eight points under the old system with Junior in third 76 points back. Do you prefer one system over the other when it comes to crowning a champion? HERMAN: "I like this system; I don't like one race determining the champion and I'll tell you why. In baseball and football, we deal with human beings. In auto racing, we deal with parts and pieces that are made by machinery. To determine who is the greatest all year long on one race is brutal. That's the way I look at it. Last year, Joey Logano came down pit road and the jackman had the worst stop of his life and it took Joey out. I don't think he could have outrun Harvick anyway but it took him out of contending. I would like to see this system stay but give it something to add longevity in the end. Maybe we go 3-3-3 and let the last three determine a champion instead of one damn race." SUBSCRIBE NOW!
RELATED: NASCAR official release NASCAR issued P2-level penalties to Furniture Row Racing 's No. 78 Chevrolet team for infractions found during last weekend's Sprint Cup Series race at Dover International Speedway . NASCAR officials confirmed the punishment Wednesday, saying that first-year crew chief Cole Pearn has been placed on probation until the end of the year. The P2 penalty was decided after a further review of the violation this week at the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, North Carolina. The No. 78 entry for Martin Truex Jr . was removed from the starting grid shortly before the green flag fell on Sunday's AAA 400 . NASCAR officials discovered issues with a flared wheel opening in pre-race ceremonies, and the team was required to fix the infraction in the Sprint Cup garage. "I didn't even see it, actually," Truex said of the last-minute repairs. "I was at driver intros and Marty Snider from NBC was like, 'Hey, your car's not out here.' I looked at ( Ryan ) Newman, he's like, 'Yeah, I just walked by it coming out here.' Then I saw on TV that it was back in the garage. I was like, 'Well, that's not good.' It actually wasn't as bad as you'd think. I felt really good about the race car we had going into the race. I obviously felt really good about Dover; I always do. Something about that track just gives me a lot of confidence, and they're like, 'We've got to go to the rear.' I'm like, 'No worries, we'll be fine.' "If anything it made me more focused. I was kind of mad about it for a minute, and then I was like, you know what you've got to do, just go do it, and we did it, so it was good." Truex was forced to start at the rear of the 43-car field, rallying to finish 11th and secure his spot in the Contender Round, the next three-race series in the Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup playoffs.